Grammy-nominated children’s musician Justin Roberts will be in L.A. for two reasons in January. One reason is something you would expect: a concert. The other is something you might not expect: a theatrical performance. Roberts is coming to Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre (24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu; www.arts.pepperdine.edu) with his band and a new CD, “Lemonade,” for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. shows Jan. 21. He will also see “Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat,” a musical featuring his original songs, have its West Coast premiere at the Valley Performing Arts Center (18111 Nordhoff St. Northridge; www.ValleyPerformingArtsCenter.org) at 3 p.m. Jan. 22. Admission to the concert is $15 adults, $10 children. Tickets for the musical run $28-$58.
From his home base of Chicago, Roberts spoke enthusiastically about both projects.
On his excellent new album, Roberts serves up a more acoustic, less rock sound, something he had wanted to do for a while. “Since 2004, I have written with a band in mind,” he says, adding he wanted to do a CD that sounded more sparse and simple, with fewer chord changes and less production. Still, the real impetus for “Lemonade” came after kids music legend Marcy Marxer gave him her ukulele.
The sound isn’t the only change on this album. Although his longtime collaborator Liam Davis produced “Lemonade,” the album doesn’t put his usual band, The Not Ready For Naptime Players, front and center. Instead, Roberts worked with an acoustic trio featuring his regular drummer, Gerald Dowd, and two talented Chicago musicians: bassist John Abbey and guitarist Robbie Fulks.
Roberts is thrilled with the intimate, organic music they created in the studio, describing it as sounding like “a group playing in a living room.” “Lemonade” offers a charming collection of tunes, ranging from upbeat tracks such as “Dodgeball” and “Me And My Kangaroo” to more reflective numbers such as “How Lucky We Are” and “This Is How We Bring In The Sun,” with the wonderfully written “Valentine (I Don’t Wanna Be Yours)” destined to be another Roberts classic.
Another project Roberts is justifiably proud of is his first musical theater work, “Hansel & Gretel: A Wickedly Delicious Musical Treat.” Roberts admits he has secretly always wanted to write a musical and was excited when Ernie Nolan (then the artistic director of Chicago’s children theater company The Emerald City Theatre) approached him about a collaboration. They chose Hansel and Gretel as their basis because of its “potential for darkness.”
“It was fun writing for a witch’s perspective and not a child’s or parent’s,” says Roberts, adding he also enjoyed seeing other people perform his songs. He says he’s very much looking forward to seeing VPAC’s production.