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Monday, May 27, 2024

The Doo Wop Project transcends musical  generations

Dom Nelfi sings with The Doo Wop Project
Dom Nelfi

The Doo Wop Project transcends musical  generations.

Just like Dom Nolfi.
The singer with that group appeared in a touring production of “Grease,” early in his career and eventually made it to Broadway in “Jersey Boys.”

“I loved greasing up my hair for ‘Grease’ and I obsessed over early rock and roll,” Nolfi  said this past week in a telephone interview. “I think doo wop music is part of Americana. It’s part of our music history.”
So is The Doo Wop Project, which comes to The Sharon on March 25. The group features five guys in their 30s and 40s, like Nolfi. They  came of age listening to the likes of Michael Jackson, Garth Brooks, Adele, Maroon 5 and Jason Mraz.

But their stage roots stem from the Four Seasons and Motown, back to the 1950s. Names like Dion, Johnny Maestro, The Five Satins, The Del-Vikings, The Flamingos and The Capris dot the setlist.

Mix that musical stew of a time capsule and you have The Doo Wop Project. The group features Nolfi, along with Charl Brown, John Dias, Dwayne Cooper and Russell Fischer.
They appeared on Broadway in such shows as “Jersey Boys,” “Motown: The Musical” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

The Doo Wop Project was born around a decade ago, after Nelfi and cast members of “Jersey Boys” got together as they were nearing the end of their run with the show.
“One day we decided it would be fun to find a way to keep this music going,” Nelfi said. “We wanted to go back to the music that influenced Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Motown.”
And that was doo wop. One of the songs in Jersey Boys is “A Sunday Kind of Love,” a doo wop standard for the Del-Vikings in 1957.
“People in our age group weren’t paying much attention to that kind of music,” Nelfi said. “We wanted to take doo wop and get that sound in contemporary music.”

The Doo Wop Project features Broadway performers keeping the music alive with oldies and contemporary songs. They play The Sharon March 25
The Doo Wop Project features Broadway performers keeping the music alive with oldies and contemporary songs. They play The Sharon March 25

The musical director and driving force behind The Doo Wop Project is Sonny Paladino. His uncle was a member of Johnny Maestro’s Brooklyn Bridge, the group Maestro formed after the Crests.

Paladino has a long career on Broadway as a music supervisor and conductor, including the Neil Diamond musical: “A Beautiful Noise.”

But Paladino always had a passion for doo wop.
“This music makes you feel good,” he told PBS, which has telecast a special on The Doo Wop Project. “We love to contribute to the tradition of this great music.” Here is an example:

But The Doo Wop Project is more than just another oldies concert.  “This is a real show, with Broadway performers,” Nelfi said. “There is a dynamic Broadway energy to the performance.”
It also, in some ways, is a musical history lesson that goes far beyond doo wop.
“I really think doo wop is an extension of groups like The Mills Brothers and Ink Spots,” Nelfi said, mentioning groups that go back to the ‘30s and ‘40s.

One song The Doo Wop Project often performs is “I Only Have Eyes for You.” The song was a monster hit for the Flamingos in 1959. But it was written in 1934 and performed by Dick Powell that year in the movie “Dames.”

The Doo Wop Project, however, doesn’t just sing in the past. “We wanted to show the influence in modern music,” Nelfi said. Their show often offers these numbers: “The Way You Make Me Feel,” by Michael Jackson; “Friends in Low Places,” Garth Brooks; “I’m Yours,” Jason Mraz and “Sunday Morning,” by Maroon 5.

There is also plenty of Four Seasons (“Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry”) and Motown (“Tracks of My Tears,” and “Tears of a Clown.”)

Charl Brown of The Doo Wop Project earned a Tony Award nomination for his performance as Smokey Robinson in “Motown The Musical.”

Brown didn’t have to look far to find his doo wop roots.
“I came to know about doo wop music from my dad,” he said during a Doo Wop Project performance. “My dad had his own amateur doo wop group. So I had a foundation for this great music.”
That came in handy when Brown auditioned for “Jersey Boys.”
“I sang ‘In the Still of the Night,’ when I auditioned for ‘Jersey Boys’” he said. “I sang gospel, R&B, and jazz but there was always something special about that Motown soul.”
That’s why Brown and fellow Doo Wop Project member Dwayne Cooper – who played Melvin Franklin of the Temptations in the Motown musical – display their soul in the concert.
That’s part of the reason The Doo Wop Project’s popularity is growing. The group has released a couple of albums, TV specials, videos and live performances.
“Our main audience is baby boomers but we get all age groups at our shows,” Nelfi said. “We’re seeing more younger people. Grandparents are bringing their grandkids. We have three generations of fans.”

It all harks back to the birth of doo wop in the early 1950s, when neighborhood kids would sing on street corners.
“It’s true,” said Nelfi, who earned a BFA degree in theater from the Boston Conservatory. “The kids who started doo wop didn’t have a lot of money, or a piano at home. They went out on the street and made music.”
It was also a melding of cultures, Nelfi added. “You had African-Americans, Jewish, Italians, Hispanics, all coming together to make this music. That’s why its such an American musical form.”

Nelfi appreciates the artists that made doo wop matter. Among those he mentioned were Dion, Johnny Maestro and latter-day performers like Kenny Vance and the Planotones.
“They are like the original OGs,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep this music alive and reach the standard they set.”

Tony Violanti writes about music and entertainment for Villages-News.com. He was inducted into The Buffalo Music Hall of Fame as a music journalist.

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