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SCKBSTD - For new musical, Bruce Hornsby pushes actors to drop the glee, boost the soul

By Sam McDonald

10:53 PM EST, January 14, 2011

Bruce Hornsby, Williamsburg's own pop music champion, gave himself a tough assignment when he stepped into the unfamiliar world of big-time theater music.

He wanted to create a Broadway-style musical that doesn't sound too much like a Broadway-style musical.

The result of five years of effort, "SCKBSTD," debuts Tuesday at Wells Theatre in Norfolk.

Hornsby and his childhood friend and co-lyricist Chip deMatteo penned songs covering a range of emotions as well as musical styles. Gospel, rock, New Orleans boogie-woogie — even polka — show up in the 19 tunes featured in the play, whose title is pronounced "Sick Bastard."

While the range of music is somewhat unusual for Broadway, Hornsby said the singing style he wants has little to do with what's expected on the Great White Way.

"That's one of the most difficult aspects of this, for me, to try to eradicate the glee club consciousness from the scene," Hornsby said last week. "Many of the actors, they're great actors and really great singers, but they come from a background where Otis Redding wasn't part of their diet. But they've been great, been eager to learn …They're doing a good job of it. You're going to hear that sound, that Broadway style. But hopefully, we keep it at bay."

Actor Robert Cuccioli, who plays the mysterious title character, said he welcomed Hornsby's vocal coaching. "It's taking the musical performer out of you a little bit," said Cuccioli, a Tony-nominated performer whose Broadway credits include roles in "Les Miserables" and "Jekyll & Hyde."

"His is more a style of really getting into the groove," the actor said. "Being very specific as to what the beat is, what the groove is. It's the Van Morrison, Otis Redding, getting those rhythms in your head."

Cuccioli said Hornsby's fresh perspective on theater has been refreshing. "That's part of the reason why this is so good … He doesn't know the rules so he's made his own. It's really interesting and exciting."