Sunday, January 11, 2004
New York Micky Dolenz studied architecture in college and was fully prepared for a life planning buildings -- not rock 'n' roll immortality -- even though he was auditioning for television shows between classes.
"I figured if architecture didn't work out, I could fall back on show biz," he says with a laugh. "That was Plan B: acting and singing."
Plan A, though, quickly faded when he nailed an audition in 1966 to join "The Monkees," a TV comedy based on the antics of a rock group modeled after the Beatles. Dolenz could see the blueprints on the wall.
"I'm not a fool. I knew the power and possibility of a series on television," he says. "And the train just took off."
It would be the "Last Train to Clarksville."
Still, but there's more than a little architecture in his latest project: The role of the scheming Prime Minister Zoser in "Aida," Disney's cartoony take on the Verdi opera.
Zoser, after all, has a thing for building pyramids.
"Yeah," Dolenz says after considering the matter. "I guess in the end I've managed to combine both those dreams."
Dolenz, 58, has joined co-stars Michelle T. Williams of Destiny's Child, Will Chase and Lisa Brescia in the Broadway version of "Aida," the Tony-winning musical with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice.
The rock-musical tells the story of a love triangle between Aida, a Nubian princess forced into slavery; Amneris, an Egyptian princess; and Radames, the soldier they both love.
Dolenz, who has been with a touring version of the show for six months, plays Radames' father, contributing songs like "Another Pyramid" and "Like Father Like Son."
"It's been an incredible opportunity for me to do something that is so -- I mean, God love The Monkees -- different," Dolenz says. "There is nothing like getting out there on a legitimate stage and having to really pull it off."
Dolenz is no stranger to the musical stage, having previously toured with companies of "Grease," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "The Point" and "Tom Sawyer." He also wrote the book for, and directed, "Bugsy Malone" for the London stage.
Looking back, Dolenz sees a connection between his current work and the one that forever will be linked with his name -- The Monkees, whose albums and TV show were chart toppers in the late 1960s.
"'The Monkees,' in a way, was a musical on television," he says. "Like a Broadway show, you can't fake it on stage. You actually have to sing, and you actually have to play."
Well, not at the beginning. The Monkees -- or Prefab Four, as they were called -- were the brainchild of Columbia Pictures producers who were inspired to create a television show after the success of the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night."
Open auditions were held and four strangers were cast: Dolenz, who performed "Johnny B. Goode" on guitar for the casting directors, as well as Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones. Dolenz was cast as a drummer without ever having hit the skins.
At first, the band's songs -- like "I'm a Believer" and "Last Train to Clarksville" -- were written by the likes of Neil Diamond and Carole King, while other musicians played the instruments.
But by 1967, the band had enough of the make-believe and began insisting on playing and singing their own songs. Dolenz had become proficient on the drums, and the four began a heated behind-the-scenes battle with producers and NBC.
"It wasn't that we didn't want to play or couldn't play. They would not allow us to play -- literally," Dolenz says.
The Monkees won, and what had been fake gave way to fact. The band went on tour -- Jimi Hendrix was the opening act -- and supplied the soundtrack to the 1968 movie "Head."
"The Monkees really becoming a band was like the equivalent of Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan," Dolenz says.
Dolenz no longer fights the incessant questions about The Monkees and has embraced his fame. Members of the band periodically reunite for concerts, and Dolenz is happy to play the old songs.
"I have no regrets," he says. "I love 'The Monkees.' ... The Monkee train is gonna go on, with or without me, forever."