Keeping the songs alive with the Australian Bee Gees

The Australian Bee Gees Show will bring the sound of the Brothers Gibb to the Ridgefield Playhouse on Friday May 18, at 8 p.m. Since forming in 1996, the performers strive to capture the sound, look and personality of the hit-making group that featured siblings Barry, Robin and Maurice.

The Bee Gees began in the late 1950s and grew in popularity during the ensuing decades. The band is perhaps best known for the soundtrack of the 1970 film Saturday Night Fever, released at the height of the disco craze and winning five Grammy Awards.

They wrote all their own songs as well as hit songs for many other musicians. The Bee Gees were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

The Australian Bee Gees have performed more 6,000 times in over 50 countries, with a traveling show as well as a permanent one at a Las Vegas casino. The tribute band had its own PBS television special and once played with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Australian-born Wayne Hosking, 45, one of the tribute band’s founding members, recently spoke to Brad Durrell. He’s a keyboardist and performs as Maurice.

Brad Durrell: Tell me about the beginnings of the Australian Bee Gees Show.

Wayne Hosking: We started back in Melbourne, Australia, 21 years ago, and were a touring company that basically traveled around the world all the time. The four founding members are all Australian. We’ve been in Vegas for seven years now, performing six days a week. We dress up and look and sound like the Bee Gees, with their mannerisms and everything else.

BD: Did the Bee Gees influence you growing up?

WH: I was just a little kid in the 1970s, but certainly my parents were big on the Bee Gees. They were always being played in our house. My appreciation came later as a musician studying their music and realizing how amazing and prolific they were as songwriters. How many hits they had and the genius of their songwriting is what grew on me later in life.

BD: Favorite Bee Gees song?

WH: “How Deep Is Your Love,” because it’s a beautiful song. Musically, it’s really ingeniously written and the harmonies are beautiful. It’s also one of the most played songs because the audience goes crazy — the smiles on their faces and the tears you see in the audience are just amazing.

BD: What is the band’s legacy?

WH: They had four or five decades of wonderful music. They were able to change themselves every year. There’s certainly a legacy there, and that’s why it’s really important to do this show and keep that legacy alive.

After we finish the show, when we meet the crowd, so many people will come up and speak to us. They’re always so thankful, saying, “Thank you for keeping them alive” and “Thank you for taking me back to a happier time.” It’s a pretty special feeling to be able to provide that to people.

BD: Why should someone come to the show?

WH: Throughout the show, we can see people realizing how many songs they know, and by the end they realize they know every single song they heard, and they’re on their feet dancing and smiling. They tell us, “I had no idea they wrote all these songs,” even the hits they wrote for other people.

We get a lot of women who are big Bee Gees fans and they drag their husbands along. We see the husbands sitting in the audience with their arms crossed at the beginning, but by the end they’re having a great time, too.

We take people back through the whole experience and catch all of the eras. We use video screens showing images of the Bee Gees through the years. From the moment we begin, it’s like being at a real Bee Gees concert.

BD: What are you looking for in an Australian Bee Gees performer?

WH: Singing and connecting with the audience is No. 1. Singing those harmonies and especially the falsetto part is very difficult, so vocals are the highest priority.

Someone obviously needs to look something like them — have a physical similarity — although plenty can be done to help people look more like the band members they’re playing. They also need to play the instrument their character plays. It just worked out when we formed the band that I looked like a lot like Maurice and happened to be a keyboard player and (founding member) Michael Clift looked like Barry and was a guitar player.

BD: Ever meet the real Bee Gees or see them perform?

WH: No, we never even got to see them live in Australia, because every time they came we were touring. There was a time in Miami we came close, when we were doing a gig there and they were in the studio. No chance of that now, of course. (Both Robin and Maurice are deceased, as is Andy Gibb, the youngest brother, who had a separate career as a successful musician.) It must be hard for Barry. Their mother actually just passed away, too, so Barry’s the only one left.

BD: Prefer their rock or disco phases?

WH: I’m more of a rock guy, but disco is definitely more danceable. During the show we set up an area where people can dance, and by the time it ends you’re at a disco show.

BD: Do you have a music career separate from the Australian Bee Gees?

WH: We dabble in the studio, but our main income is doing the Bee Gees show. I used to be the musical director of a theater company in Australia, which is good for the acting part of the show.

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