Behind the Scenes with Rob Stringer and Alex Dee of Celebrating Billy Joel

Ashleigh Prince sat down with Rob Stringer and Alex Dee of Celebrating Billy Joel – America’s Piano Man ’50 Years of Billy’ to talk about their favorite Billy Joel songs, Worcester and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.

Ashleigh: Hello everyone, welcome back to Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. Today we are with Celebrating Billy Joel – America’s Piano Man ‘50 years of Billy,’ and we cannot wait to have the show on our main stage! Good morning to Rob Stringer and Alex Dee!

Rob: Good morning, Ashleigh! It’s nice to speak to you. 

Ashleigh: It’s great to speak to you as well. I am really eager to participate in this interview because Billy Joel’s birthday was a day prior to us recording this. He just turned 73 and wow, what a legacy this man has led. I’m a big fan of Billy Joel and I know that you are probably much bigger fans than I am. Let’s talk about Billy and the way that this tribute brings his great music to life. 

Alex: I think the idea of how many fans there are and how great his career has been is really at the heart of our show. What we want to do is take the opportunity to come to theatres like yours, celebrate his wonderful musical legacy and try to do justice to the incredible repertoire and songbook that he’s gifted us with. 

Ashleigh: I know that I have listened to his albums many times and I’ve heard the song “Vienna” more times than I can count, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually experienced it live by anyone. This will be a fantastic treat for new fans and old fans alike. 

A plain black background with white letters that read "Celebrating Billy Joel, America's Piano Man"
Celebrating Billy Joel, 2022

Rob: Billy’s touring schedule is a bit more limited to his New York performances, so our hope is that we can bring the music to audiences, sort of across the United States and help people enjoy the sound of it live rather than just on their albums that they’ve heard such a lot. It’s always nice to hear music in a live setting with an audience and to enjoy it all together. 

Ashleigh: Right. How did you two start with Celebrating Billy Joel? How did this begin?  

Alex: Rob and I have worked together as musicians for a really long time. We were talking a couple of years ago about the first time we worked together, which would have been over 10 years ago. Although it took us quite a long time to come to the show, our mutual love of Billy Joel’s music was one of the first things that we talked about. We’ve worked together on a wide variety of things and a couple of years ago, we decided the time was right for us to launch a show together that was celebrating this music that we both love. We both come from similar but slightly different musical backgrounds.

The way that Billy Joel fuses jazz, rock and roll, classical music and all the great things we love about music is really exciting. It is what is at the heart of our passion for this music. 

Alex

Rob: When I originally talked to Alex about the idea of during the show, it was during COVID, so we weren’t able to meet in person, sadly. We jumped on the Zoom call. As I was talking to him about the idea, I noticed he had framed pictures of Billy Joel up on the wall in his music room, so I picked the right person to work with.

Ashleigh: Yeah, you certainly did. I know it’s like picking a favorite child, but what is your favorite song by Billy Joel to perform?

Alex: It’s a bit of a cheat because it’s about three songs in one, but I just can’t get past “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” In terms of performing it live, it’s quite a mammoth task. When you’re in the middle of it, you’ve got all of these different styles fuse together and the band’s really killing it, that’s very exciting. I think that would be my favorite to listen to and to perform because I think it encapsulates everything that’s so exciting to me about his music. 

The members of Celebrating Billy Joel play on stage. They each play an instrument; piano is on the left, guitar is in the center and saxophone is on the right
Celebrating Billy Joel, 2022

Rob: I’m going to agree about playing “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” For songs I like to listen to, I’d have to go with “She’s Always a Woman” and “And So It Goes.” I just think it’s absolutely beautiful and so moving. I’ve loved all the versions I’ve heard of it that have been covered by so many different artists as well. It’s just fantastic.

Alex: Incidentally, I think we might have given different answers here than we’ve previously given in the past. I think we both reserve the right to change our mind at any given time.  

Ashleigh: I’ll ask you again once you arrive in June, how about that? 

Alex: Great idea. Love it. 

A painted picture of Billy Joel playing the piano with the Celebrating Billy Joel logo
Celebrating Billy Joel

Ashleigh: We’ll have an ongoing roster and it’ll change as the as the seasons change. You hit the nail on the head there, I love “And So It Goes.” That is one of my personal favorites. I don’t know if I would be able to pick a favorite, but that one is so beautiful. I’m curious how you do that one live because it’s a little musically challenging with the way that he’s layering upon himself. I’m curious how that goes with your band. 

Alex: We have methods and we have our ways. I think it’s an opportunity in the show for that to be a real beautiful, contemplative moment. That’s what we really focus on. If you can imagine the musical equivalent of all the lights going down and the spotlight coming up on a performer; it’s that sort of moment really. 

Ashleigh: That does sound like a magical moment. With the addition of that song, what else is in your setlist? What can we look forward to when we attend Celebrating Billy Joel

Alex: One of the things that we can promise people is that we may well not play your favorite song. The challenge is, he has so many brilliant songs. What you’ll have to do if we don’t play a favorite song this time, is come back and watch us next time.

We’ve really tried our best to put together a greatest hits show. It centers around his 70’s and 80’s pomp.’

Alex

Alex: We’re talking about songs like “And So It Goes” and “River of Dreams.” There are a few outliers that don’t belong in that core center of the repertoire, in terms of timeline, but it’s been a real challenge to narrow it down to what we think is the greatest hits. There’s lots of songs from those great albums, “The Stranger,” “Turnstiles,” “52nd Street,” “Glass Houses” and some stuff from “Innocent Man” as well. If you’ve got one of those big greatest hits albums, you’ll recognize a lot of the stuff that’s in here with one or two choice favorites thrown in as well. 

Rob: I don’t think people are going to leave disappointed because we’re covering a lot of the big tunes. 

Ashleigh: Yeah, they certainly will not leave disappointed because when I was setting things up for our social media, I had to watch a lot of your B-roll and the band sounds great. It is going to be absolutely spectacular. If you have not gotten your tickets yet for Celebrating Billy Joel – America’s Piano Man ’50 Years of Billy,’ tickets are still available at TheHanoverTheatre.org. Come and join us on June 12! Tickets start at just $19. It would make a great date night and great gift for someone! This is a great opportunity to bring your friends, family and loved ones together to experience the magic of Billy Joel with you. Let’s talk a little bit about your musical careers prior to Celebrating Billy Joel

Rob: I first toured in the United States when I was only nine years old. I was actually from Worcester, England and our Cathedral Choir toured in the northeast and eastern Canada as well. I went to places like Worcester, Boston, New York, Toronto and Montreal. We did a big church concert in Worcester in 1989. 

Ashleigh: Awesome, we can’t wait to welcome you back! 

Rob: Thanks! In my adult professional musical career, I’ve actually toured the States quite a lot. I used to be in a show called Brit Floyd. I used to be the keyboardist in that show and I’ve been to The Hanover Theatre a few times with that show. 

Ashleigh: Great. That’s so awesome. 

Rob: Yeah, I can’t wait to come back. I’ve got this weird Worcester connection. I’ve also played in Worcester in South Africa when I was about 13 with the choir as well. I’ve been to Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester in South Africa, and I’m from Worcester in the UK. 

Ashleigh: That is just incredible, what a coincidence! I can’t wait to welcome you back to the city of Worcester. How about you, Alex? 

Alex: I’ve only ever been to Worcester in the UK so I’m really looking forward to making my first trip to Worcester, Massachusetts. My musical career is kind of eclectic. I’m a singer and multi-instrumentalist and I have worked in lots of different genres. Some of the things that are at the top of my CV include being a singer and performer in the show called Classic Rock Show in the UK and in Europe. More recently, I’ve performed on keyboards, bass and guitar with 10cc and with Graham Gouldman’s Heart Full of Songs, as well as other projects as a session musician.  

Ashleigh: Wow, I cannot wait to welcome you guys to the theatre. I know that we are all so excited. This tribute show seems amazing from what I’ve heard so far. I can’t wait to experience it live and in-person. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any parting words for audiences today? 

Rob: This is our first tour and we’re very excited. We just love this music and we can’t wait to enjoy performing it and have people talk to us about it. We’re as excited as other people to just explore Billy Joel in terms of his lyrics, his harmony and the stylistic things that he did. We just love it all so we can’t wait to come over to the States and play some shows.

Alex: We’re really excited to come and meet a ton of other Billy Joel fans like us! 

Ashleigh: Fantastic. I will be there front row, cheering you guys on and it’ll be amazing. Friends, if you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, what are you waiting for? Go to TheHanoverTheatre.org and get your tickets for Celebrating Billy Joel – America’s Piano Man on June 12. We can’t wait to see you there!