Brian Charles Rooney’s Trouble Making Welcome in Rock City Falls
ROCK CITY FALLS — Don’t put Brian Charles Rooney in a box. Unless, of course, you want to cause trouble.
The countertenor brought his wickedly fun show “In Trouble” to Rock City Falls on Friday, July 16th to a crowd of theatre fans at The Mansion of Saratoga. Accompanied by Dan Radzikowski on piano, Rooney gracefully moved through Broadway hit after Broadway hit with extraordinary range and delightful character acting. Defying any particular definition, he crossed genders, styles, and decades of music.
Rooney opened the show with “Y’all Got Trouble” from The Music Man, fluidly shifting the location from River City to Rock City while dancing through the crowd. He never skipped a beat as he played with the audience, walking around warning locals of the danger of horse racing and pool. When he smoothly shifted into “I Put a Spell on You,” one had to really study him to make sure he hadn’t just shape shifted into a woman. His higher range, sexy moves, and sultry voice didn’t match your eyes. Rooney followed with the favorite “Sooner or Later You’re Gonna Be Mine,” and the audience knew we were in trouble: the wicked, joyful trouble of someone who loves to challenge stereotypes.
Rooney’s chatter between songs matched his message, and he was on point all night with the clear message that not only is trouble fun, it might very well be something we need to challenge the world. Villains, he pointed out, are often the product of being improperly treated; who can blame a good old-fashioned villain for acting out when he or she has been mistreated?
The performer showed off his clear as a bell soprano vocals in “Wanna Be Evil,” only to juxtapose it with “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls with a huge broadway vocal finish in the tenor range. Rooney clearly enjoyed the responses from audience members, smiling and slinking on and off the stage as easily as his vocals went below and above the expected range.
When Rooney relaxed, he shone. He admitted to feeling a bit rusty, although this critic didn’t see any rough spots needing further polish. “If I,” a song composed by Scotty Arnold as part of the Muse Match program in NYC, offered a sarcastic and dark response to a partner’s heartbreak with a plan to kill his lover. At the close of the song, he invited an audience member on a date with a wink and a nod. The chuckles during the performance were heart felt. Looking around the audience all one could find were smiles.
Staying with the theme, he expanded upon stalkers and re-examined artists from Sting (“Every Breath You Take”) to Heart (“Alone”) with the lens of trouble. The audience roared as he belted out Freddy’s lyrics about being on the street where you live from “My Fair Lady” in a minor key. “Beautiful music can hide a multitude of sins it seems,” Rooney wryly smiled.
And then, the ultimate stalker, the Phantom of the Opera was highlighted with “Music of the Night.” At that moment, during the “Music of the Night,” it became clear the audience shouldn’t be fooled by any of the silliness of the evening. Rooney not only has talent; he’s a classically trained musician whose smooth technique, spot on pitch, and tenor voice could command any opera or show. At the close of the song, the audience was cheering.
Rooney has chosen not to be pigeonholed into a role or expected vocal performance. Although friends have remarked it might make it easier on casting directors if he “chose one range,” Rooney has opted instead to sing all that he can – regardless of if it makes others uncomfortable. He debuted on Broadway as Lucy Brown in Three Penny Opera with Cyndi Lauper (sounding just like her, by the way, when he said her name). Playing women, he noted, has given him insight into how women may feel in the workplace. Male directors, suddenly calling him honey, sweetheart, and doll weren’t listening to him the same way once he donned the heels, skirts and soprano roles.
Rooney not only noticed this, but built increased respect for women out of the experience. He proudly sang “Sister Suffragette” from Mary Poppins, pausing only to imagine Robert Downey Jr. under a conservatorship like Brittany Spears. By empathizing with women, he has increased his respect for them, and elevated awareness of how gender continues to be a barrier for many to reach success or be heard. “I’m wishing more men would become trouble makers for women,” he noted, and the audience cheered.
Often when men play women, the roles become oversimplified or cartoons of the female experience. Rooney showed not only great insight and intelligence but also compassion and willingness to accept both the welcome and the uncomfortable parts of the female experience. He sang in a female voice with greater respect than many, and as a result, his work is a welcome contribution to the field.
Rooney performed his medley of varying lyrics from famed musicals, crossing genres, gender, and styles from one line to another. He is well known for this, and the audience was nonetheless delighted by his ability to fluidly shift from lyric to lyric so quickly the pen couldn’t keep up on the page. Lovers of musicals delighted in hearing him represent Les Miz, Hello Dolly, and Phantom. “Don’t put me in a box!” he exclaimed at the close of the medley. That would only limit him, and who would do such a thing and limit our joy? By taking on these voices, he can tell more stories and represent more visions than the narrow one often demanded by marketing and casting teams.
“Poor Unfortunate Souls” was a delightfully tasty representation of Ursula from The Little Mermaid. Ursula became forgivable and (dare we say it?) lovable as she was understood through Rooney’s lens. He loves bad guys and villains, feeling they are misunderstood. “You’ll Be Back” was a humorous King George from Hamilton, followed by “I am What I Am” from La Caux au Faux.
Rooney gracefully provided an unpracticed “Think of Me” from Phantom as an encore, and while vulnerably nervous throughout (he even asked what note it ended on before starting, and warned it was more karaoke), once again delighted by ending on a very, very high note.
Rooney’s huge respect for the women’s voices he represented in story and song shone through, as did his humility as a performer. To be clear: the performer has talent that is rare. His range exceeds others’ and his wisdom about how to manage his uniqueness is extraordinary.
Here’s hoping he keeps making trouble in our world. We need this kind of trouble maker, those who question the rules, demand to be seen — and yes, heard.