Not a full-on concert, exactly, nor anything like a theatrical approximation of the recent biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Terry Barber says his show “Mercury — The Music of Freddie Mercury and Queen” is a party.
“First and foremost, it’s a fun night out,” he says.
Barber is a classically trained countertenor whose voice has gotten him, at various times, a spot in the acclaimed vocal ensemble Chanticleer; on a dance-music compilation alongside the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper; and onstage at some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls.
He performs the Mercury show Saturday night at the Grandel.
He created it in much the same way as he did the half-dozen touring programs he presents on a regular basis: by starting with exhaustive research. First, he devoured a stack of biographies of Mercury as well as magazine interviews and anything else he could find to read. “The idea,” he says, “was to try and understand him and what was going on in his life. What went into the songwriting? Why did he work with these people? What were their relationships?
“People who saw the film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and heard little snippets of the songs and thought, ‘Wow, I want to hear more; I want to hear the whole song.’ We’re delivering that in this show, without trying to imitate the originals, exactly, but by trying to bring people back to the originals as much as possible.”
Given the resurgence of Mercury and Queen, it seems like Barber must have been tipped off about the timing of the film. But it was serendipity more than anything else.
“I wish I could say that I did it on purpose, but I actually started my research almost a year before I knew the film was coming out,” he says. But once that news was out, enthusiasm for the show heated up.
“Agents were all over it,” he says, “saying, ‘Oh my gosh, people are so excited about this music, and they’re going to leave the film wanting more, and this is the answer.’”
Barber contends, though, that Mercury’s life and music are compelling enough to command attention regardless of the hoopla surrounding the film.
“Because of his talent,” Barber insists. “Because of his extreme vocal range. He has an interesting story. He had an interesting struggle. He lived in a time when he was facing a couple different kinds of discrimination. And he was determined. He was not going to give up until he got what he wanted.”
Barber grew up in New Hampshire but moved to St. Louis five years ago. He has family here and wanted to raise his own kids here. And he’s done the New York thing.
“Here it’s like, I can have a yard and walk to restaurants from my house and be in a neighborhood,” he says. “St. Louis is amazing.”
And besides, for an artist who is often out touring the country, starting the journey from right in the middle of it has its advantages.
“People don’t realize it, but it’s actually nice to be centrally located,” he says.
In addition to performing his various programs, which include “Around the World in 80 Minutes,” “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” “A Sacred Journey” and “The Christmas Presence,” Barber spends his time mentoring other performers and also runs a non-profit organization, Artists for a Cause, which matches artists of various pursuits to charitable causes in the community.
But back to the Mercury show.
Getting ready for Freddie, Barber also recorded a CD, “Mercury Reimagined,” that takes more liberties with his music than the live show does.
“I wanted it to be a concept recording that would not only pull things in a little bit more of a classical direction because of my own roots, but also because of Freddie’s interest in that kind of music.
“And also, wherever it enhances the musical landscape, I included some non-western — meaning African and Indian — elements to the songs because Freddie was born in Zanzibar and went to boarding school in India, where I believe his stage persona began.”
The CD will be available at the performance.
Barber has performed in a number of different contexts over the course of his career. “But this is my first time being the frontman in a rock band,” he says with a laugh. “It’s different than being the entertainer that I’ve grown to be over the years, presenting musical theater and classical work.
“I mean, the energy alone that it takes … most of us are in a full sweat by the end of the show every time.”
What “Mercury — The Music of Freddie Mercury and Queen” featuring Terry Barber • When 8 p.m. Saturday • Where The Grandel, 3610 Grandel Square • How much $25-$85 • More info 314-534-1111; metrotix.com