Camelot Theatre kicks off its 2016-17 season with "Spotlight on Billy Joel," a showcase of the pop and rock artist's songs performed by singer David King-Gabriel.
It's a project that totally resonates with singer and actor King-Gabriel.
"I was so excited about this show that I volunteered to write the script," he says. "Billy Joel is one of my idols. I used to sing Billy Joel's songs into the hairbrush back when I was in junior high and high school. Most of that stuff is still in my head. It's been more difficult to memorize his songs that came later on. It's almost as though he wrote more words per measure as he moved further into his career.
"I picture this show starting with music rather than dialogue," King-Gabriel says. "We'll bop on stage with wireless mics singing 'The Longest Time,' because Joel's been a pop and rock icon for the longest time. It will say that these songs are so good and so well-known that they speak for themselves."
Performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Jan. 12-14, 19-21 and 26-28, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 15, 22 and 29, at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Tickets are $22 for the Jan. 12 preview performance, $26 and $33 for all other performances, and can be purchased online at camelottheatre.org, at the box office, or by calling 541-535-5250. Rush tickets are $18 and are available 10 minutes before curtain.
King-Gabriel will be accompanied by an orchestra featuring Michael Vannice on piano, Steve Sutfin on drums, Steve Fain on bass, Randy Magallanes on sax and flute, and Brent Norton on guitar and vocals. Music direction is by Vannice. Alex Boyles and Rose Passione provide narration and back-up vocals. Presila Quinby directs the show.
King-Gabriel recalls a photo of Joel on the cover of the composer's 1978 Grammy-winning album "52nd Street."
"At the time, I thought that was the grooviest thing I'd ever seen," Gabriel says. "He was wearing white leather tennis shoes, blues jeans and a Harris tweed."
King-Gabriel started out as a rock 'n' roll drummer, then a singing drummer, then a singer, and finally a singing actor. He studied briefly at Actor’s Studio in Seattle. He's performed in many lead roles at Camelot Theatre, including vocalist for "Spotlight on Simon and Garfunkel," Max in "The Producers," Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables," Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," Judas Iscariot in "Jesus Christ Superstar" and Albin in "La Cage Aux Folles." His original musical comedy, "Divine Lunacy," debuted last fall at Temple Emek Shalom.
"I've always related to artists who played piano and wrote rock songs, such as Billy Joel and Elton John," King-Gabriel says. "I think Joel is underrated as a songwriter. I think there was a certain attitude on the side of the critics who tried to pigeonhole his music. He was held up as a balladeer, but he really didn't come from that place at all. He just had a balanced way of looking at things. So he had some romantic songs that were kind of corny, and he had some really kick-ass rock 'n' roll."
Pianist, singer and composer Joel broke onto the national music scene in 1974 with his first hit, "Piano Man," which became his first Top-20 single and first gold album. Since then, he's become a multi-Grammy Award winner with top-40 hits throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s. Joel has sold more than 150 million albums, his "Greatest Hits" double album alone has shifted 23 million copies, and he is the third biggest-selling solo artist of all time in the United States, bigger than Springsteen, Madonna and Michael Jackson.
"He honestly shared his feelings, his soul, with us," King-Gabriel says.
King-Gabriel didn't realize what a time commitment he was making when he volunteered to write the script for Camelot's musical spotlight. Howver, the music came to him easily with his understanding of Joel's repertoire, chronologically and lyrically.
"I also had to be open to what I didn't know," King-Gabriel says. "Listening to an artist over the course of his or her career, you get a sense of where they're going, how their ideas are changing, and what it is to be a musician and a human.
"I was a little ambitious putting the material together. I wrote a long, wonderful biography that was full of all kinds of really cool stuff. We had to pull a few songs out because we just can't present it all. What we have now is manageable, quirky and a little less factual with a little more humor. It was the process of elimination that made me crazy."
Look for hit songs such as "Just the Way You Are," "A New York State of Mind," "Allentown," "Moving Out," "And So It Goes" and others.
"It's giving me a little bit of a personal thrill," King-Gabriel says. "Here I am, getting to sing this stuff. To the kid I was in junior high, I'm a hero, even though I'm just doing it in a small theater in Talent. Coming from being shy and introverted to get on stage and hold forth is miraculous to the kid I was."