By Mark Kennedy
The Associated Press
NEW YORK - Micky Dolenz studied architecture in college and was fully prepared for a life planning buildings - not rock 'n' roll immortality - even though he was auditioning for television shows between classes.
"I figured if architecture didn't work out, I could fall back on show biz," he says with a laugh. "That was Plan B: acting and singing."
Plan A, though, quickly faded when he nailed an audition in 1966 to join The Monkees, a TV comedy based on the antics of a rock group modeled after the Beatles. Dolenz could see the blueprints on the wall.
"I'm not a fool. I knew the power and possibility of a series on television," he says. "And the train just took off."
There's more than a little architecture in his latest project: The role of the scheming Prime Minister Zoser in Aida, Disney's cartoony take on the Verdi opera.
Zoser, after all, has a thing for building pyramids.
"Yeah," Dolenz says after considering the matter. "I guess in the end I've managed to combine both those dreams."
Dolenz, 58, joins co-stars Michelle T. Williams of Destiny's Child, Will Chase and Lisa Brescia in the Broadway version of Aida, the Tony-winning musical with music by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice.
The rock-musical tells the story of a love triangle between Aida, a Nubian princess forced into slavery; Amneris, an Egyptian princess; and Radames, the soldier they both love.
Has been in touring cast
Dolenz, who has been on tour with Aida for six months, plays Radames' father, contributing songs like "Another Pyramid" and "Like Father Like Son."
"It's been an incredible opportunity for me to do something that is so - I mean, God love the Monkees - different," Dolenz says. "There is nothing like getting out there on a legitimate stage and having to really pull it off."
Dolenz, who as a boy starred in the TV show Circus Boy, is no stranger to the musical stage, having toured with companies of Grease, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Point and Tom Sawyer. He also wrote the book for, and directed, Bugsy Malone for the London stage.
Yet even some of his friends didn't know he had the musical chops for Aida.
"No one does," he replies cheerily. "And to some degree I didn't know. There wasn't anything that I did in my life professionally that demanded that kind of singing."
Paul J. Smith, the show's production stage manager who previously worked with Dolenz in Grease, says the performer has a voice as powerful as his ego is small.
"There's no question he wants to be part of the company. He doesn't want to be Micky Dolenz in Aida. He wants to be right in the character," Smith says. "He is not at all a diva."
Looking back, Dolenz sees a connection between his current work and the one that forever will be linked with his name - the Monkees, whose albums and TV show were chart toppers in the late 1960s.
"The Monkees, in a way, was a musical on television," he says. "Like a Broadway show, you can't fake it on stage - you actually have to sing and you actually have to play."
Well, not at the beginning. The Monkees - or Prefab Four, as they were called - were the brainchild of Columbia Pictures producers who were inspired to create a television show after the success of the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night.
Assigned to drums
Open auditions were held and four strangers were cast: Dolenz, who performed "Johnny B. Goode" on guitar for the casting directors, as well as Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Davy Jones. Dolenz was cast as a drummer without ever having hit the skins.
At first, the band's songs - like I'm a Believer and Last Train to Clarksville - were written by the likes of Neil Diamond and Carole King, while other musicians played the instruments.
Americans loved watching the quartet's zany antics each week, whether it was secretly baby-sitting a horse in a house or unwittingly becoming foreign agents in order to recover microfilm hidden in maracas. But by 1967, the band had enough of the make-believe and began insisting on playing and singing their own songs. Dolenz had become proficient on the drums and the four began a heated behind-the-scenes battle with NBC.
"It wasn't that we didn't want to play or couldn't play. They would not allow us to play - literally," Dolenz says.
The Monkees won, and what had been fake gave way to fact. The band went on tour - Jimi Hendrix was the opening act - and supplied the soundtrack to the 1968 psychedelic movie Head, co-written by Jack Nicholson.
"The Monkees really becoming a band was like the equivalent of Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan," Dolenz says. "It was that weird. Mike used to say it was like Pinocchio really becoming a little boy. We transcended the imaginary and became this supergroup."
Dolenz thinks it's high time the Monkees were given their due for what they did for popular culture besides goofing around: namely, sanitizing the counterculture for the mainstream.
"I equate it to Will Smith bringing rap into American living rooms with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That was very similar.
"Before that, the only time you'd see people with long hair on television they were getting arrested or at protests or smoking dope at love-ins. And then all of a sudden the Monkees come along with long hair representing, in a way, all those millions of kids out there who were good kids."
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