Popular music is no stranger to the world of musical theatre. Shows like Rock of Ages, Green Day’s musical American Idiot, or The Who’s rock opera Tommy have enjoyed tremendous success. But until I met George Woods, I had never heard of a songwriter turn one of his albums into a successful ballet.

The Boston-based George Woods Band released their album Heartbeat back in November 2012. About three months later, the band teamed up with choreographer Jennifer Kuhnberg to transform the concept album into a ballet with a cast of 12 dancers. They called it “Heartbeat: A Modern Dance Rock Concert.”

 

 

Despite his ambitions, George Woods makes sure not to take himself too seriously. When I meet him at Diesel Cafe, a few minutes into talking about the catharsis of music, he interrupts himself to say, “Hold on, my roommate just texted me about the bathroom, meaning my phone will blow up for the next 15 minutes.”

“I got my sense of directness from my father,” he explains. Ever since he was a little kid, his father told him everything. He knew about sex when he was four. When he was about eight, his father looked him in the eyes and said, “Son I’m gonna die one day. One day you’ll be alone, so enjoy that plastic dinosaur.”

His father’s honesty has heavily influenced Woods’ music. “It’s helped me develop a straight-forward realism,” he says. For Woods, a good song is an honest song. He doesn’t care for some of the songs on the radio about “eating yo birthday cake” because he knows they won’t be remembered.

When Woods makes music, he dives into his own experiences and spills out his heart. He walks me through a tumultuous time in his life as he explains the lyrics from Heartbeat, which tells the story of how he met and fell in love with his background singer and now-fiancée Heather. About an hour into the interview, she joins us. “I just finished telling him the story,” he tells her. “Oh, the whole story?” she asks with a huge smile.

Although Woods’ album is about his own romantic story, he finds that the emotional resonance in his music is universal — people have told him that his music has helped them through depressions. Earlier in his career, a woman who was diagnosed with cancer felt so much power in his music that she requested he record it for her to listen to during chemotherapy. It made her want to live.

I’ve only seen video excerpts from the ballet and plan to see it this fall when it starts running again, but from the excerpts, it is breathtaking. Woods has a unique skill — he can be serious and heartfelt one minute, and crack a joke a second later. Talking to George Woods feels like finally catching up with an old friend after several years. In the ballet, his ability to form this type of personal connection with the audience is felt. At this part of the show, for instance, he asks the crowd to help bring her back home. “All you gotta do is sing,” he explains.

 


 

You can see some more clips of Heartbeat: A Modern Dance Rock Concert at here. Be sure to come to Heartbeat this September 21st, 26th, 28th, and October 3rd at the OBERON Theatre in Cambridge, MA.

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