The latest production of the dynamic husband-and-wife team of Jersey Shore Broadway talent Lisa Sherman and Oscar-winning songwriter Franke Previte celebrates three iconic American troubadours: James Taylor, Carly Simon and Carole King. Taylor Simon King’s clever musical arrangements and unforgettable, carefully chosen songs take audiences through decades of the legendary singer-songwriters’ individual careers and beloved music.
The band also includes Lisa’s co-vocalists Byron Smith and Mary McCrink, guitarists Ralph Notaro, violinist Gary Oleyar, saxophonist-percussionist Tommy LaBella, drummer Lance Stark, bassist Buddy Allen, and the father-son combo of guitarist Todd and keyboardist Sam Sherman. Experience them live Jan. 21 at the gorgeous new URSB Carteret Performing Arts & Events Center.
Having starred in other popular productions on and off Broadway, Lisa created and produces Taylor Simon King with husband Franke, Best Song Oscar winner for “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life)” from the 1987 film “Dirty Dancing” and front man of legendary Jersey Shore band Franke & the Knockouts. Married this summer on July 29 – eight years to the day from their first date – the creative couple chatted with me about Taylor Simon King, as well as other upcoming projects and endeavors. Enjoy the following interview, and for more info, visit www.taylorsimonking.com.
What inspired a celebration of the music of the three troubadours?
Lisa: About four years ago, my dear friend, the late, great Bethanne Clayton, and I were jamming at a party in her house. It just so happened that we kept being asked to sing songs that coincidentally were by King and Simon. Our friend Byron Smith also dropped in, and he’s such a Taylor fan, so he got asked to do a bunch of his songs. Afterward, I brought up the idea about putting a show together with all three artists, and so that’s how it originated. At that time, it included her 15-year-old son, Paul Reinhold, who’s a prodigy bass player, and his best friend, Ben Figuly, who’s a drummer. Both kids are now at Julliard with full four-year scholarships! Anyway, that’s how it all started.
Was there a song by or collaboration between James Taylor, Carly Simon and Carole King that most inspired the project? If so, why?
Lisa: Not really. I think the artists and their catalog of music speak for themselves. You simply can’t go wrong.
How much did your friendships with Mary McCrink and Byron Crawford Smith influence the project?
Lisa: Byron I’ve known for a very long time, and I’ve always known his fondness concerning James Taylor. Now that being said, our show isn’t the type of tribute show where we’re portraying the artists; however, it just so happens that Byron’s natural tone simulates James Taylor to a tea, and so he takes professional advantage of that. I knew he’d be perfect for this show.
Mary, I’ve also known for a very long time, and I’ve always been in awe of her individual ability to recreate vocal arrangements. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s known for that.
After Bethanne passed away, the show shut down for a while for obvious reasons. Bethanne, her son and his best friend were now not involved, and I had to regroup, literally. Then COVID hit -- another nightmare -- but during that time I reached out to other players and formed another
Taylor/Simon/King musical family with a different energy. Then, shortly after we began to rehearse, which, during COVID was a challenge. Then, two of my band members became extremely ill, and, once again, I had to re-group and re-cast. When it came to finding another female singer, I searched for a different sound, someone who could pull these songs off with a varied flair, and that’s how Mary came to be involved.
How did the band come together? Did you know who you wanted for each role or did you hold auditions or both?
Lisa: There weren’t auditions per say. I knew these players and their abilities from working within the business for so long.
Comment on what each band member brings to the project to make it special?
Lisa: It’s a big band! So working with 10 different personalities and talents can always be a blast and a challenge at the same time. Todd Sherman, acoustic guitar, and Sam Sherman, keyboards, are family to me. However, we’re not related even though we share the same last name. We’ve all grown up together in the Rumson/Fair Haven area. Their restaurant, Barnacle Bill’s, has been a landmark in the Monmouth County area for as long as I can remember, and in general, working with them always makes me feel at home. I trust them, I can count on them 100 percent. I simply adore them both -- their talents and their endless support for this production. They’ve also been with me since the beginning.
Gary Oleyar, violin/vocals, is a talent beyond! He’s brilliant, crazy musically talented, has a great voice. He’s also a recording engineer and built his own recording studio, has the patience of a saint and adding his talents to this production was one of the most logical decisions I could have made. Tommy LaBella, sax, flute and percussion, and I go back many years. He’s known, respected and loved by all. Tommy’s such a talented musician, and I’m very blessed that he’s made time in his busy schedule to be a part of this production.
Lance Hyland Stark is the happiest drummer I’ve ever worked with and wears a constant smile on his face. He holds the rhythm chair for many well-known names within the music industry and has the ability to adapt his feel from hard rock to a show such as Taylor/Simon/King. His professionalism, versatility and individual aura is what drove me to wanting him in this show.
Byron Smith, lead vocals, I’ve known and worked with for years, and he’s been with this production since the very beginning. Besides the obvious gift of vocals, Byron is the mellow, gentle band member who time and time again has the ability to captivate you into his story telling and overall performance. Mary McCrink, lead vocals, has been in the music scene forever, and I’ve known her for many years. Quite a few players in this show have been a part of Holiday Express, and that’s when I’d usually see Mary although I knew of her vocal talents. When Bethanne passed, I searched for a vocalist who could bring a different flavor and texture to the material; and I was right! Mary offers mesmerizing vocals, and I can truly say ‘nobody does it better,’ just like the title of the song she sings from Carly Simon.
Buddy Allen, bass, I call him ‘the professor of funk.’ Buddy kicks ass and drives the band. I met Buddy when I first met Franke, and we’ve played together off and on over the years. I’ve wanted him on other projects I’ve done, like ‘Disco Connection.’ OMG that was a fun show, but Buddy was busy with other projects, and so I was really excited when he said yes to this one. Ralph Notaro, vocals/lead electric guitar, and I have worked together for many years, and he’s been the musical director for my ‘Broadway and Beyond,’ ‘Disco Connection’ and now ‘Taylor/Simon/King.’ Ralph is the consummate professional, extremely versatile, always dependable, plays his ass off, and the ladies love to watch him on stage.
Franke: Lisa and I usually have several band members we like to include to keep a consistent core to work from. Then we discuss adding the orchestral colors needed for each project; maybe a second keyboard or a horn player, even possibly a violinist for colors. It gives us a chance to give the music its own unique vibe. It really helps the listener’s experience.
Which song do you most like to perform or hear performed each night?
Lisa: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. What’s magical about this catalog of music is that it doesn’t get old. I don’t feel music fatigue from this material, and so I enjoy everything I sing in this show. My top faves? ‘Stuff that Dreams Are Made of,’ ‘Natural Woman,’ and ‘I Feel the Earth Move.’
Franke: For me, picking just one song is almost an impossibility. There are just so many great songs to pick from, but the upside of that is having James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Carol King catalogs of songs to pick from. This gives an opportunity to keep the show fresh by being able to add new songs for the returning fans.
What feedback have you gotten from Taylor, Simon or King or anyone associated with them about the show?
Franke: The best feedback we’ve received is from the audiences themselves, standing on their feet singing along and chanting for more. This to me is the only feedback I need to hear. This is why most musicians play live music.
Lisa: Thank God so far we’ve received nothing but rave reviews. Driving through COVID has created a lot of road blocks for theater capacity, and people in general are still hesitant for all the right reasons. We look forward to being able to play more rooms and share the trip down Memory Lane with bigger audiences.
When will Taylor Simon King have its own social media accounts?
Franke: We currently have our new website -- taylorsimonking.com – that will direct fans to upcoming shows and information about the band, plus videos of some live performances, booking contacts, and a one sheet for booking agents. Facebook and Instagram pages are in development.
Have you visited URSB Carteret Performing Arts & Events Center either physically or virtually? If so, what do you think of the new venue and why?
Franke: Yes, Lisa and I went together. Diana St. John, director at the Carteret PAC, was gracious enough to give us a full tour of this state-of-the-art facility. I truly feel once people in Carteret and the surrounding areas start becoming regulars there, the theater will become a staple theatrical and musical destination.
Lisa: Franke and I know Diana St. John, so we got a first-hand look and tour through the theater. It’s an incredible state-of-the-art performance venue, and I can’t wait to play this show there on 1/21/2022.
When and where else will Taylor Simon King perform?
Franke: After the Carteret PAC on Jan. 21, the production is already aggressively booking the upcoming spring, summer and fall seasons. We get to start with March 19 at The Vogel Theatre, Red Bank, NJ. This is a return visit by popular demand. The last show sold out in 22 minutes last June. Another return date will be to the historic Bucks County Playhouse in addition to Atlantic City casinos.
Lisa: All our upcoming performances, cast bio breakdown, photos, videos, etc., are up on our website: taylorsimonking.com.
Do you have any other productions in the planning stages and/or any plans to revive ‘The Un4gettables,’ a Broadway-style revue you produced together?
Franke: With the popularity of the TSK show, we are concentrating right now solely on this project, but, hey, you never know what life has in store for you in the future.
Franke, are you involved or plan to be involved in any ‘Dirty Dancing’ and/or Franke and the Knockouts projects?
Franke: Funny you asked, Bob. I just got a call from the St. George Theater in Staten Island asking me and one of the other co-writers, John DeNicola, to help them celebrate the 35th anniversary of ‘Dirty Dancing.’ Wait a minute! I just said 35th anniversary! OMG!
Anyway, the theater is showing the movie on May 15, and they have asked John and myself to do a Q&A after the movie. Can’t wait to see the movie again on the big screen.
And in February of 2022, there’s going to be a new Franke and the Knockouts collaboration with Jeff Stevens Band. ‘Stranger’ Jeff is a radio jock from iHeart Radio. For the past year or so, Jeff and his band have been recording remakes of several hit songs from the original singer/songwriters; songs like John Waite’s ‘Missing You,’ Rick Springfield, and now on or around Valentine’s Day, a Stranger and Franke Previte remake of ‘Sweetheart’ is in the works.
Additionally, on Feb. 12, a live concert is scheduled in Dayton, Ohio. Other guests on the bill are Peter Beckett (‘Baby Come Back’) and Looking Glass’ Elliot Lurie (‘Brandy’).
Lisa, my wife commented on how toned your arms are. Comment on your longtime gig as an exercise instructor and how folks can take classes with you.
Lisa: Please tell her thank you. I work hard on them! I’ve been a master level exercise professional since 1988 and have been working within the fitness industry since the late ’70s. I was signed with Nike International as one of their educational fitness specialists and continuing educational providers for 10 years. I also had my own TV/video show in New Zealand for 10 years.
Presently, I have my own studio at the house where I offer private and or Zoom classes, and I teach group Fitness Barre, Body Sculpting and Step classes between two studios: URfit and Ozone Fitness. I have my own YouTube channel, which offers all my NIKE-sponsored videos from the early ’80s to classes I offered during the early part of the pandemic. All my fitness information can be found on www.lisa-sherman.com; just click on my fitness page. All my contact information is there too.
How long have you been together as a couple and collaborators, and which came first, the romance or the work?
Lisa: Well, we just got married this past July 29, and we’ve been together for eight years. I’d say the attraction was our interest and connection to the world of music that we both share. However, the respect and romance became the bond that glued us.
Franke: On July 29, Lisa and I celebrated eight years from our very first date, which we called our anniversary, but we decided to make that date official, so we go married July 29, 2021. Now that date has become our official anniversary date.
How has getting married changed the dynamic of how you work together?
Franke: Really to be truthful, nothing has changed.
Lisa: Nothing has changed … and that’s good news!
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
Lisa: I think we covered a lot. Thank you so much for this opportunity, Bob.
Franke: For the past 30 years, I’ve been trying to give back to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in (‘Dirty Dancing’ star) Patrick Swayze’s honor. I do this by selling the original demos of ‘(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life’ and ‘Hungry Eyes’ that Patrick and Jennifer (Grey) actually danced to. I tell ‘Dirty Dancing’ fans they can own a piece of ‘Dirty Dancing’ history, and in the same breath, be able to give back by purchasing a copy of these original songs. Please help us to heal others.
Bob Makin has produced the Makin Waves column since 1988. Follow Makin Waves at https://facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.