Tales from the Road: Backstage with David Bryan – Bon Jovi, Broadway, and Beyond

Everyone has a story. Some of us are fortunate to have a few.

I won’t argue that my stories are any more important than anyone else’s. They’re just the ones I know enough about to share. And, I like to share.

One of the interesting things about my career is the way it zigzags, crossing from genre to genre. My body of work includes forays into music, theater, film, television, literature, and a few oddball areas of expertise that would surprise you. For instance, as the head of public relations, I was instrumental in making Empire Today a household name and one of the Top 200 Brands in the entire US.

One of my absolute favorite things that I get to do is serve in the trenches as the publicist for Steven Adler and his all-star brigade of rockers: Ari Kamin, Michael Thomas, Alistair James, and Cristian Sturba. Showing off a bit of duality, one of my other passions is the theatre.

These days it’s pretty commonplace for people from the world of rock n’ roll to be associated with Broadway theatre. Bono and the Edge wrote the score for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Cindy Lauper  won Broadway’s top honor – the Tony Award – for her music for Kinky Boots.

Steven Tyler, Sara Bareilles, Sting, Bryan Adams, and Elton John have all written for the Broadway stage – and done so successfully. In fact, the latter two scribes are both connected to shows of particular interest to me because of their connection to Adam Pascal – one my favorite Broadway performers.

But, there was a time that the waters of rock n’ roll and Broadway didn’t intermix so readily. It wasn’t unheard of though.

Pete Townshed brought his rock opera The Who’s Tommy to Broadway in 1993 under the direction of Des McAnuff. It was the talk of New York that year, and a reimagined 2023 revival (also directed by McAnuff) recently took the city of Chicago by storm and looks headed to Broadway to earn what could be a record number of Tony Awards.

Jim Steinman who wrote the music and lyrics for Meatloaf’s highly popular Bat out of Hell concept album also wrote the tunes for Dance of the Vampires that premiered on Broadway in 2002. It was a high-profile production with big expectations. They even got Michael Crawford, the longtime beloved star of Phantom of the Opera to head the cast.

In early 2000’s I was attached to play Elvis-inspired rockstar Conrad Birdie in a planned Broadway revival of Bye Bye Birdie. We had some really cool publicity ideas in place.

For instance, in the dialog of the show Birdie’s manager, Albert references the first song he ever wrote for the rocker was named Ugga Bugga Boo. While no such song actually existed, we were going to change that. As a PR stunt we planned to pen and release a single entitled Ugga Bugga Boo under the name Conrad Birdie (of course I was doing the actual singing). This would give us a big promotional tool to whip up a media buzz as we went into previews.

Writing and releasing Ugga Bugga Boo under the name Conrad Birdie was actually my idea that I pitched to the producer when we first started talking about the revival. I definitely think that kind of marketing mindset helped win me the role.

At the same time as we were putting the pieces in place for Bye Bye Birdie, the rights to my first book My Fractured Life had been optioned and a feature film adaptation was being readied. David Bryan, the incredible keyboardist for Bon Jovi was going to do the score for the film.

When David was getting out of high school, he was faced with a potentially life-changing decision. He had been accepted to the Julliard School, regarded as the most prestigious performing arts institution in the world. He also had the opportunity to be the keyboardist for the band Mercury Records was putting together for his friend John Bongiovi Jr. who would become better known as Jon Bon Jovi.

That band, Bon Jovi, has gone on to be one of the biggest rock acts in history. The band has sold over 120 million albums worldwide. They’ve had 14 gold albums, 11 platinum albums, 5 multi-platinum albums, and 1 diamond album.

David has been an instrumental part of the success of Bon Jovi. His keyboard arrangements are some of the best in the industry, and that says a lot. He stands with Keith Emerson of ELP, Ray Manzarek of The Doors, Jon Lord of Deep Purple, Dennis DeYoung of Styx, Tony Banks of Genesis, and Richard Wright of Pink Floyd as one of the best keyboardists to ever grace a rock album.

David has since gone on to be the toast of Broadway. He won the Tony Award for his musical Memphis, and also has seen success with the musical Diana about the late princess of the British Royal Family and the horror-comedy musical The Toxic Avenger based on the cult-classic Troma film.

When David and I first started talking about My Fractured Life, a version of Memphis had been staged at a few regional theaters but wasn’t Broadway-bound just yet. Rosie O’Donnell had just expressed interest in bringing the show to the Great White Way.

One of the things David and I talked about was an idea to do a concept album recording of Memphis featuring famous Memphis Blues musicians doing the songs. The idea was to gain some added traction and popularity to the project to grease the wheels towards a Broadway mounting. It was by no means ever planned. It was just an interesting idea that popped up.

Ultimately though David and writing partner Joe DiPietro didn’t have to go the concept album route, because soon all the pieces began falling in place – allowing the show to have its Broadway premiere in 2009. And what a premiere it was! Memphis earned eight Tony nominations, winning four awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Book, and Best Orchestrations. Obviously, David’s fingerprints were all over those wins.

My first meeting with David about My Fractured Life was at the Four Seasons during one of his concert tours with Bon Jovi.  The idea to partner together with David on the film version of My Fractured Life came about not only because he is the keyboardist in my favorite band of all time, but also because I was a fan of the little-known, one other film he had scored up until that point.

Netherworld is a cult-classic horror film from Charles Band at Full Moon Entertainment. I had done a lot of work for Red Light Records, creating a fever for bands like Crowbar, Joker, and Diamond Rexx. Pat Sicilliano, the head of music for Full Moon and its subsidiaries, loved our music and was prone to putting some of our acts on the soundtracks for their movies.

While nobody from the Red Light roster was on the soundtrack to Netherworld, I received an advance copy anyway. I was about the biggest 21 Jump Street fan you could imagine – the Johnny Depp television series that is. When Depp left the show, a young actor named Michael Bendetti was brought in as the series lead. I thought he was freaking awesome.

Michael was the star of Netherworld and Pat knew I was a 21 Jump Street fan, hence how I ended up with an advance copy of the film. When David and I eventually met, he confided that what Full Moon Entertainment was able to offer as a stipend to compose the music for Netherworld was less than the cost of the Rolex he was wearing. But, it was a new opportunity that would let him grow as an artist, so he did it for the experience.

And, I have to say, Netherworld is easily the best score of any of the Full Moon features. And, that says a lot. Full Moon traditionally always had great music in their films – a testament to both Pat Scilliano and Charles Band.

Not only did it include great songs from David Bryan like the hauntingly beautiful Netherworld Waltz (listen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYEkEpTUwP0), the soundtrack also featured artists like the legendary Edgar Winter. What it did most, though, was show off the diversity of talents that David had as a composer outside of Bon Jovi.

David and I talked very extensively about My Fractured Life at that first meeting, as well as subsequently. We had an instant rapport and saw eye-to-eye about what would make the MFL film a success.

One of the things that we both agreed on was the opportunity to explore a lot of different types of music with MFL.

“Just holding one solitary note for an extended time can add incredibly to the ambiance of the scene,” David pointed out, earning my full agreement.

David was really excited about getting to play in different sandboxes to create an overall mood with My Fractured Life. In particular, he said he was most enthusiastic about creating an 80’s TV theme song that would be needed.

A major plot point in My Fractured Life is the fictional television series Then Again. The fictional TV show was similar to 21 Jump Street – dealing with young police officers posing as teenagers and going into high schools undercover.  That theme song was something David said he was really looking forward to start conceptualizing because it would be creating something outside what was expected.

David has shown that he has the talent conquer just about any musical challenge – whether it be making Grammy winning music with Bon Jovi, creating a realistic 80’s TV theme song for a film about Hollywood decay, or winning multiple Tony awards with his first Broadway show.

During the development of the film, the producers brought names like Dean Cain, Julian McMahon, and Heath Ledger to the table as stars. Larry Clark and Robert Townsend were considered to direct.

Sometimes it takes a long time for a film to go from concept to actually being filmed and released. The most prolific example of that is Orson Wells’ The Other Side of the Moon, which was in development for 48 years. Pat Read Johnson’s 5-25-77 is another film that took decades to go from idea to releasable film. The recent 2022 release Avatar: The Way of Water from James Cameron was originally announced way back in 2010.

My Fractured Life has had some great people attached to it. I really like the script adaptation that’s been done. I truly hope that the film does get made. Of all the books I’ve written, it is my personal favorite. And, I would love to finally have David get the chance to share his musical vision for the story with audiences around the world. We haven’t talked about it recently, but there’s always hope he’ll still be interested if the right producer picks it up.

In the meantime, David continues to delight the world with Bon Jovi – the band that remains the quintessential master at bridging the worlds of heavy metal, pop, and rock. They’re one of my personal favorites, and David’s uncanny ability to translate stories and emotions into music is a big reason why.

And me? I’ll keep busy as the publicist to some of the world’s greatest entertainers. That, and sharing stories.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Rikki Lee Travolta

Check out more of Rikki Lee Travolta’s Tales from the Road at Life and Times:

Tales from the Road – Backstage with Steven Adler

Tales from the Road – Backstage with Sebastian Bach

Tales from the Road – Backstage with Chase Masterson

For more information on Bon Jovi visit: www.BonJovi.com

For more information on Steven Adler visit: https://www.facebook.com/stevenadlersite2/

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