“We look at each other when we’re on stage and think, ’Holy shit! This is our job!’ ”the out former rock singer exclaims. “We’re clocked in. Can you believe this?”
Cunio is a former member of the Chicago cast of “Jersey Boys,” the smash musical about the lives of the Four Seasons. When the show closed in 2010, Cunio and fellow former cast members Michael Ingersoll, Christopher Kale Jones and Shonn Wiley decided to keep the spirit alive by forming Under the Streetlamp, a group dedicated to performing music from “American Radio Songbook” of the 1950s and ’60s.
Now in its third year, Streetlamp has taken the country by storm, gaining nearly instantaneous recognition thanks to a PBS special aired in 2011 that was repeated June 6 on Milwaukee Public Television. The group will next be seen locally in a live performance on July 13 at Mequon’s Gathering on the Green, the Milwaukee suburb’s summer outdoor music series.
“We thought we could ride on the coattails of ‘Jersey Boys’ for awhile, but we had no idea how quickly this would take off,” says Cunio, a Seattle native.
The music of the Fours Seasons factors into Streetlamp’s playlist, but so does a wealth of other material – from the Beatles to the Beach Boys, from Van Morrison to James Brown. Some numbers dip back to the 1930s or reach to the 1980s, but most have been mined from what many think was the golden age of pop radio music.
“Public response to ‘Jersey Boys’ helped us see that there was a hunger for this music,” Cunio says. “We see multiple generations in our audience and know that we are stewards of this music and need to be true to its spirit.”
Streetlamp benefits immensely from having four lead singers with the capabilities to harmonize and back each other up. Cunio describes himself as the group’s rocker, and would happily perform Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” if he thought it would fit into Streetlamp’s repertoire. Instead, he takes the lead on the group’s rhythm- and-blues numbers, including the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” and the Etta James torcher “At Last.”
Ingersoll leans toward R&B, but also has a rocka-billy bravado that brings out Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison covers. “Pretty Woman” is the Dayton, Ohio, native’s signature tune. Jones draws on a Christian music background and turns his tenor voice to ballads, while Wiley is the group’s choreographer and tap dancer. He also performs some of the earliest music on Streetlamp’s playlist.
In addition to the obligatory Four Seasons medley, Gathering on the Green audience members can expect some early rock ’n’ roll (“I Wonder,” “Blue Moon”), some feel-good numbers (“Happy Together,” “I Get Around,” “I’m a Believer”), early soul tunes (“Nowhere to Run,” “Get Ready”) and maybe even the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” the ultimate audience sing-along number. But then all the songs turn into sing-alongs, Cunio says. “There is no ‘fourth wall’ in our show,” he explains. “We encourage people to sing along.”
In addition to being consummate performers, Streetlamp members also are crusaders for various social causes. Their partnership with PBS has enabled them to raise funds for public television stations nationwide, including Milwaukee Public Television. The group has also raised funds for Broadway Cares/Equity, Fight AIDS, the National Parkinson’s Foundation and other groups. Within the last two years, Streetlamp has contributed more than $3 million to causes and charities, Cunio says.
The group travels with a guitarist, bassist, percussionist and pianist and hires three local horn players in cities where they appear. The Mequon show should be very much like the others that have led to the group’s growing following.
“The audience can expect to be out of their seats – jumping and dancing, singing along and laughing their faces off,” Cunio says. “We think of ourselves as less of a concert and more of a party.”
On July 14, Gathering on the Green will feature “Music from the Movies” with guest star Kate Shindle from the Broadway cast of “Legally Blonde.” Details for both performances can be found at www.gatheringonthegreen.org.