'Beyond Broadway' unites father, son in performance

July 28, 2011

By ALISON PARKER - Special to the Bulletin

For the father/son duo of Shannon and Austin Gilbert, “Beyond Broadway: A Music Revue” is an opportunity to do together what they both love: performing classic rock ’n’ roll music.

The TheatreWorks Community Players show opened Wednesday at the BlackBox Theatre in uptown Martinsville.

During recent rehearsals, Shannon Gilbert drummed as he watched his son, Austin, sing.

“To see my son performing in the show is so cool,” Gilbert said. “It’s great that you have a son that has a talent that he’s using and loves, just like I did when I was his age.”

Gilbert, a self-employed paint contractor, is the drummer for the orchestra in the show. He was raised with the music that the cast is singing.

He probably won’t be the only one humming quietly along with songs in the show such as “Proud Mary,” “Soul Man” and “Hunk of Burning Love.”

“This stuff was in the Top 40 music and new,” Gilbert said. “It keeps me young at heart.”

His experience as an orchestra member in a musical production is a challenge and something he has not done since high school. Usually, he is part of a band.

“I’ve played in bands since I was in seventh grade, but it’s been a while since I’ve played in this type of setting. It’s awesome. I love being a part of such a talented group of people,” Gilbert said.

When he was 12, he drummed for his first band, The Intimate Sound.

“I’ve played rock, Southern rock, funk and country. I appreciate and love all music,” he said. He added that he played in “basement bands” that performed at local parties, and he and his bandmates enjoyed jamming to classic tunes.

“You learn how creative you can become when working with others to make one sound using a variety of instruments and vocals,” he said.

“Through the years, I have done full-time cover music all over the East Coast,” Gilbert said.

He has played in many local cover bands such as the Southern Smith River Band in the early 1970s, Skyjack in the late ’70s, 545 in early ’80s and Fatz in the ’90s. He also was part of a country/rock group called The Hutchins, which was signed by Atlantic Records, in the ’90s.

“You make a lot of friends and meet a lot of people on the way,” Gilbert said. “I’ve learned and grown from each band I’ve been in.”

Most recently, he plays in Horsepasture Christian Church’s praise band and sings in the quartet Second Chance.

“Beyond Broadway” is Gilbert’s first TheatreWorks production.

“To have the chance to use my talents and do what I love is awesome,” he said. “Since I did this stuff at a younger age, it’s in my blood. I never want to give it up.”

Austin, a rising junior communications major and theater minor at Roanoke College, was raised, predictably, with classic rock ’n’ roll.

“I grew up seeing my dad play,” he recalled. “When I was 10, he used to sneak me into clubs where his bands would play, just so I could see him sing and drum.”

Watching his father play the drums gave Austin a basis to start drumming on his own. “I’ll always love music and keep playing and singing,” he said.

“Beyond Broadway” is Austin’s second TheatreWorks production. In the musical “Chicago,” performed in June, he played the role of Sergeant Fogerty, one of Roxie’s Boys, and the prison doctor.

“Chicago was very fast-paced. Before I knew it, it was all over,” he said.

The transition from “Chicago” to the revue took Austin by surprise. Rehearsals for “Beyond Broadway” started the day after “Chicago” closed, and in the blink of an eye, he was working with a new cast and only three weeks to put the show together.

“I like that my dad is in this show. We have never collaborated on anything, and it’s great having his support after such a quick change of pace,” Austin said.

He added that he has seen his father drum in plenty of shows, and Shannon Gilbert has cheered from the audience as his son embraced a character from the stage.

“It’s interesting seeing us bring it all together in the revue,” Austin said.

Austin was involved in the drama department at Magna Vista High School and worked on productions of “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Wizard of Oz,” among others. In 2009, he enrolled at Patrick Henry Community College and quickly found the stage.

“Working with Dan Spaugh at PH reminded me how much I love theater. When he asked me to audition for ‘Chicago,’ I just went for it,” said Austin.


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