Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Interview with Drummer Marques Walls

This article was prepared for publication in The Metro Herald this Friday, June 19:

Interview with Marques Walls, Drummer for ‘Spring Awakening’
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

As part of the Kennedy Center’s season-long initiative called “Broadway: The Third Generation,” which celebrates the current generation of Broadway musical composers, Spring Awakening opens on July 7 in the Eisenhower Theatre. Winner of seven Tony® Awards, including Best Musical, Spring Awakening is based on the 1891 Frank Wedekind play of the same name and features a score by Duncan Sheik, book and lyrics Steven Sater, direction by Michael Mayer, and choreography by Bill T. Jones.

One of the features of Spring Awakening is an on-stage band that plays the show’s folk-rock score. Marques Walls is the drummer on tour with that band; he came to Spring Awakening from the national tour of Rent.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Walls grew up in musical family. “There are seven other drummers in family, including my dad,” he told The Metro Herald; in addition, “my mom is singer, my sister is a singer, a couple of aunts are singers.”

Walls started playing at his church – his father, Monty Walls, is a well-known gospel drummer who has played with Richard Smallwood – and then he joined a youth jazz group in Mount Airy, a neighborhood in northwest Philadelphia. “That got me to Kutztown University,” he said, “then to national tour of Rent, then Spring Awakening.”

“I’ve been a professional drummer since the age of 16,” Walls told us, “but I have only been working in musical theatre for about four years.”

Speaking candidly, Walls said “I’m not really a fan of traditional musical theatre,” but he is enthusiastic about this show. The music in Spring Awakening is similar to that of Rent, he said, in that both are rock musicals “about kids rebelling.”

“The music is incredible,” he said. “I consider myself lucky to be a part of this.”

Spring Awakening “is definitely a one-of-a-kind type show. It takes place in the 1890s in Germany. It’s about kids and self-discovery, about puberty. It touches on all the childhood issues like sexuality, oppression, and ‘stick it to the man.’”

That said, he warns, Spring Awakening is “not for everyone, because there is brief nudity” and touches on themes like suicide.

Praising the actors who perform on stage in front of him and his bandmates – who are raised about 10 feet above the action – Walls notes that the “age range of the kids is 18 to about 23. They are amazing. It’s definitely worth coming out to see” them perform.

Asked if the band interacts with the other performers during the show, Walls chuckled and said: “We’re not supposed to interact with the actors, but it’s inevitable that we do. We’ve been screamed at for that numerous times.”

During the tour, which began in San Diego and moved up the West Coast to Los Angeles, San Francisco (where it ran for an atypical six weeks), Portland, and Seattle, Walls is teaching himself guitar.

“Typical days on the road are boring,” he said. The band is not allowed on stage until about 7:30 p.m., leaving about three-quarters of the day empty. “We can’t jam out,” on stage during the day, and “that’s why I’m learning guitar.”

“I tried the whole lesson thing,” he said, “but it kept falling through. So I am using instructional DVDs.”

Before getting involved in musical theatre, Walls played in a jazz band that performed on the East Coast, in Philadelphia and sometimes in Washington. “I’ve done a few jazz gigs in D.C. before, just some bars here and there, open-mic nights. We used to come down to D.C. with a cover band, a funk group, every few weeks or so.”

Walls’ role models as a drummer include Dennis Chambers, Dave Weckl, and “local guys from Philadelphia like Spanky, Eric Green, John Roberts (who played for Janet Jackson), and my dad, one of my greatest influences.”

Before arriving at the Kennedy Center, Spring Awakening will be performed in Baltimore and Philadelphia. After Washington, the tour continues to Chicago, and then, Walls said, “we have another year to go after that.”

Performances for Spring Awakening will run Tuesday through Sunday evenings in the Eisenhower Theater at 7:30 PM. Matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday afternoons will run at 1:30 PM. Tickets from $25 to $90 are on sale now and are available for purchase at the Kennedy Center box office, on the Kennedy Center website, or by calling Instant Charge at (202) 467-4600. Patrons living outside the Washington metropolitan area may dial toll-free at (800) 444-1324 or visit kennedy-center.org. Please note that parental discretion is advised due to mature content including brief partial nudity, sexual situations, and strong language.

(Production photos by Paul Kolnik courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.)


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