by Alix Cohen
Dominic Ferris and Martin Milnes will make their New York club debut at The Metropolitan Room the afternoon of Saturday October 22. Both widely multifaceted musicians, the collaborators are enamored of American musical theater and film. Available YouTube videos mark them as lively, original, meticulous, and fun. Who are they?
Martin found his dramatic roots at the age of six when in Woolworth’s, his mother offered a couple of videos in recognition of a music prize. From a broad collection on the MGM shelf, he was drawn to the cover of Brigadoon with Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse “on the purple heathered hills…I’d like that one please,” he pointed. ‘Are you sure?” asked his mother. “Yes, please.” That’s all it took. The boy began to mainline Hollywood musicals, to devour local theater brochures and request attending shows; to take piano lessons.
There was both a Gilbert & Sullivan Group and a Musical Theater Company near Martin’s Midlands home. Two weeks after his 6th birthday, he sang “Dites Moi” in South Pacific.
Between then and the age of 18, the burgeoning performer was in 75 productions. At 16, he began voice lessons “with a wonderful lady who started in opera and moved on to musical theater.” Martin works with her still, honing and performing both.
It was during a production of The Pirates of Penzance that the artist accidently discovered his other voice. “Some of the boys decided to have a laugh and see who could sing the Mabel cadenza. Each tried. And I…” he bursts into pure falsetto. Determined to utilize the newfound resource, he sang “Poor Wandering One” at pitch, in its original key, at an International Gilbert and Sullivan Festival. A producer saw it and offered his first solo show.
Dominic comes from musical roots. His father was a producing partner with George Martin (The Beatles), his mother a singer/songwriter. Raised, in part, by his grandmother, he gravitated to the piano in her home, playing unusually well by ear. A music scholarship to an arts oriented primary school offered the opportunity to study theater and music early on. He played the organ in chapel and often went to theater. “Storytelling through music excited me.”
The Royal College of Music offered classical, but progressive higher education. Dominic was able to play Gershwin as well as Chopin. (He continues to do both.) Like Martin, he strained at the bit to participate in the real world of musical theater and knocked on stage doors until someone let him in. Simultaneous to securing his degree, Dominic played piano in the pit of Les Miserables with which he has an admittedly love/hate relationship. The college didn’t know until they discovered him one matinee.
The artist evolved to Assistant Musical Director on Finding Neverland and to Musical Director, additionally playing intermittent classical concerts.
Three years ago, both men found themselves employed by an annual Christmas Musical Revue in Norfolk (England) they equate with the elaborate Radio City Music Hall Spectacular-as close to MGM as either could get. Dominic was directing/conducting, Martin performing. When Martin was additionally invited to put on a private entertainment during the run, he asked Dominic to MD.
“I’d like to close the show with “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious“- The West End arrangement, Martin said to Dominic. “I’ve got the music at home. I’ll bring it in for you tomorrow.” “No need,” responded the musician launching into exactly what had been requested. It was Kismet.
Ferris & Milnes went on to Chelsea’s Pheasantry at which they premiered what was perhaps the first of many medleys that became a kind of calling card, “20 Songs in 4 Minutes,” everything from Gilbert & Sullivan to Sinatra to Kate Bush. At Stephen Sondheim’s 85th Birthday Gala, the collaborators unveiled a bespoke “33 Sondheim Songs in 5 Minutes.” (The author eventually saw a video and personally communicated his enthusiastic approval.) An evening at The St. James Theatre midwifed a medley including nods to every show then on The West End. (And, no, they don’t merely perform medleys.)
“Sometimes characters from different shows talk to each other as if it was a continued conversation,” Martin comments. “Dominic can take an idea and turn it into something surprising, respecting the original but with his stamp on it. And with him, I can sing anything I want without being restricted by vocal range or material”
“We love creating the shows, bouncing off each other,” Dominic adds. “As a creator, Martin has a unique take on where he wants to go with things. I know it will work because of his judgment, but it’s the river that gets us there that’s a challenge. I’m involved with aspects production, while his skills are direction and pacing.”
Ferris & Milnes feel New York may be their “spiritual home” and hope to return. Meanwhile, you can sample the effervescent duo on video and in person.
WATCH THE SONDHEIM:
33 Sondheim Numbers in 5 Minutes
Filmed at Steinway Hall, London (as seen at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane)
The Metropolitan Room 34 West 22nd Street
Saturday October 22, 2016
For tickets: http://metropolitanroom.com/