The title, “Lot of Livin’ to Do,” from “Bye Bye Birdie” could apply to Brennan Villines, who plays the hip-shaking 1960s egotistical rock singer in Theatre Memphis’ current production of the musical.
In addition to acting, Villines, 23, also has been music director on theatrical productions around town. He received an Ostrander Award last year for his music direction of “Blood Brothers” at the University of Memphis.
He’s also in two bands: The Brennan Villines Trio, which plays weekly at Mollie Fontaine Lounge at 679 Adams and Bhan Thai restaurant at 1324 Peabody; and Rockasaurus Rex, which performs once a month at The Blue Monkey at 2012 Madison. He also is working on his first album, due out in the fall.
Villines’s look and sound will fluctuate over the next few weeks until “Bye Bye Birdie” closes Sept. 11.
As Conrad Birdie, he said, “I have this real slick sharkskin suit, real tailored, purple sequins sewed into it ... My hair’s all flipped up in a pompadour.”
In his 1980s cover band, Rockasaurus Rex, Villines wears “skinny jeans with high-top brown checkered Vans. You might find me wearing a backwards trucker cap with a tight T-shirt or a tank top. And I usually strip the skinny jeans off and wear Spandex leggings. ... People have said that I remind them of Eddie Mercury and Mick Jagger. Just high stepping, kicking at people, swinging my hair back. I tell people to, ‘Shut up.’”
And for The Brennan Villines Trio, Villines will “throw on some shorts and high top kicks” and sing and play keyboard on a mix of pop, hip-hop and jazz standards as well as originals.
Jazz was the first love of Villines, who was born in Dixon, Ky., “a small town of about 500 people.” He began taking Suzuki piano lessons at age 3. “I was really kind of an old cat when I was younger. ... I grew up listening to a lot of Frank (Sinatra) and the Rat Pack. Harry Connick Jr. was a huge idol of mine when I was a kid. I just loved the way he played stride blues piano.”
Villines moved to Memphis five years ago to attend the University of Memphis, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music. “Immediately when I got to town I met people who were in the theater scene and they said, ‘Oh, we’d love to use you in the orchestra or be an accompanist.’ And it took them a while to realize I also had acting experience before I came here.”
“Bye Bye Birdie” director Cecelia Wingate, who directed Villines in “Title of Show,” which recently was up for a best musical Ostrander, wanted him to audition for Conrad Birdie. “She had never even seen my ’80s band. She just knew that I had that kind of a persona. She wanted to take Birdie in a different direction and have me be more like I am on stage at the Monkey when we perform. Not an ’80s Birdie, but she didn’t want to make so much of a big deal about the show being about Elvis.”
Villines still brings Elvis into the songs at times. “The key that they’re written in and the style of music, you almost have to kind of sing like this (lapsing into an Elvis voice). I don’t make fun of Elvis by doing that, but I don’t sing like Brennan would sing because it’s not a song Brennan would sing.”
Listen Up spotlights area performers. Michael Donahue can be reached at 529-2797.