For Ryan Langevin, coming to New West to perform on the Massey Theatre stage is the very best sort of homecoming.
It’s the first place he ever sang on stage, back when he was a New Westminster Secondary School student in 1993 and the school’s jazz band was looking for a singer. Langevin was a singer and piano player, but aside from music lessons and the occasional small recital, he hadn’t sung in a public setting.
The experience was a revelation.
“It kind of made me realize music is even more fun when you’re doing it in a group setting with other talents,” he said.
Fast forward to 2020, and the now 42-year-old Langevin has been making a living as a performer and music teacher since graduating with a vocal jazz degree from Capilano University. He’ll be taking to the Massey Theatre stage on Saturday, Feb. 1 in The Rocket Man – a Tribute to Elton John (and serving as his own opening act with The Piano Man, his tribute to Billy Joel).
He’s been a fan of both artists for many years. In fact, Billy Joel’s River of Dreams concert in Vancouver in 1993 was his first ever concert, and the one that sealed his own decision to be a professional musician.
“That’s when I knew this is really what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “The rush of looking forward to a live performance, having people behind me, creating relationships with people, whether it’s the audience or people in your group – you know, it just opened me up to a whole new avenue.”
Langevin’s Rocket Man/Piano Man show is one he’s been performing for a dozen years now. It originally began in smaller venues, but after the giant success of the Elton John biopic Rocketman last year, it’s grown into a larger show.
These days, Langevin describes it as a “Vegas-style” performance, complete with full band, backup singers, dancers, lighting – the whole works. His repertoire covers both artists’ greatest hits. Billy Joel fans can expect such classics as Piano Man, Uptown Girl, Tell Her About It and Only the Good Die Young; Elton John aficionados can enjoy Candle in the Wind, Crocodile Rock, Benny and the Jets, Tiny Dancer and more.
Pressed to pick his own favourites, Langevin cites Joel’s New York State of Mind – “when you’re playing it, it reminds me of being in New York, being a regular person in a big environment like that” – and John’s Honky Cat.
Though Langevin notes the two artists are often compared to each other, he says they’re not really that similar.
“They’re totally different artists,” he said. “What they have in common is they both make amazing music, and they have amazing stories to tell in their music.”
Langevin’s own musical tastes are eclectic; like Joel and John, he says, he listens to just about every kind of music. He finds inspiration not just in the two artists he channels, but in all the various music that influenced their sounds – including R&B, blues, jazz and more. He tries to perform their work in a style that’s true to the original, but drawing on his own personal experiences to bring emotional truth to the music.
“You wouldn’t want it to sound any way but the way the artist would do it himself,” he said. “Paying tribute means, yes, you’re playing their music, but you’re almost doing it in your own words. … Pretty much every song that they’ve ever written is on a personal level; I can relate on a personal level as well.”
Langevin, who spent 14 years teaching piano and voice at the Neil Douglas Guitar Shop on 12th Street, is looking forward to coming back to New Westminster to share his concert with the community. He’s stayed in touch with local audiences over the years, he says, noting many New West folks will know him from performances at seniors’ homes and Century House, among others.
He’s performed for seniors, families, children with special needs – you name an audience, he’s shared his music with them.
A father of five himself (ranging in age from an 11-month-old baby girl to a 22-year-old stepdaughter), Langevin is committed to keeping his performances open and accessible to all. As far as he’s concerned, when he steps on stage it’s as if he’s invited the audience over to his home for the evening.
“That’s what I consider the audience – my living room,” he says. “We’re going to talk, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to enjoy each other’s company. I’m a family man, I’m all about that.
“I just want people to come and enjoy themselves, relax, sing, dance, clap along. I’m going to make everybody feel included. … You know, let’s have some fun, that’s what it’s all about.”