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Quick Chat: Bon Jovi's David Bryan in theater mode with 'Memphis'

The Tony-winning composer of the Broadway hit 'Memphis' is also keyboardist for Bon Jovi. Next on his busy plate is another musical and a new record.

July 30, 2012|By Gerrick D. Kennedy, Los Angeles Times
  • Composer David Bryan, left, of the band Bon Jovi and lyricist Joe DiPietro are the creative forces behind "Memphis."
Composer David Bryan, left, of the band Bon Jovi and lyricist Joe DiPietro… (Sean Masterson, For The…)

David Bryan calls his wife a "theater widow" for good reason. For the past decade much of his attention has been focused on "Memphis," the Tony Award-winning musical that begins a two-week engagement at the Pantages Theatre on Tuesday. He spoke to Pop & Hiss about how he balances Broadway with his day job as keyboardist for Bon Jovi.

What sparked "Memphis"?

[Playwright Joe DiPietro] was looking for a composer and he wanted a real rock 'n' roll guy, and not a theater composer that was going to write a rock score. I got a script in 2001 from an agent and I was immediately drawn to it.

Musicals take years to get to the stage. Was that frustrating, especially for someone coming from the rock world?

It took us eight years to get to Broadway, and [that span of time is] two rock 'n' roll careers (laughs). It's such a long, painful road. Every time you put up the production you learn from it. You make it better.

You're currently working on another musical?

Our next one, about the '60s and the Brill Building songwriters, is called "Chasing the Sun." We've started that process which is, once again, a long one. Hopefully, it's a little shorter because I have three Tonys on my mantelpiece.

Jukebox musicals have found success, but acts like Bono, the Edge and Billie Joe Armstrong are now behind original Broadway productions.

Oh yeah, it's funny when they jump into the game. I jumped into [it] nine years ago. When I first started there really wasn't rock 'n' roll in original scores. I mean Elton was doing it ["The Lion King,""Aida"], and Billy Joel for "Movin' Out" wasn't a score, it was his songs. I think because of our story, and what it has to do with rock, it really showed how important it was [to have original music].

How do you balance the demands of the music business with Broadway?

"Memphis'" is booked for over a year from now. [DiPietro] and I will start workshopping and developing "Chasing the Sun." The Bon Jovi record is next year; we're gonna put it out and tour. So 2013 won't be a lot of sleep, but it will be productive.

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