April 25, 2012 / 9:48 PM / 5 years ago

Under the Streetlamp basks in retro spotlight

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One Direction, who? The Wanted, what? Their music is kids' stuff. As a new wave of boy bands floods the market, there is one quartet winning fans with a modern twist on a retro sound they call "Amercan Radio Songbook."

Under The Streetlamp steers clear of top 40 songs in favor of classic Motown hits, good ol' rock 'n' roll, doo-wop and a Beatles tune or pop number thrown in for fun.

Its members, Michael Cunio, Shonn Wiley, Michael Ingersoll and Christopher Kale Jones, are all veterans of the stage, having starred in various productions of Broadway hit "Jersey Boys," a musical history of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

"We're a ‘man band,'" Cunio told Reuters, with a laugh, drawing a contrast between pop sensations like One Direction and The Wanted with their screaming teenage fans and Under the Streetlamp, which relishes in bringing new life to classic hits.

"The generation that came before us grew up listening to this music and passed it along to us, and now we are stewards of this music to the next generation," said Cunio.

The group, which launches its new U.S. tour in Los Angeles on May 1 with more than 25 stops before finishing in Indiana on July 14, came together in 2010 in Chicago.

They only recently broke onto the national stage with a live, hour-long TV concert that aired on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) in March, and while they know it may be difficult to reach the top of today's digital download charts, they still see an importance to their music that boy bands can't match.

"We had already been doing music by (R&B great) Etta James and (The Monkees) Davy Jones and as we lose some of these icons, it's even more of a privilege to carry on their music," Ingersoll said.

For the members - all in their mid-thirties - the songs they sing stem from their parent's generation, but that doesn't keep the men from showing a real attachment to the classic tunes. And while the retro tends to attract older audiences, Under The Streetlamp makes an effort to engage younger generations in theater and arts programs, often inviting middle school and high school students to sit in on soundchecks.

"With the rise of programs like 'Glee' and 'American Idol,' it's actually cool to sing again. And kids want to know, 'how can I do that, how can I make a living in the arts?'" said Ingersoll. "We really love that dynamic of giving back to kids, and we've built an audience with younger people."

Whatever the age of the audience, the vocal group aims to please and put on a positive show with music and dancing.

"The songs are the excuse for us to ... have a good time on stage and hopefully share that experience with the audience," said Cunio. "If you leave the show and you want to have a beer with us then we've done our job."

"And we would like to have a beer with you, too - especially if it's on you," Ingersoll said with a laugh.

Reporting by Lindsay Claiborn; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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