On Point With: Tim Young

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Thotyssey: Tim, hello and thank you for talking to us! So, we’re still buzzed from that amazing performance MARY gave at the GLAMs, a set which was followed by an original song from you! What was that whole experience like… and how long did you have to rehearse for the set?

Tim Young: Thanks so much! It was such a good feeling to see MARY get nominated. We are a team of 12 artists who give their whole selves to every performance, and to be handed back a nomination from our very own community meant everything. On top of that, I found out I had been nominated on my own as a performer, which legitimately took the air out of my lungs.

Once we knew would be performing, [MARY co-founder] Frankie Sharp and I got right to planning out a medley for the awards show. We’re used to doing a big show in a small room, so it was a lot of of fun for us to map out a big show for a big room. We had one private rehearsal of our own the day beforehand, then soundcheck on the day of.

You might expect to me to say that it was overwhelming, but honestly, it always feels like I’m putting on a show in the living room with my friends. We are just as much singing for each other as we are connecting with the audience.

Image may contain: 11 people, including Leggoh LaBeija, people smiling, people standing and indoor

You certainly have been performing for what must be a huge part of your life. 

I was born and raised out on Long Island in the shadow of Billy Joel, so growing up singing and playing piano has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I learned everything I know about music from church. I started singing on stage when I was five years old and taught myself piano. I quickly became a worship leader for my youth group and Christian school, both of which had a lot of resources for their music departments and gave me a lot of room to explore and create.

When I turned 18, I needed to get away from all that and figure out what it meant to be gay. I went to business school at St. John’s University, thinking I could never have a life in the arts. Not having music in my life was making me sick, so I joined the closest group I could find, which was the Chappell Players Theatre Group on campus, where I did my first ever musical (Seussical: The Musical). It felt very right, and I started auditioning in the city between classes. Two years later, I got into my first Broadway musical and dropped out of school.

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You eventually wound up in the ensemble of Next to Normal, which was a huge critical and commercial success, and very unique for its time. What was it like to be part of such a successful show?

I was brought on as standby for the young male lead and supporting role for a cast of six, and it wasn’t long before I made my debut on stage. I went on a lot (for a standby), I think around 40 times over the course of a year. It was a crash course in carrying your own with a titan like Alice Ripley. Not only had I never acted professionally before that, but I had to figure it out on a Broadway stage in front of an audience. Playing opposite Alice was a gift. I learned so much about untethering yourself from the stress and nerves of the situation, and focusing on the moment at hand. That show meant so much to me, and to the audiences who came to experience it. The content of the story — of grappling with mental illness, of trying to hold your family together while you a falling apart — it hadn’t been done this way before. To tell a story like that as a musical was the perfect vehicle to get right to the heart of the matter, in only the way music can.

It was an absurd honor to be a part of that show, and for that show to be my very first professional job. In a way, it set me on a path to be very specific regarding what kind of shows I wanted to do, and ultimately what kind of content I wanted to create. I think you can see elements of that in MARY.

Definitely! And Dear Evan Hansen was another play that deeply touched a generation of theater goers. You were part of that production in an interesting way, which led to an actual Grammy win for you!  

With DEH, I was part of the “Virtual Community” chorus. We play the voices from the internet, including most of the group numbers and some line reads. Rather than on stage, our involvement was mostly in the studio and at Atlantic Records, working with Justin Paul (Of Pasek and Paul, the composers) and Michael Greif, who also directed N2N. A number of us are the group vocalists for The Greatest Showman film and soundtrack as well, which is also a work by Pasek and Paul.

The Virtual Community happens to be a very close group of friends, and for us, DEH was a uniquely fun and heartful experience shared between us in the recording studio. Allow me to geek for a moment: I like to think of us as vocal Power Rangers (stay with me). We are called to conquer a task, we show up and get it done, then go back to our lives, with most people not knowing it’s us they’re hearing and singing “WHOOooAAA” along with (that “whoa” is from “Waving Through A Window,” in case you were wondering). Also, Justin writes not only some of the most beautiful, but the highest vocal parts on Broadway! I’ve specifically trained my voice higher for his songs.

It has been deeply humbling and rewarding to know that our voices were used as one of many tools to make music that has spoken directly to all kinds of people, to let them know they are not alone. In that way, the DEH experience is a shared one, even though we are not there on the stage.

[photo: Sam Waxman]

I recently interviewed Cory Alexander, who told us that you are one of the versions of David Bowie onstage for the recent Rebel Rebel revue… which Bowie were you?

Cory! Yeah, Cory, Sam Given and I play three different stages of Bowie throughout his career. I play what production calls the “Iconic Bowie”, which covers his more modern mainstream radio years (think “Let’s Dance” and “Fame”). That show, Rebel Rebel, is so much fun to perform. Not only are Cory and Sam a joy to share the stage with, but our band is this unbelievable assortment of some of the best players in New York City, including Jay Shepard who plays guitar for MARY and my own songs, and John Clancy on drums, who was nominated for a Tony this past season for his Orchestrations in “Mean Girls” on Broadway. Those guys go so hard, and in turn, so do I. We will be returning for more shows this year.

David Bowie has become one of the most influential vocalists for me, in terms of depth and style. My awareness of his catalogue was embarrassingly shallow until I was cast in Lazarus when it was off-Broadway in NYC. Lazarus is a musical, his final creation as he prepared to pass on. I was hired to join the cast as the standby for the lead character played by Michael C. Hall as well as two other roles in the show. I had one week to learn the whole show as all three characters.

I got the call that I was hired on David’s birthday, which immediately created this connection to him that inspired me to dig deep into his music. Three days later, we were notified that he had passed. It was a whirlwind of emotions as it was clear that the greatest way to honor him would be to carry on with the show, albeit with very heavy hearts. The audiences were grasping for his material, creating memorials outside the theater. It was this beautiful mix of heartache and gratitude; I have never experienced anything quite like it. I was suddenly rocketing through his universe, feeling somewhat guilty for showing up right as everything changed, being part-citizen and part-visitor for this monumental moment.

My time with that show was short, but it was hugely impactful upon me. It completely changed the way I use my voice. So much so, that there is a very clear distinction between how I sounded before Lazarus, and how I sound now.

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Let’s talk about MARY, the live music show with a full band that is both a GLAM winning and crowd pleasing sensation at Club Cumming. How did it come to be that you created this event with Frankie Sharp, and how did you recruit these specific recurring singers and musicians?

Frankie had the initial idea of doing a live, immersive musical night. At the same time, we were exploring songwriting together, and we called that project “MARY”, because, you know, he and I are big ole MARYs. When Club Cumming was transitioning from Eastern Bloc, they had asked Frankie if he wanted to do a weekly there, and he brought me in to produce with him and act as musical director for this immersive musical idea. It didn’t take long for us to land on doing a cabaret-style show that was all-live, all-new every week (now monthly), and it naturally took on the name “MARY”.

The performers are cherry picked from our experiences around the city. I brought in Lisa Ramey (NBC’s The Voice and Cirque Du Soleil) and Tahira Clayton (global jazz phenomenon) from a wedding band that we all perform in, and Emma Hunton (Freeform’s Good Trouble), who is one of my oldest friends in NYC. Frankie called on Tyler Ashley (the Dauphine Of Bushwick and host of MARY), Kat Cunning (Cirque du Soleil and Sleep No More), Shiny Penny (Lips Drag Palace), and Jasmine Rice LaBeija and Leggoh Labeija (of the legendary house of Labeija), all of whom are extravagant talents.

The band is my dream collection of players from gigging through the years. Mark Stewart, our steadfast band leader and bassist, I met in the same wedding band I mentioned earlier (the “Broadway Project Band”, it’s a damn good band). Jay Shepard and I perform in “Rebel Rebel” and is my guitar soul mate. Riccardo Belletta (drums), Andre Vasconcelos (guitar) and Eric Lane (keys) I have been fortunate enough to meet as a result of MARY and have brought so much to the table. Everything that our show is sonically begins with all of these players, and they lay the foundation upon which MARY’s house is built.

All of us, performers and band, work as a single unit. Even when it’s not a particular performers song, we are all engaged with each other at every moment, from singing backups to shining our now signature spotlights on one another, to dancing off stage because we just can’t help ourselves.

MARY is this unique moment in NYC nightlife where there is no competition, no pretense, no script. It’s about everyone in the room, and whatever we are feeling right then and there. We choose our songs that week, and rehearse them the day before, making every show fresh and new, reflecting whatever is going on in our world right now.

[photo: Sam Waxman]

It is an experience that doesn’t otherwise exist in the city. But I hear MARY is gonna throw down in Brooklyn soon?

Well, especially after our experience performing at the Glam Awards, Frankie and I are very excited to explore new opportunities for MARY  in larger venues around Manhattan and Brooklyn, in addition to Club Cumming. We will always maintain our intimate-setting shows, but I think you’ll be hearing about some HAIL MARY extravaganzas in the not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, MARY returns to Club Cumming this Tuesday. Give us a spolier!

Woohoo! For anyone who wasn’t able to attend the Glammy Awards, I’ll be performing my newest original song “Lost and Found”, and there may also be an original arrangement of a favorite song of Drag Race fans, but the spoilers stop there!

Amazing! And have you been recording anything lately?

Yes! I am recording my first ever solo record over the winter, and I expect to have it ready by April with a big release show planned. I will be posting my progress on Instagram and YouTube for anyone who wants to keep track, @SoundsLikeTimYoung.

Can’t wait to hear it! Okay, final all important question: And The Oscar For Best Actress goes to…. ?

Oh wow… my vote for best actor must go to Gaga. I saw [A Star Is Born] in theaters three times, and I hardly ever go to the movies anymore. I was talking to her through that screen the whole time. “Get on that stage, Stephanie!” Uh, for every performer in NYC, I would love to see her bring home that Oscar.

Thanks, Tim!


{photo: Richard Burrows]

Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Tim Young’s scheduled appearances, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube & his website.

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