Toby Singer is full of ideas and energy. The recent University of Michigan graduate is music director at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue, a member of piano rock band The Guilt Trips, and a composer.
He grabbed our attention with the sheer number and quality of the songs in his musical South Hall, a college-set production that had a brief run at Footlight this summer. Through all the raucous student shenanigans and heavily-wrought drama on stage, it was songs like "Freshman" and "Everything Seems Perfect!" that stood out. Singer was musical director for the show as well as its writer.
He grew up outside Detroit and studied in Ann Arbor, Mich., where South Hall premiered. "There are definitely similarities between the two towns," he says. "Ann Arbor is more of an original music town. I've got nothing against the scene here, but certainly when I've tried to book the band in Charleston there's a hesitation about booking an unknown quantity. Although our first three or four shows have been tricky, once I get a foothold it'll go somewhere."
Perhaps the hesitation is caused by the broad variety and inventiveness of his output. Aside from the live gigs and the musical, he's produced a CD called Songs of Travel and Stasis. "It's an electropop album," he explains. "That's one of the 'Toby Singer genres' I want to develop. The trick is to find a way to do it live that will engage an audience. I'm at a crossroads, figuring out what steps to take."
Sounds like a cue for a song — or another musical. Singer has two in the planning stages: one is a thoroughly modern look at cell phones, technology, and how communication devices are actually driving us further apart. The other is a "very intense, raw and grinding rock opera — Tommy as opposed to Rent."
Singer may not have settled on which project to pursue, but at least he's found a place to work and play. He came to Charleston to "try out a completely different environment" and 15 months later, he's ready to dig into the scene with his own brand of rock, jazz-oriented invention, and theatricality. —Nick Smith