For another 70-year old, kicking it out on
stage for three July nights at 54 Below under the banner of A Little
Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll might seem like a daunting
task. Yet given Micky Dolenz's uncanny history, it's not surprising.
Produced by label exec Van Dean directed by Dean and Dolenz and
under Michael J. Moritz, Jr.'s music direction, this show demonstrates a
love for both Broadway stylizations and rock 'n' roll without
compromising either form.
In three intimate concerts, the singer and
multi-instrumentalist includes some of Dolenz' band The Monkees'
greatest hits and rarities he's rarely performed before from musicals he
loves. Having seen an intimate rehearsal before a small audience, the
raw performances with an insider's look at the process of refinement
suggests that A Little Bit Broadway, A Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll
will more than please. It should arouse a demand for it to be extended
here and beyond New York.
This eternal Californian has the experience
having starred as a kid in the television series Circus Boy, as
well as being the drummer and singer of the hugely successful rock 'n'
roll band The Monkees, which originated from the classic '60s TV show of
the same name. It debuted on NBC to incredible success and ratings
remained high for two seasons. Then Micky and the band starred in their
own feature film, Head, a 1968 psychedelic romp co-written by a
young Jack Nicholson, which became a cult classic.
Ultimately, The Monkees sold over 65 million
records, toured the US and much of the world many times. Dolenz has also
starred in musicals on Broadway, the West End, and in national tours.
These include: Disney's AIDA (Broadway), Pippin, Hairspray
(West End), Grease, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,
Tom Sawyer and more. He has also released two solo albums (Remember
and King For A Day) and a memoir. Dolenz recently appeared in the
world premiere of the new play Comedy Is Hard (Ivoryton
Playhouse) by four time Emmy winner Mike Reiss (The Simpsons).
After all this, the eternal Monkee has the
endurance to not only survive being a rock star a mega-pop star at a
time when excess and self-destruction was the norm but proven to be an
incredible multi-hyphenate in ways that few singers or actors rarely
are. The veteran Californian has had a comprehensive career encompassing
not only a range of musical styles, but creative activities as including
directing, writing, producing, and a bit of design and furniture making
Of course being best known as a Monkee
transforming the faux band into a crack quartet capable of world
tours performed as well as the studio musicians who initially backed
them on their songs raises all sorts of good questions. When you've
had such a remarkable career as Dolenz has had, while remaining a
friendly, and thankfully for this interviewer, open subject, it garners
great Q&A material. It didn't hurt that we discussed it all in such a
fine restaurant as Midtown's Palm.
these digital tools had been available to you when you did the band, how
different would it have made things? Are you glad that you came out of a
world that had that sort of naive experience of rock and roll?
That's a good point. I suspect at the time
there was somebody that would ask me, "Can you imagine what it was like
when there was no recording, or you were recording on a wire recorder or
a wax cylinder?" Up until the '50s there was only mono [monaural]. My
first tape recorder was mono. I remember when stereo came along, and the
first stereo albums [came out]. I remember clearly my father saying,
"This is [in] stereo," and I said, "What do you mean?" He put it on our
home system, a big vinyl thing. It was a sound effects kind of album,
and it had a train going from left to right. We were like, "Ohhh,
wow...." You could hear the bass over here and the guitar on the right.
So the recording process was much more
difficult [then] than it is today. It was expensive. It took a long
time. You didn't have the options. You didn't have the editing
[available]. You had to do all your work before you got to the
session. That's why the musicians like the Wrecking Crew, who of course
you must have heard of have you seen the documentary [The Wrecking
Crew, about all-star studio musicians of the 50s and 60s]? You
should, I'm in it. Denny [Tedesco], the guy that made it, his father was
Tommy Tedesco, the guitar player. [ed note: We actually have an
interview with Denny Tedesco and a couple of members of The Wrecking
Crew about the film.] He has taken 20 years to get that thing off.
I am so glad they finally got the recognition
that they deserve. Because everybody, as you probably have heard by now,
used the Wrecking Crew the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the
Papas, the Association everybody. The reason was not that these people
couldn't play. Playing live, and playing in a very, very as I said
expensive, now rather primitive environment, was a very different gig.
These studio [cats], that's all they did. They could keep the dynamics
the same. They could read the charts and just knock it out in one or two
takes. These people also never went on stage. They never played live,
except for, I guess, Glen Campbell, who is the only one I can think of.
Oh, no. They're not live performers. When you
are onstage live, you've got to perform. They were not performers. They
sat there like this [demonstrates] and played. They read the docs and
anybody ever proposed making not so much a documentary but a feature
film like this Beach Boys movie,
Love & Mercy, about the Monkees? The Monkees story is so
unique. It's fascinating how ubiquitous the name "Monkees" is no matter
what generation someone if from. A lot of people don't really get the
uniqueness of the story. In those days they would create a manufactured
band, but the people were interchangeable. Here was a created band that
actually became an organic whole; no one ever thought was possible.
Mike Nesmith used to say it was like Pinocchio
becoming a real little boy. Well, at the time, nothing like that had
happened. Now, of course, you have it happen frequently. I think the
closest thing that has come along in years is Glee. They go on
and perform, but it was a TV show about an imaginary glee club. And
The Monkees was a TV show about an imaginary band.
got to contribute and take it even further because you actually put your
own wacky personalities to work in it. Would you want to have a movie
like this made?
Well, there actually have been a couple of
little things, television things. VH1 did one years ago called
Daydream Believer. Not bad, not a bad film. There has been talk
about it. You know, I am so close to it. I'm probably not the person to
ask, because I am too close to it, really.
interesting how most of you stayed in touch. You had that group with
Davy Jones and have toured with Peter Tork...
Well, we had our own solo careers, but it does
tend to always come back to that, yeah.
seeing you and Peter playing together at the
Rockers On Broadway.
A two-dog monkee.
current show, you revisit your own personal history and reflect on it
with this musical expression. What led to doing it?
I was asked. (laughs). The Broadway
producer Van Dean, who also owns Broadway Records, resurrected that. We
met a couple of years ago. He is from Connecticut and he was doing a
benefit for Sandy Hook, for the kids. He got in touch with me and knew I
had done some Broadway stuff. I did the benefit for him, sang a few
songs. Then about a year or so ago, he got in touch with me and said,
"There's this club called 54 Below, and we have recorded a few acts
there for the record company. We'd be interested in talking to you about
it." He had come up with the idea, he knew I had done Broadway, and of
course, knew I had done rock and roll.
He said there was a Monkee tune Neil Diamond
wrote for us called, "Little Bit Me Little Bit You". So he said, "We'll
play off of that and call it, Little Bit of Broadway, Little Bit Rock
and Roll. It intrigued me. I said I could really be into that. I had
been doing a lot of theater, and of course I had had all those hits. It
took us about a year to pull it together, just to get the dates from 54
Below. And to get the band, and [musical director] Michael Moritz, and
VMD to get his band available.
the regular band he works with?
Yeah. He has lots of musicians that he works
with, and these are, I think, [the] core people. Really that's how it
happened. I wasn't available last year. Then this year, he said "Can you
do it in July?" I said "Yeah." We wanted more than one date because if
you are going to record a CD, too risky. So we waited until 54 Below
came up with three dates, and here we are. Simple as that.
brilliant that you invited people to your rehearsal the other night,
having an audience there. Did that help you in certain ways?
Yeah, it's why I requested it. It was my idea.
I could not have gone onstage cold and never having sung these songs
[before an audience]. Not the Monkee songs, because all the Monkee songs
and those stories I have done a million times. It was the half-a-dozen
[or so] Broadway tunes, most of which I had never sung before in front
of an audience, ever. Ever. No, I would say out of all those Broadway
tunes, there is only one that I have sung. That's "DW Washburn," because
it was a Monkee hit and that's the cross-over tune. All those other
songs, I've sung around the house. I've sung at auditions, like "Don't
Be the Bunny", which I mention. But no, I have never sung them before an
audience before, or told any stories about them in front of an
So when we started rehearsing, I said, "I can't
go onstage at 54 Below on opening night never having performed these
songs. So that's what that rehearsal was last night, and tonight is just
to get me comfortable with singing those songs and telling those stories
in front of strangers. I told some of them in front of my family, but I
have never sung any of those songs in front of [strangers]. Last night
was the first time I have sung "Pure Imagination", "Don't Be the Bunny"
or "Mr. Cellophane."
Obviously, it was very effective. It has a complete freshness. It's
interesting to think of these choices you made, and also to hear you
sing in these different voices to see how someone who sings rock and
roll can re-interpret a Broadway song, or how you use your Broadway
background. I loved you singing your mother singing Billie Holliday
that was great.
You talk about being a public person and a
private person. Where the lines are between public and private. When you
are exposing yourself. But rock and roll is hyper-intensive. Even when
you are interpreting someone else's song, you have to throw yourself
into it in a physical way that is not like a Broadway song.
hadn't been a Monkee, would you have still gone into rock and roll, or
music, or would you have been an architect like you had originally
planned after you had been a child star in the TV series
If I hadn't gone into that audition [for The
Monkees], I would probably be an architect, and we wouldn't be
would have invented some kind of technology.
I don't know. It's a good question. It's kind
of moot, unless you believe in parallel universes. Like the thing I
mentioned last night [at the rehearsal]. The showbiz thing has always
[been in my life], but there's the showbiz, and there's my real life. I
got it from my parents, who were also like that. My father was an actor.
He was off the boat from Italy. We never lived in the Hollywood-Beverly
Hills-showbiz-y kind of world, ever. No friends from that world, really.
We lived out in little ranchettes in the [San Fernando] Valley and had
horses, chickens, all that. So it was like, daddy went to work, and came
home and cleaned the pool. I would win my first series, Circus Boy.
I would go do Circus Boy, come home and clean the pool. So I've
got to credit them mostly with as much as you can have in a showbiz
world a very down-to-earth family life. Very down-to-earth, very
no-nonsense. They never pushed me into the business. Never like the
traditional stage mom type, "Eyes and teeth, honey, eyes and teeth."
They did just by virtue of the way they acted.
I noticed very early on that there is a difference between the person
and the persona. I don't remember them saying this to me in so many
words. But I remember when I was ten years old, I saw my father on the
set playing an evil Mexican general killing people. He would come home
and tickle me on the living room floor. So even from very, very early
on, I got that that was the character, that was the act. [Otherwise,] I
am a very private person. When I'm home, I'm in my shop I have a
workshop, a wood shop. I have a business. My daughter and I have a
family business called Dolenz & Daughter's Fine Furniture. We make
heirloom furniture. So I have always had that side of me.
think that helped you in maintaining your sense of authenticity?
It must have, I guess. One of the things they
did I think was very smart was after Circus Boy. It was a big
show, a very popular network prime time show. I was 12 or 13, so they
took me out of the business entirely. Back to school, public school. No
showbiz, no acting. So I missed that whole post-childhood success
craziness. The disappointment, "They don't love me anymore,
Mommy." Growing up and going through puberty is tough enough. Having
that "You're a has-been at 13" is what I believe messes up kids like
that and has done in the past. We have even seen it recently, with the
kid from Star Wars the little kid [Jake Lloyd] who played
Anakin Skywalker. You don't know who you are. You don't know what
happened. All of a sudden you're a has-been at 13. My parents wisely
took me out of the business entirely. I really didn't get back into it
until The Monkees, ten years later.
this process of putting this show together, and these different lives,
do you have any reflections?
Yeah. Finding and choosing the songs for the
Broadway section was really an interesting process. I had assumed that
this started with songs that I had sung in a show like [A Funny Thing
Happened on the Way to the] Forum, Grease, Aida,
Hairspray, Pippin we could have started with those. But
none of them worked. None of them worked because most songs in a
Broadway show are part of the narrative of the show. That's why they are
a Broadway show. You have to be in the show.
integrity lies in the context.
Absolutely. That's what Broadway shows are. All
the dramatic moments don't turn on dialogue, they turn on a song. Like
the old saying: in a Broadway show you talk and talk and talk until you
can't talk anymore, and then you sing. Those big moments, dramatic
moments or comedy moments or whatever, turn on a song. That's what makes
them Broadway shows. The downside, if you are trying to find material,
then [you have to] do songs out of Broadway shows that stand alone. We
can count on a couple of hands how many songs?
Cabaret is one of the few.
One of the few. The Beatles did "Til There Was
You" I mean, very few, because they are part of a narrative. Doing a
show like this, that was the problem we ran into. They are great songs.
I wanted to do a song out of Aida.
you mention it, I notice you didn't do any songs from the shows you were
None. Not a one. We found songs that are
stand-alone. But do they also speak to my narrative? "Mr. Cellophane"
[from Chicago] is a good example. We set it up with that story
about sometimes you'd like to be invisible. It worked. That was an
interesting challenge, trying to find these songs. It took me about a
you go about finding them?
A lot of them recommended by Michael. Two of
them came out of my childhood: "Some Enchanted Evening" and "But Not for
Me," [thanks to] my mom. Actually, a couple I had been working on over
the years as audition pieces. "Don't Be the Bunny" got me three shows.
ever find it ironic that you did Pippin and then in the recently closed revival version which
is now on the road incorporated that circus element?
I haven't seen that version. I hear it's really
an album of non-Monkee songs, right?
Yeah, a guy in England came out with [one]. He
compiled all these obscure tunes from the '70s that I did post-Monkees
on MGM. I totally forgot I had even done them.
interesting timing, that it is coming out now in light of you reviewing
It's not a one-man show or anything like that.
I'm not that interested in myself. I do love the fact that it is
incorporating the two things I love most in music, which is rock and
roll and Broadway.
you learn about yourself as a singer or performer in terms of how you
interpret Broadway or rock and roll?
I learned that many years ago, when I started
doing shows. Like I mentioned last night, The Monkees was a
little bit like Broadway on television. A little bit like musical
theater on TV. Like an old Marx Brothers movie. After we were cast, they
screened Marx Brothers movies for us, Laurel & Hardy, the Beatle movies.
I remember it was heavily weighted towards that Marx Brothers idea. Not
the Three Stooges, we never beat each other up. [It was] One for all,
all for one. There's an interesting book called The Politics of
Ecstasy, written by Timothy Leary. When you go back, you will find
almost a chapter devoted to The Monkees. Whatever you think of Timothy
Leary, I don't know, but...
love Timothy Leary.
He got it. He mentions things like that. I
don't remember his words the irreverent, psycho-something jello but
basically what he said was, the Monkees brought long hair into the
living room. Before that, the only time you ever saw young people with
long hair on television, it would be an arrest. It made it okay to have
long hair and wear bell bottoms. I mean, the kids said "See, Mommy, the
Monkees don't commit crimes against nature, and they're just having a
good time." [He sings] "We don't want to put anybody down." In a very
similar way, I realized years later that Henry Winkler did it with the
Fonz, in making it okay to wear a black leather jacket. Until then, we
were outlaws. We were Marlon Brando and The Wild [Ones]. You were
a motorcycle gang thug. You had your hair like that with a motorcycle
jacket. In another similar way, I thought, was the way that Will Smith
made it okay to be a young black guy [doing] rap music in The Fresh
Prince of Bel Air. The Monkees did that for the hippie generation.
ways, in hip hop and motorcycle gangs there always was a level of not
the noble outlaw, but the bad outlaw. The hippie thing was never meant
to be outlaw.
No well, not outlaw, but [the show] was never
anti-Establishment. We still couldn't do or say anything about the war.
We couldn't talk about anything controversial. The NBC censors were
very, very strict. In fact, there is a great story. There was one
episode called "The Devil and Peter Tork." It [was based on] the
Faustian legend. Peter wants to learn how to play the harp, and says,
"I'd give anything to be able to play the harp." The devil appears and
says, "Would you really?" He says, "Sign here." Peter then suddenly can
play the harp. He comes back to the beach house and says, "Hey, guys, I
can play the harp!" "How did you do that?" And he said, "Well, I had to
just sign this..." I say something to the effect of, "Peter! You've
signed your soul to the devil, which means when you die you will go to
hell!" This is in the script. They sent it to NBC, to the censors,
before we were shooting. The censors came back and said, "You can't say
that on network television at 7:30 at night. You cannot use the word
'hell'." 1967. Well, we didn't say it. [Series creator] Bob Rafelson
fought tooth and nail he said, "It's FAUST!"
probably said you can't say that, either.
"Who's this Faust guy? You send him over
here." So Bob Rafelson fights tooth and nail to get the word "hell" into
the script. They said no, absolutely not. So if you watch the episode,
when that scene comes around, I say something to the effect of "Well
Peter, you sold your soul to the devil, and that means when you die, you
will go to that place we can't mention on network television."
amazing what you got away with then.
We slipped some zingers in there, but it was
tough. It had to go under the radar.
thing was that you had all those layers, and the characters were
You understand that The Monkees was not
a band. It was a television show about a band. An imaginary band. On a
imaginary band that had no real connection to the real world. Where was
the beach house, by the way?
Malibu. Which begs the question: how could we
have afforded it? We had a beach house, and we never worked.
this absurdist show. That is what was so great about it.
Yes, imaginary. It was a set Stage 7 at
Screen Gems. There were two or three other shows that were trying to be
high level that year music shows. I was up for them. There was one
about surfing Beach Boys kind of thing. There was one like Peter, Paul
and Mary that actually did go to pilot, it was called The Happeners.
Then there was another show that had a whole big family thing in a bus,
like the New Christy Minstrels kind of thing A Mighty Wind.
That became The Partridge Family years later, I think.
Monkees was the amazing, unique combination of forces that made the
show you guys, Bob Rafelson, who later on made a movie like Head,
with Jim Frawley directing.
Paul Mazursky wrote the pilot, with Larry
Tucker, his partner. You know Bob and Bert [Schneider] produced Easy
Rider. I'm in that book, also: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls [How
the Sex-Drugs-And Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter
Biskind]. They used Monkee money to make Easy Rider.
think that confluence of forces could ever come together again. That's
what made the show transcend its origins.
That's what makes any show transcend, if you
look at any show, or movie, or album. It's just that what happens is the
whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Bob Rafelson, years
later, even said, "We caught lightning in a bottle." You can look at any
show like Star Trek. You can't hang the success of the show on
any one thing, like William Shatner, or Gene
Roddenberry, or Leonard
Nimoy, or the sets or the dialogue or the costumes. It doesn't work like
that. You can't reduce that stuff down in any real scientific sense. You
can't take it apart.
People ask me this all the time, and as a
scientist and I consider myself a scientist you can't take it apart.
It's like taking a watch apart to see how it works. It won't work
anymore if you take it apart. Even with The Monkees, I get asked,
"Are you really like that?" No, I don't run around, twice the speed of a
human, backwards. There were elements of me in that character. But they
didn't want to hire pure Actors, to Play A Part. Bob Rafelson and Bert
Schneider knew that to grab those kids, they had to have something
[else] that's why they used our real names.
ever want to direct films?
I did. Nothing you heard of it was all in
England. The one film I did here was a movie of the week for Lifetime,
starring Stephanie Zimbalist, actually. A typical Lifetime movie, female
in jeopardy, called Malpractice. Over here I directed TV. I
directed Boy Meets World, Pacific Blue... But I did a lot
of stuff in England. I had been there for 15 years.
regrets that those projects didn't get seen here?
It wasn't really my call. They were owned by
BBC and LWT. I tried to get a couple a change of format versions over
here, but they were very British shows, so I'm not sure they would have
translated. Some would, but there are not that many shows that have made
it over here. A little more these days, but back then it was very
your daughter that you are working with, you have how many other kids?
Three other four daughters altogether. Ami
who is an actress, and she still does a little bit has now taken to
what she always wanted to do, which is illustration. Children's books
illustration. Even before she was an actress, that was what she wanted
to do. She is doing quite well. She lives in Canada, Vancouver. She is
studying at Emily Carr Art School, which is the famous Canadian art
institute. Getting a certificate in illustrating children's books. We
are going to write a book together and she is going to illustrate it.
Then my next oldest, Charlotte, just got married to a lovely guy. They
are living in Vienna, Austria. He's been posted there he works in the
State Department, and he is there for a couple of years. She works for
the Clinton Foundation, CHIA, she's a malaria officer for five African
countries. From what I gather, they advise the local governments how to
combat malaria in their particular region. The next one is a preschool
teacher and photographer. The youngest one, Georgia, is the one that I
have the furniture business with. They are all doing quite well. A
couple of production companies have approached us about doing a show.
But we'll see.
do you want to do?
I would love to do more musical theater. I'd
love to be on Broadway.
No, not necessarily. Just some great part. I
have a wish list of parts that I would love to do. I'd love to do
Thιnardier in Les Miz. I'd love to do the Wizard in Wicked,
I'd like to do Amos in Chicago. I'd love to do Wilbur in
Hairspray, if that ever comes again. I just did that in the West End
for about a year, in London. I was offered shows that I couldn't do for
one reason or another. I was offered Drowsy Chaperone. There was
another show, a national tour, and I couldn't do it.
in good shape. What do you do?
No sex, no drugs, no rock and roll.
Both halves of this Philly cheese steak. No,
I'm pretty active. I have a good metabolism. Frankly, working in the
shop it's not running a marathon, but we're on our feet sometimes
eight hours a day, handling lumber and machine tools. I have a
full-blown machine shop.
have accounts, or does someone hire you to design their living room?
No, it's all handmade for orders that are on
the website. It's specific heirloom pieces a coffee table, a hope
chest, sitting bench seat... We have one line which is Shabby Chic stuff
we have three items in that line. Then we have three items in this
redwood line, and there's a cedar heirloom hope chest with brass
fittings. We're just coming out with a chess set next week that I
designed. It's all hand-carved, hand made, we sign everything and number
it and brand it.
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