Two-and-a-half years ago, Douglas Lyons went to a friend’s concert at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Throughout the concert, his friend shared stories, including one about his relationship with his grandfather—and inspiration struck Lyons.
He began writing a story about Ace Baker, the frontman of a band, whose life changed forever when he met the grandfather he didn’t know he had at age 12 and his grandpa introduced him to the guitar. “When we started Beau, I knew how I wanted to tell it: seven actor-musicians, who took the stage as a band, but at any moment any of them could step from behind their instrument and dig deep into scene work,” says Lyons. “That was a great start, but who these people were and why were we telling this story, was always the question.”
Over the past years—from a residency at The Directors Company to workshops at Lincoln Center’s Broadway Songbook series to the 2019 world premiere production at the Adirondack Theatre Festival—Lyons and his collaborator, composer Ethan D. Packchar, have begun to answer it.
As Ace MCs his album debut party for his band’s record Beau, named for his granddad, he revisits memories as his 12-, 13, 14-, 15-, 16-, and 17-year-old self. “You watch Ace emerge from a young-queer bullied teen into a fully-realized musician, because of a man he never knew he had,” Lyons explains. “Beau loves him, guides him, and leaves him.”
Beau marks Lyons’ musical writing debut, after performing in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon and Beautiful. But a different urgency pushed him to write this story. “I’m most passionate about our show because there are still 12–17 year old children killing themselves over bullying, social media attacks and self-loathing. It has to stop,” says Lyons. “These kids have to know that there's more to life than the moment they're living. I pray our show becomes that gigantic light, encouraging people to hold on a little longer.”
Here, writer-lyricist Douglas Lyons gives us a track-by-track breakdown of the world premiere recording of Beau, released digitally last month on Sony Masterworks Broadway. The record hits shelves November 29.
1. “Pop Pop Beau” sung by John Krause
This was the first song ever written for the show. The melody came to me about 2:30 in the morning, and I started writing lyrics the next day. I'm very specific about the voices that sing our music, and during a late night Instagram hole I stumbled upon John Krause. He was singing from Hadestown, which he's currently in, and I was blown away. I sent some of his YouTube clips to our music team, and everyone agreed he was the right fit. I "slid into the DM's," as the kids say, and six weeks later John was in the recording studio with us. Chris Gurr, Beau's music supervisor, and my writing partner Ethan D. Pakchar really outdid themselves on the arrangements with this one. This version is quite different than how we initially did it in the show, but me thinks this version might end up in the show!
2. “So Better” sung by Jenn Collella
When Jenn agreed to do this track we all about fainted. Sonically, Beau is a fusion of pop, funk, soul, folk, and country. “So Better” is probably our most country style tune in the show. It's a wordy one too, but Jenn slammed it down like a champ. I love how quickly Jenn's vocals can shift from flirtatious to rock star. It's a work of art to have so much range on one track.
3. “Comin' Home” sung by Ben Roseberry
I call “Comin' Home’ our non-traditional "I want" song. It's a tender and vulnerable love song to the father Ace never meets. Ben was actually on our first Lyons & Pakchar album #Love(Live), which debuted in Fall 2013. His voice is butter—wholesome and open. I knew he’d break our hearts, and that’s exactly what he did.
4. “Shut Up” sung by Saint Aubyn
Saint Aubyn is James Brown. I repeat: Saint Aubyn is James Brown, with a side of Prince. “Shut Up” is a funkadelic dedication to every soul-stirring ’70s band there ever was. We had so much fun recording this in the studio that I didn't want the session to end. In the show proper, this song is a flashback with Beau's band The Bell Bottoms. It was fun to evoke the roots of soul-funk with a splash of musical theatre storytelling.”
5. “It Couldn't Be” sung by Gerard Canonico & Max Sangerman
I love this song because it's a contemporary musical theatre duet for men. At this point in the show, Ace and Ferris are questioning the palpable connection between the two of them. What am I feeling? Is this wrong? Should we be doing this? Gerard and Max's vocals bring such angst and wonder to the tune. It's vulnerable, passionate, and quiet all at the same time.
6. “By Your Side” sung by Jeb Brown
This is strategically the most stripped and unplugged performance on the album. It sits smack dab in the middle of the record as a palate cleanser. We're heavily evoking James Taylor and Kenny Rogers in this track. In the show proper, this is the moment Beau introduces music to Ace. Beau’s guitar, Rosetta, becomes the bridge between the two men. Ace falls in love with his grandfather, and so does everyone in the audience.
7. “Crush” sung by Aisha Jackson
Confession: I've listened to this track more than any other on the album. Aisha Jackson’s vocal spectrum reminds me of a young Whitney Houston. The clarity, agility, and soul brings a smile to my face. "Crush" was made famous by Mykal Kilgore on our debut album #Love(Live). It was not originally in Beau, but during development it found its way into the show. As Ace comes into his own as a songwriter, "Crush" is one of his first tunes. Coincidentally, it was one of Lyons and Pakchar’s too.
8. “Disappear” sung by Charity Angel Dawson featuring Olivia Griffin
"Disappear" is a perfect fusion of old-time blues and rock. You have the thump of electric guitar and swell of rolling keys, all underneath the angelic powerhouse that is Charity Angel Dawson. Charity’s voice has so much emotion embedded within it that you feel a tingle down your spine. At this point in the show, Ace has just been outed in front of his entire high school. He’s dejected and chooses to isolate himself. Charity perfectly captures Ace’s loneliness in every note.”
9. “Thursday in July” sung by Mykal Kilgore
This is the 11 o'clock number, right after Ace gets the news that Beau has passed. The song pulses with heartbreak and Mykal Kilgore’s voice pulls you right in. This song is for anyone who's lost someone; which is all of us.
10. “Runnin’”sung by Matt Rodin
"Runnin’" is the single from the album, and has quickly become the anthem of our show. Matt Rodin has originated Ace Baker from table reads to readings to concerts to our launch production at The Adirondack Theatre Festival. To watch his journey over the past two years culminate in him recording this song warmed my heart. "Runnin’" has some of my favorite lyrics in the entire show: "There are no mistakes there in your mirror. For you were made perfectly. So why are we running? Why do we run, from what we see?"
11. “By Your Side Reprise” sung by Matt Rodin and Jeb Brown
This tune captures the love between Ace and Beau quite well. It’s a song dedicated to anyone who has made an imprint on your life. Mother, father, aunt or friend, they all leave a mark. That special person may no longer be on the earth with you, but they're forever "By Your Side.”
12. “Encore” sung by The Adirondack Theatre Festival cast
I love an encore. I love a shared celebratory moment between both audience and actors. In the Adirondack Theatre Festival production this song took the cake for me. Over 200 people stood on their feet nightly, clapping with us in celebration of our new musical. This is the perfect way to conclude the album. Sending listeners and audiences out into the world with a little more love.