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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    Dynamic duo: David Foster and Katharine McPhee chat about the concert they’ll perform in New London

    Katharine McPhee and David Foster (Laura Ise)

    Interviewing music producer/composer David Foster and singer Katharine McPhee is, I’m guessing, like hearing the duo banter during their concerts together. Their husband-and-wife teasing and joking is deft and funny.

    McPhee said they have back-and-forths just like any other couple, and, yes, sometimes there are tiffs that develop during a show.

    “Some of the tiffs are planned, but there have been a few nights when they’ve been completely out of control,” Foster said.

    Then he told this story:

    “We were doing a show, and we were filming it. We got into an argument onstage,” he said, not specifying what the disagreement was about. “I was positive I was right. She was positive she was right. Well, I forgot that we were being filmed. We played the film back, and she was right.”

    McPhee piped in, “I’m glad it’s on the record. It’s very hard for him to admit he’s wrong.”

    In response, Foster quipped, “I didn’t admit I was wrong. I just said I saw it on the film.”

    McPhee and Foster are bringing their show, titled “An Intimate Evening with David Foster and Katharine McPhee,” to the Garde Arts Center in New London on May 16. While that production boasts the aforementioned banter as well as stories about their lives and work, the heart of it is the glorious music culled from both of their careers.

    And what careers they have been. Foster is a music legend. He has won 16 Grammys. His work as a producer has included: several songs on “The Bodyguard” soundtrack, including “I Will Always Love You” and “Run to You”; “The Power of Love” for Celine Dion; and a trio of Chicago’s hit albums. He helped to jumpstart the careers of Josh Groban and Michael Buble, producing their first major-label albums.

    McPhee rocketed to fame when she won “American Idol” in 2006. She went on to be an acclaimed recording artist but also developed quite a resume as an actress. On TV, she starred in the NBC musical series “Smash,” the CBS drama “Scorpion,” and the Netflix comedy “Country Comfort.”

    Song selection

    Considering the breadth of Foster’s and McPhee’s careers, how did they pare down all the possible songs to the ones featured in the show?

    Foster said, “Some of it is dictated just by the power of the songs and then what Kat can handle, because she’s trying to cover Whitney, Celine and Natalie Cole, and her own stuff from ‘Smash’ and ‘Waitress,’ which are great songs, too. So she kind of has to be five singers in one.”

    McPhee said, “David has done so many great songs for so many artists, like the song for Toni Braxton (Foster produced “Un-Break My Heart”), even ‘Because You Loved Me’ with Celine Dion, those don’t necessarily translate to the most effective songs that are (done) live. We sometimes will pick songs that just are the most thrilling for a live experience.”

    Foster noted that a song he produced for Dion, “All By Myself,” “is a thrilling song live, but I have to beg Kat to sing it because there’s a high note that even bothered Celine. She had trouble with it, too.”

    Other numbers that have popped up on the setlist range from “Man in Motion” from “St. Elmo’s Fire” (which Foster co-wrote and produced) to “Let Me Be Your Star/Don’t Forget Me” from “Smash” to “You Raise Me Up.”

    About ‘I Will Always Love You’

    Foster said he’s been to shows that are great musically, but the audience doesn’t feel a connection to the artist. His and McPhee’s show is different from that.

    “People really feel connected to us because we tell the stories behind (for instance) how did I find ‘I Will Always Love You’ for Whitney Houston. People like those stories if you keep them sort of brief — just a little nod to what happened around a hit song is kind of fun,” he said.

    Actually, Foster doesn’t tell that Houston story in the show, but, when asked in the interview, he did.

    Originally, the song wasn’t going to be “I Will Always Love You” in “The Bodyguard.” Instead, it was “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.”

    “I tried two demos and couldn’t make it happen,” Foster recalled. “Whitney said, ‘Uh, I don’t like this very much.’ I said, ‘I know, I don’t like it very much either.’ It just wasn’t the right song for her. Then the song became a hit for someone else (Paul Young) while we were recording it. I feigned that I was upset — ‘Oh, Kevin (Costner, the movie’s star and producer), we can’t do this song now. It’s a hit by somebody else.’ Apparently, his secretary suggested ‘I Will Always Love You’ — that’s the story I heard.”

    ‘Idol’ days

    Foster and McPhee met back when McPhee was on “Idol,” but they didn’t begin a romance until much later, marrying in 2019.

    The duo are 35 years apart in age — he’s now 74, with a birthday later this year, and she turned 40 in March — and they touch on their relationship in the show. McPhee expects that couples watching the concert will feel a connection to the duo and realize that, though they might look different, she and Foster are relatable to any married pair.

    McPhee said they talk in the show about how they met, “how we started as friends and then we became a couple — much to my surprise, maybe not to David’s surprise. Maybe that was something he was always plotting. I say that in jest. So a lot of the songs get chosen from us telling our story. The first song I sang in front of him was one of his songs (‘I Have Nothing’), so I do songs from ‘The Bodyguard’ soundtrack, and then we move through just a nice timeline, all the while telling great stories.”

    Asked if it was nerve-racking singing “I Have Nothing” in front of Foster back then, McPhee responded, “I think at that point we were well into the (‘Idol’) competition. The entire thing was nerve-racking. Every week, it was just trying to survive.”

    Foster added, “Those were the glory days of ‘American Idol,’ too, where they were getting like 50, 75 million, some crazy number of viewers. Everybody tuned in every week to see that show.”

    What about Rennie?

    McPhee and Foster have a 3-year-old son, Rennie, who made quite a splash on social media when Foster posted a video of him playing the drums. This wasn’t just a case of a toddler banging on something; Rennie seemed like a real drummer.

    He has joined his parents onstage in the past, but he won’t at the Garde.

    “He does seem to like to perform, but he’s gone off of playing the drums obsessively like he had been,” McPhee said.

    Foster said that Rennie literally used to play the drums four hours a day. When doing this phone interview, the family had been home for two days, and he hadn’t touched the drums.

    “I don’t know. He got into ‘Paw Patrol,’” Foster said.

    But Rennie’s musical talent is obvious.

    “Of course, everybody thinks their child is special, and every child IS special, but he has something really extraordinary. I don’t know what’ll happen with it, but it’s not normal to play the drums like that when you’re 2 and 3 years old,” Foster said.

    ‘Masked Singer’

    In what might be their most unusual gig, Foster and McPhee competed on “The Masked Singer” in 2021.

    “Can you imagine a 16-time Grammy winner in a banana outfit?” Foster said.

    Yes, Foster wore that in the wacky TV competition where everyone dons an elaborate, some might say psychedelic costume. McPhee was dressed as ice cream, and the duo were dubbed Banana Split.

    They had been asked before to do the show and had said no, but during the pandemic, they gave it a go. Their friend Craig Plestis is one of the show’s producers, and he told them they’d have a great time. Foster said they did; “It was really a lot of fun,” he said.

    McPhee agreed that they did have fun, but it wasn’t easy singing and performing inside the enormous headpiece and costume.

    Betty Boop

    Foster has had a varied career, but he has recently been doing something for the first time — working on a stage musical. He is writing the music for “BOOP!,” a show inspired by the cartoon character of Betty Boop. It’s scheduled to open next year on Broadway. It had a six-week out-of-town tryout in Chicago, and while it was a successful run, Foster said, “I like to say we went into Chicago a 7 out of 10 and came out an 8½. They’re back working on it again in New York, as we speak, right now in rehearsals. … You have to get it to a 10 or a perceived 10 before you hit Broadway.”

    Asked if she would return to Broadway, where she starred in “Waitress” in 2018 and again in 2019-2020, McPhee said, “I hope so. It’s definitely not for lack of wanting.”

    Foster said that McPhee was offered a couple of roles but turned them down because they weren’t the right parts.

    Expect the unexpected

    Foster said of his and McPhee’s joint concerts, “I always say expect the unexpected because we don’t know what’s going to happen up there because we’re riffing and we’re having fun. If we come up with something that’s really, really cool together, then we keep it in the show and throw out something else.”

    Asked what they appreciate the most about each other’s musical talents, Foster said, “I’ve always loved great singers, and Kat’s a great singer. I don’t sing. My whole life, I’ve relied on singers. And I’ve always tried to choose great singers to work with. I’ve been very lucky in that way, and Kat’s right on that list.”

    McPhee said to Foster, “Your timing onstage is surprising. You’re not the best actor —”

    He interjected, “Oh, I’m terrible.”

    “ — but he does have great timing, not only in the studio, where his talents really soar, but onstage. I think it’s (surprising) for people who aren’t familiar — they know him as a musician and as a producer — what a great showman he is and how he’s able to create arcs of shows and really knows how to craft a show. He’s really a showman.”

    “Oooo!” Foster said in response. “The greatest showman.”

    If you go

    Who: David Foster and Katharine McPhee

    What: In concert

    When: 7:30 p.m. May 16

    Where: Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London

    Tickets: $55-$85

    Contact: (860) 444-7373, gardearts.org

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