Detroit, MI

Motown: The Musical Veterans Meet Jersey Boys to Create The Doo Wop Project, an Ode to Old Detroit

Joseph Serwach

The Doo Wop Project makes beautiful music thanks to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Public TV.
The Doo Wop Project joined with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, to bring two classic "Detroit sounds" together under the same roof.- Photo by Joseph Serwach.

DETROIT —  When The Doo Wop Project arrived at Detroit's 103-year-old Orchestra Hall, the fire alarms went off, sending the audience onto the sidewalks waiting for the Fire Department to tell them they were good to go. Soon, everyone was cheering as two Detroit classics combined.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known worldwide, so combining a 50-piece world-class orchestra with a classic doo-wop sound born on the streets of Detroit? The two fit together like a Coney Island hot dog and a cold Vernor's ginger ale. Soon, the audience was cheering.

Three of the five Doo Wop Project singers appeared in Motown: The Musical giving a distinctly "Motown flavor" to their work bringing the 1950s style to modern music and audiences. They joined with the DSO for a June 1 concert and have a new PBS TV special (filmed at Detroit Public TV studios in February) airing nationwide.

What’s doo-wop? Doo-wop groups, synonymous with the 1950s, hit the R&B chart with big hits starting in 1951 (more than 70 years ago with songs like “Sixty Minute Man,”) and doo-wop groups remained vital for another decade. But the classic sound never totally went away, and it soon inspired the Motown sound that followed in the 1960s.

The doo-wop style began in the 1940s in big cities like Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, Newark, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles. Doo-wop songs were sung with little (or without) instrumental accompaniment, all simple, snappy, harmonious, and fun. But the influence continues.

You see it in Broadway shows that have made a staple out of telling the stories of the pop singers of the 1950s through 1970s in recent years. The five Doo Wop Project singers include:

  • Dominic Nolfi appeared on Broadway in Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale — The Musical. He’s also been featured in Motown: The Musical and Jersey Boys.
  • Charl Brown is a Tony-nominated veteran of Motown: The Musical and Jersey Boys.
  • John Michael Dias appeared on Broadway as Neil Sedaka in the Tony, and Grammy Award-winning hit Beautiful: The Carol King Musical.
  • Russell Fischer, who joined Jersey Boys on his 22nd birthday, starred in the second national tour of Big: The Musical.
  • Dwayne Cooper sang with the Christian group, The Cunningham Singers. He’s been called “a modern-day Sammy Davis Jr. meets Barry White” and has appeared in Motown: The Musical and Smokey Joe’s Cafe.

Their pianist and musical director Sonny Palodina is also the music director for the upcoming Broadway revival of Smokey Joe’s Café.
A fire alarm (it was a false alarm caused by a pump) evacuated Orchestra Place before the Doo Wop Project played this week.- Photo by Joseph Serwach.

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