Dominic Nolfi says he has always loved doo wop music and culture. “I used to sing a lot of a capella,” he says. “I love to sing harmonies, and what could be more fun than trying to replicate those fantastic five-part, street-corner harmonies with four other guys, who are all great singers and terrific entertainers?”
On Feb. 23, Nolfi brings the fun with veteran alumni of recent Broadway hits like Jersey Boys, Motown: The Musical and A Bronx Tale to Monterey. The five voices and a three-piece rhythm section are known as The Doo Wop Project, taking listeners on a trip down memory lane.
Bill Kenny, lead singer of The Ink Spots, is generally recognized as the first to come up with using lower-pitched voices to sing rhythm behind a high tenor melody in the group’s 1939 pop hit “If I Didn’t Care.” But it wasn’t until the Mills Brothers’ “Paper Doll” in 1943 that the now standard doo wop practice of using voices to mimic instrumental sounds was cemented into the genre.
Throughout the ’40s and ’50s, doo wop was wildly popular on the radio and live. A cappella doo wop groups singing lively harmony pop tunes sprang up on many an urban street corner.
Dominic Scaglione Jr. played Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys on Broadway, in Las Vegas and in Chicago, and grew up in the doo wop hotbed of West Orange, New Jersey. Even with that success, he was looking for something else. He came up with the idea for The Doo Wop Project and pitched it to co-founder Nolfi.
“Being an actor in New York is very competitive,” Nolfi says. “Everyone wants to be in a smash hit Broadway show, and we’re all still chasing that, and it’s hard to find good role after good role. And there’s often a lot of down time between gigs.”
So they pooled their funds and set out, self-funded and self-produced.
“We wanted to test the waters and see if we could create a bit more security than Broadway’s ups and downs,” Nolfi says. “There’s a greater degree of freedom to just getting up, singing and being yourself without having to play a character consistently the same night after night.”
The group doesn’t only sing ’50s music. They also take unlikely modern works, like cuts from Michael Jackson, Jason Mraz and Maroon 5, and turn them into vocally layered gems.
“We call it ‘doo-wop-ifying’ a tune,” Nolfi says. “Our latest victim is Garth Brooks’ ‘Friends In Low Places.’ It came out great. It’s truly a multi-generational show.”
THE DOO WOP PROJECT 7pm Sunday, Feb. 23. Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St. Monterey. $30-$55. 649-1070, goldenstatetheatre.com.