It’s only about three miles from the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway to Joe’s Pub on Lafayette Street.
When it comes to the sounds typically featured at those Manhattan venues, the distance between them can seem even greater.
This month, Blake Whyte will close that gap a little bit. Whyte, an ensemble player in Mamma Mia!, will play the principle role of Sky in four performances of the long-running Abba musical at the Winter Garden Theatre and perform his own music as a headliner at Joe’s Pub, all within a seven-day span.
Whyte says he knew about three months ago that he’d be taking over temporarily in mid-August for the regular Sky actor.
“I thought, ‘I’ll do the Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows,’ which is one on Thursday, one on Friday and two on Saturday,” Whyte recalls. “And then I started thinking, ‘Maybe I should do Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday [instead] … I’ll be rehearsing [this] week with my band, too, so I might as well go back to doing the [earlier shows] and then give myself a couple of days to recoup before my Joe’s Pub show.”
Whyte’s stretch as Sky runs from Aug. 12-14. On Aug. 18, he’ll be at Joe’s Pub focusing on material from his debut album, More Like Myself, which he self-released in April.
“I had put all of the tracks down in a couple of different studios almost a year ago,” Whyte says, “and I was looking for someone to help me put down vocals and mix and produce.”
Enter co-producer Jeffrey Lee Campbell, a pit musician for Mamma Mia! who’s played guitar behind Sting and Aretha Franklin, among others.
“It wouldn’t have been as good as it is without him,” says Whyte. “He was there to help me learn and teach me the recording and mastering process.”
The process of becoming a solo artist started within the past three or four years, according to Whyte. Growing up, he listened to pop artists as well as Broadway soundtracks, and both have played a big role in his own music.
“I’m a huge fan of Ben Folds, Regina Spektor and Jason Mraz, who are definitely pop artists but also have a theatricality to what they do,” Whyte says. He also counts Explosions in the Sky among his favorites, and the Texas band’s “sustained release instrumental build” is something Whyte says he’s incorporating more into his own performances.
Asked which venue he’d rather see his time-pressed friends and family as part of the audience watching him, Whyte picks Joe’s Pub over the Winter Garden Theatre.
“You’re going to see more of me,” he says. “When you’re an actor, you’re inhabiting someone else’s canvas. I’m just limited to the role that’s been written. And the role [of Sky] is a good role, but it’s not a huge one — you’re not going to see me a ton on the stage. The Joe’s Pub show will be all me — my words, my sounds and my story.”
— By Chris M. Junior