On Stage Extra: Joe Sumner proving he isn’t just a famous son

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Joe Sumner

When a musician has a legendary rock star as a parent, it can open doors or be a big burden – or both.

Joe Sumner, who will be headlining at show at MilkBoy Philadelphia MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com) on May 16, doesn’t have to worry about such things.

The talented singer/guitarist/songwriter has the musical chops, the voice and the vocal style and the ability to write great songs to make it on his own – and that’s what he’s been doing.

He just wrapped up touring with his father – as an opening act performing solo and as a member of his father’s band.

The familial connection is eased somewhat by the name. Virtually every rock music fan is familiar with his father’s work — as Sting, the bassist of The Police who followed with a massive solo career. Only a percentage could tell you that Sting’s real name is Gordon Sumner.

“With Sting, the name connection doesn’t immediately jump out,” said Sumner, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It comes out more in the music – the vocal similarities…and the family resemblance.”

Growing up in a musical household didn’t have the effect on Sumner that you might expect.

“Music was always around, but I spent my life as a video game nerd,” said Sumner.

“When you’re a teenager, you’re either for or against what your parents are into. I was against.

“Then, everything changed when I heard Nirvana. I wanted to be Kurt Cobain. It was 1991 and I really got into the grunge thing. As I got into playing more, my tastes expanded, and I was listening to ska punk. I really liked 2 tone bands like Selecter and English Beat — both musically and politically.”

Music found its way into Sumner’s primary focus. After few years packed with stateside travel, failed roadie gigs, and music school, he found his footing as a music maker returning to the U.K. to play in his London band, Santaʼs Boyfriend – a band would become Fiction Plane. The trio hit a peak with an 18-month tour with The Police, before eventually slowing down to a halt.

After spending a chunk of time on the road touring with an all-star Bowie tribute project, Sumner entered the studio to start recording the handful of songs that would become his yet-to-be-released debut solo LP, “Sunshine in the Night.”

“I’ve always had really dark lyrics,” said Sumner. “People ask me if I’m depressed. I’m not. I just put everything negative in to try and transcend it.

“I’ve put two singles out so far – ‘Hope’ and “You You You.’ I want to put more out. I want people to connect with the lyrics.

“I started out making ‘Sunshine in the Night’ with just guitar and voice. Then, when I was recording it with producer Tom Syrowski at Henson Studio in L.A., we threw everything in.

“It’s all ready to go but, because of COVID, it’s been sitting for a while. With the pandemic, I got my legs cut off. Now, I’m ready to get it all back again.”

Video link for Joe Sumner — https://youtu.be/arAu6pZFdEs.

The show at MilkBoy Philly on May will start at

Tickets are $12.

Other upcoming shows at MilkBoy Philly are Corey Bernhard on May 13, Donovan Melero on May 15, Great Blue on May 17 and Joe Kaplow on May 18.

Lyric Fest

Lyric Fest (https://lyricfest.org) is back in action this weekend with a project featuring just one composer from the middle part of last century — Cole Porter.

Anything Goes: Cole Porter – Uncensored” will be presented on May 17 at the Moorestown Community Center in Moorestown, NJ and May 18 at 7 p.m. at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia. Featured in this all-Cole Porter program are baritone Randall Scarlata, mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis, and pianist Laura Ward.

“We’re an art song revival series and this is our 19th season,” said DuPlantis, during a recent phone interview from Philadelphia.

“We take a theme and create a program. We curate songs and also do commissioned music.”

This music has been around much longer than Lyric Fest has existed.

“Every year for the last five, we’ve been ending the season with an American Songbook composer,” said DuPlantis.

“We started at the beginning of the 20th century. We did the Gershwins. We did Kurt Weil, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart and now we’re doing Cole Porter.

“It’s about songs that have endured. Cole Porter’s songs are still being done a lot. We put together a program of a lot of our favorites.”

Porter was cut from a different cloth than other American Songbook composers.

“He was an interesting guy,” said DuPlantis. “He wasn’t poor. He wasn’t from New York. He wasn’t Jewish. He came from the Midwest, and he was wealthy.

“He wrote about high society because he was experiencing it when he moved to New York. He was always being censored. Now, we’re singing the songs the way he wrote them.”

Some of the showcase numbers in this concert will be “Anything Goes,” “Let’s Do It!,” “So in Love,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “From This Moment On,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “Miss Otis Regrets,” “Night and Day,” and, of course, “Begin the Beguine.”

Tickets for either show are $25.

Hairspray

From May 17-22, the Kimmel Cultural Campus (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) presents the National Tour of “Hairspray” at the Miller Theater

The show’s 20th Anniversary is this year, and this is the first time “Hairspray” has toured since 2009. The show’s messages of inclusivity are as timely and relevant as ever, whether it be about self-acceptance and body positivity or the resonance with the experiences of people of color today.

“Hairspray” started out many years ago as a John Waters movie – a typically off-beat Waters piece that eventually became a cult favorite. In 2002, the musical version of “Hairspray” made its debut at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre. Two months later, it opened on Broadway to rave reviews and went on to win eight 2003 Tony Awards – including “Best Musical”.

The show is a lavish production with great singing, sparkling dance routines, top-notch acting and colorful sets and costumes. It is also a thought-provoking story that is set in the early 1960s and deals with prejudices against blacks and fat people.

The story has a lot of messages – especially about discrimination and desegregation. But, it’s not a heavy show – it’s a feel-good show. The main thing is that people have a good time when they come to this show.

The focal role in the show is that of Tracy Turnblad. The challenge of performing the energetic role is handled wonderfully by Janine Merolla.

Tracy Turnblad, an overweight teenager with all the right moves, is obsessed with the Corny Collins Show. Every day after school, she and her best friend Penny run home to watch the show and drool over the hot Link Larkin, much to Tracy’s mother Edna’s dismay.

After one of the stars of the show leaves, Corny Collins holds auditions to see who the next person on the Corny Collins show will be. With all of the help of her friend Seaweed, Tracy makes it on the show, angering the evil dance queen Amber Von Tussle and her mother Velma.

Tracy then decides that it’s not fair that the black kids can only dance on the Corny Collins Show once a month. With the help of Seaweed, Link, Penny, Motormouth Maybelle, her father and Edna, Tracy sets out to integrate the show.

The cast will be led by Andrew Levitt aka Nina West (from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”) as Edna Turnblad, Niki Metcalf as Tracy Turnblad and Sandie Lee as Motormouth Maybelle.  Joining them are Billy Dawson as Corny Collins, Will Savarese as Link Larkin, Emery Henderson as Penny Pingleton, Jamonté D. Bruten as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Kaelee Albritton as Amber Von Tussle and Addison Garner as Velma Von Tussle.

Christopher Swan plays Wilbur Turnblad and Kaléa Leverette plays Little Inez with Caroline Daye Attayek, Kelly Barberito, Helene Britany, Jamonté Bruten, Tanner Callicutt, Shante Clarke, Ryahn Evers, Carly Haig, Michael Harmon, Michael Corey Hassel, Kaleb Jenkins, Greg Kalafatas, Gabriel Kearns, Stevie LeWarne, Jr., Nichelle Lewis, Brendan Morris, Faith Northcutt, Adam Blake Raque, Nadia Ra’Shaun, Renée Reid, Micah Sauvageau, Gabriyel Thomas and Emmanuelle Zeesman as members of the ensemble.

This new touring production reunites Broadway’s award-winning creative team, led by Director Jack O’Brien and Choreographer Jerry Mitchell.

“Hairspray” will run from May 17-22 at the Miller Theater. Ticket prices start at $39.

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