Actor, producer writer Donnie Kehr began Rockers On Broadway with The Who’s Pete Townshend on a whim. Twenty-four years later, it has become an annual event, giving the actors on Broadway a chance to rock-out.
“This year at Rockers on Broadway: Legends Live On! we pay tribute to legendary musicians who have passed on,” says Kehr.
The greatest rock & roll bands might be in heaven, but they continue to be the soundtrack of our lives and live on inspiring us with their music,” he added.
The show’s lineup includes Tony Award Winner Michael Cerveris, Tony nominees Alex Brightman and Constantine Maroulis and Olivier Award Winner Lesli Margherita among other Broadway greats.
As their 24th edition rolls around (Nov. 13), TheImproper had a chance to sit down with Kehr to hear about the show’s origins and why it remains so popular.
TheImproper: Tell us about the beginning of Rockers, take us back.
Kehr: “In 1993, The Who’s TOMMY was preparing to open on Broadway. One day during rehearsals Pete (Townshend) approached me about doing a couple of live concerts around the city. He wanted the cast to learn what real Rock & Roll felt like, and for a bonus they could perform with him. He wanted us to have this experience for ourselves, because it would help translate that edgy rock sensibility into our performances. At Pete’s request I gathered the TOMMY orchestra and formed a band. Once the band was set, I held a company meeting with my fellow cast members and asked them to join in the fun.”
IM: What was the reaction from the theater community?
Kehr: “I would say the theatre community has proven their love for Rockers On Broadway by coming back every year for 24 years now. We have a solid staple of fans and Broadway stars participating in the show to give back to the community.”
IM: Who were the performers at that first one; and where was it staged?
Kehr: “The first Rockers on Broadway was held in the Spring of 1993 at the China Club on 75th St. In addition to the Tommy cast and Pete (of course), special guests included Joe Walsh, Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes) and Eddie Vedder. For me, the experience of singing ‘Pinball Wizard’ next to Pete that night changed me forever. It was extraordinary. Really, who doesn’t want to feel like a Rock Star…at least once?”
IM: What have been some of the most memorable performers?
Kehr: “We’ve had amazing performances from so many great performers it’s hard to pick. But if you go to our YouTube Page you can check them out and decide for yourself!”
IM: And, the honorees over the year have included …
Kehr: “Over the years we have given awards to: Pete Townshend, Frankie Valli, Micky Dolenz, Tom Kitt, Debbie Gibson, Rupert Holmes, Paul Williams, Des McAnuff and radio DJ ‘Cousin’ Brucie Morrow.
IM: Rockers is an outgrowth of the PATH fund; tell us a bit about that.
Kehr: “Actually The PATH Fund is an outgrowth of Rockers. As a result of the continued success of Rockers On Broadway, the producers formed an offcial 501(c)3 foundation (PATH) to continue the original magic and produce other charitable events.”
IM: As a musician and performer yourself, have you made talent discoveries?
Kehr: “Over the last 10 years we have worked and helped develop some really talented young artists including Megan Rice, Miles Mancuso and this year’s Jayna Brown.”
IM: I’ve attended several and Ben Cameron is the perfect host; the one with Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork was a blast too.
Kehr: “Glad you have enjoyed Rockers. Yes, Ben Cameron is the consummate host. He not only understands how to work room and get the audience engaged, his Broadway background gives him an edge and makes him the perfect fit. We love him. It was a thrill to have Peter join us the year we gave Micky and award. Having two of the original Monkees in such an intimate settling was amazing.”
IM: What have been your personal favorites? Last year, Gene Cornish from The Rascals, was terrific, too.
Kehr: “My personal favorites. One was playing with Pete Townshend at the first Rockers and the second was Paul Williams singing his classic, ‘Rainbow Connection.’”