Side by Side with Mike Backes

Mike Backes may have been born in the wrong decade. When he was growing up, he was either listening to the music of The Rat Pack or re-watching The Bronx Tale for the 100th time. In FST’s Cabaret That’s Amoré!Mike salutes one of The Rat Pack’s coolest members, Dean Martin.

We sat down with Mike to talk about his favorite parts of That’s Amoré!, his previous experiences at FST, and his quirky impressions, and more.

That’s Amoré! plays in FST’s Court Cabaret through February 2. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

That’s Amoré! delves into the personal and professional life of Dean Martin. What did you know of Martin before the show and what were you surprised to learn?

I knew he was best friends with Frank Sinatra – I’m a big Frank fan. I was surprised to learn some of the stuff we talk about in the show.  Dean tried boxing and dealing blackjack. You know, he’s very much like Pippin (from the musical Pippin). Dean tried all of these different things, and then he found that singing was really the main source of entertainment he wanted to pursue.

Like Frank, he was able to do it all – he acted, he sung, he even learned a little bit of dance. He did whatever he had to do to entertain people. He was just an all-around good entertainer. During the rehearsal process of That’s Amoré!, I learned that he was multifaceted and wasn’t just a singer.

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Mike Backes in FST’s That’s Amoré!. Photo by Matthew Holler.

You sing some of Dino’s most popular songs like “Sway” and “That’s Amoré!” in the show. How do you make these songs your own and not try to imitate him?

I think people want to hear a little bit of the essence of Dean. So even when I grew up with this material, listening to Dean, Frank, Nat King Cole, and all these other guys when I was younger, I kind of sounded like them because I had been listening to them for so long. So I just try to pay homage to those artists and not try to sound like them. I don’t really put an effect on my voice to try sound like them.

I always thought that I was born in the wrong era. So when I sing these songs, it’s easy for me to lock in to that style and aesthetic. We made “Sway” our own by making it a duet, and putting our own contemporary take on that.

What is your favorite song in the show? And why do you like it so much?

I love a lot of the group numbers – don’t get me wrong – but there are two that I really love singing.

I love “I Will” because I didn’t know it before starting to work on this show. It’s a beautiful song, and happens during a poignant moment in the show where we are talking about how Dean had just lost his son and his whole world was just crashing around him. You just feel so bad for him in that moment.

And then the second song I love to sing is “Everybody Loves Somebody,” because this things happens organically during the song – people in the audience have started singing along with me. So it becomes this fun sing along that really brings us all together, especially since so many people have been waiting to hear this song. I’m honored that I get to sing it every night.

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Nick Anastasia, Mike Backes, and Emily Dennis. Photo by Matthew Holler.

You were also part of FST’s hit Cabaret production of Mack the Knife two years ago. How did that experience prepare you for this show?

Mack the Knife was also a semi-biographical show about Bobby Darin with songs and a script.Doing Mack prepared me for this show, because I had worked in the space already, and I was able to get familiar with FST’s Cabaret style and approach to the material.

I was also able to see how audiences react to things and got to try new ways of  interacting with them – there is no fourth wall, you’re talking directly to people and improvising. I also learned to be on my toes, because I had to go in two weeks early, which was both crazy and exhilarating.

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Mike Backes in FST’s That’s Amoré!. Photo by Matthew Holler.

What is your favorite role you’ve ever played and why?  

I played and was the understudy for Lorenzo in A Bronx Tale. It’s my favorite role,  because it kind of brought things full circle. My father and I watched A Bronx Tale on repeat. We ended up buying the VHS and almost wearing it out. My father passed away almost 13 years ago, so getting to be Lorenzo – who was basically is my dad – was a pretty significant moment that I’ll never ever forget.

What is something that audiences would be surprised to know about you?

Something on my resume that I like to boast about is that I do a pretty good Kermit the Frog impression.

That’s Amoré! plays in FST’s Court Cabaret through February 2. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.