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1st Quarter 5:17

Q&A with Wade Preston of the Movin’ Out Band

Wade Preston (left, with his Movin’ Out Band) says playing the Piano Man on Broadway “opened a lot of doors for me.”

Wade Preston (left, with his Movin’ Out Band) says playing the Piano Man on Broadway “opened a lot of doors for me.”

Vocalist and pianist Wade Preston, a frontman of the Movin’ Out Band, has managed to do quite well performing someone else’s hits, with that musician’s blessing. In Preston’s case, that “someone else” is Billy Joel, who in 2000 helped cast Preston as Piano Man in the musical “Movin’ Out,” which features characters drawn from Joel’s songs. When the Broadway hit ended its 3½-year run in December 2005, and when a subsequent tour ended a few years later, members of the stage band, which includes players from Joel’s own band, stuck together. On its latest tour, the Movin’ Out Band is scheduled to play two shows at The Company Theatre in Norwell on Feb. 2.

Q. The Movin’ Out Band has done several national tours, but in recent years you’ve become more selective in the shows you do. Is there some reason you chose Greater Boston?

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A. My mother was from Boston. I love Boston. It’s a great music town. And, to be honest, our talent agency thought it would be a great stop too. That met our criteria for picking a place — an emotional connection and good business!

Q. You hold the distinction of playing the Piano Man longer than anyone else — more than five years — on Broadway and on tour. Did you spend much time with Billy Joel?

A. I did. He’s a great guy with a great personality. He’s very warm. He’s hands on. And I’d say he’s a perfectionist.

Q. I’ve asked actors before if they worried about getting typecast after playing the same character for multiple years. Did you have that worry after playing Piano Man?

A. Not at all. On the contrary, it was a great role for me. It was a lot of work, hard work. But it opened a lot of doors for me.

Q. What was the toughest thing about performing another man’s music?

A. Well, it wasn’t just any other man’s music. It was Billy Joel’s. It was hit music. So that might have been daunting. But if you don’t mind my saying, I’m a pretty formidable pianist and a pretty good vocalist. If there was anything tough for me it was that we did eight shows per week. And I’m a natural baritone, while Billy, who wrote his songs for his voice, sang them in a high tenor. And so I began to work with an amazing vocal coach, because when you’re doing that many shows back to back you can cause some serious damage to your voice if you don’t sing just right.

Q. You and Billy Joel remain friendly. What impresses you most about him?

A. How seriously he takes songwriting. He takes it deadly serious. There are some artists out there who slap words on a melody and call it a song. And there are even great musicians, great artists — take Elton John for example — who write songs to music prepared for them by others or who perform songs written by others. Billy has never understood that. To him the songwriting and music writing is the most personal, intimate, spiritual part of this. Performing a song you’ve written is a gift to him that comes after the hard work. It is a painstaking process . . . he maps everything out. He thinks through every word.

Q. What have you learned from him?

A. I learned a lot about songwriting from seeing how methodical he was about it. And I learned about balance and peace by observing his personality. He is so relaxed. I’ve never seen someone like him who can be sitting back having a casual conversation backstage about anything — the weather even — and then glance at his watch and say “It’s that time,” and in the same tone and with the same demeanor get up, go on stage in front of 80,000 people, and hit it out of the park. And I guarantee you people listening probably said to themselves, “Wow, I’ll bet it must be really terrifying to do that!” But it isn’t for him.

Q. Tell me about you.

A. I grew up in Long Island. My parents got me my first piano when I was 4. And I haven’t stopped playing it since. I love all types of music. And I think our shows reflect that influence — some blues, some jazz, some classic rock. You name it. Before “Piano Man,” before “Movin’ Out,” before Broadway, I already had a great career. I had moved to the West Coast years before and worked as a musician. I recorded. I performed. I had a great time out there. But when I got the invitation to come back east to be the Piano Man, it was one of those opportunities that you don’t pass up.

Q. Last question: If you weren’t a working musician, you’d be?

A. In astrophysics. I love astronomy. I’ve always been fascinated by the composition of the universe and beyond, and the science of studying and exploring it all. In fact, I have a wonderful telescope in my living room that I still use very often to gaze at the stars.

James H. Burnett III can be reached at james.burnett@globe.com.
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