Behind-the-Scenes with Brian Burke


February 19, 2014 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

Joanne Chan chats to the creative director of singing sensations Il Divo’s upcoming musical affair in Hong Kong

Pop-classical crossover group, Il Divo, will be in Hong Kong on 23 March 2014 to perform "A Musical Affair - The Greatest Songs of Broadway". Since the good looking quartet (French pop singer Sébastien Izambard, Spanish baritone Carlos Marín, American tenor David Miller, and Swiss tenor Urs Bühler) has garnered so much international coverage leading up to their arrival, I have decided to go behind-the-scenes instead and conduct an interview with Brian Burke, the Creative Director of the show. Burke, who also goes by the nickname of “BB", has worked on dozens of musical productions, awards, and television shows, and what he shared with me greatly demonstrated that old Chinese adage: 'One takes on the color of one's company'. If you are interested to see how he got to where he is today, do read on.

Joanne Chan: Tell us about yourself, Brian!
Brian Burke: I am from Binghamton, New York and I graduated from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. My father is a sound and lighting designer who owned a music store in our hometown, so I grew up around music, lighting and sound. 

JC: How did you to get where you are today? 
BB: I started as a dancer on Broadway and later danced for Ricky Martin and worked on a show for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games [in Salt Lake City]. With time, I became the production supervisor with the responsibility of directing on behalf of the creative team. Through that, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from many talented directors and choreographers.  When I was asked to be one of the choreographers on Celine Dion's Las Vegas show 'A New Day', I stopped dancing.

JC: You worked with Franco Dragone for a number of years; what was that like?
BB: One thing led to another, Franco and I became friends while I was working on the creative team for Celine Dion. Franco knew that I wanted to be a director and gave me a lot of opportunities, and I got the chance to work with the top creative designers from around the world. Franco gave me the great gift of his creative knowledge and the insight into his mind. I always say he is my 'artistic godfather' and I will use this creative knowledge every day of my life. 

JC: You have an amazing CV, having done so many different shows. But which is your favourite, or the most challenging one to work on? 
BB: Definitely Le Reve at Wynn Las Vegas. They were the most challenging but most rewarding five years of my life so far. 

JC: Is there a person that was pivotal to your career?
BB: My agent and dear friend Tony Selznick and Tim Byrne, the worldwide creative director for SYCO Entertainment. It is thanks to both of them, that I had the opportunity to work with Il Divo. I am always inspired by watching other creative people, such as them, at work. 

JC: Could you describe the process of coming up with the show for Il Divo? 
BB: The music is the ultimate driving force. I particularly love the modern interpretation of Il Divo's music – inspired by classical settings but done in a new fresh way. To keep with the idea of contrast such as mixing 'classical' with 'pop' i.e. Il Divo, I wanted to create an elegant and sophisticated and yet modern setting.  Il Divo and myself therefore agreed that we would pay respect to the original scenes from the musicals and re-create them in the visual language that uses modern technology of lighting and video, and where the visuals compliment the emotion of the song. I think a show is most successful when it touches the audience in an emotional way.

JC: Any advice for people wanting to get into the industry? 
BB: A friend once told me that you only need any combination of two out of these three things to succeed in show business: talent, perseverance, and luck. 

JC: What makes you tick? 
BB: It is a real gift to imagine an idea in your head and then work with teams of creative people to bring the idea to fruition and finally see it in front of a fully entertained audience.  

JC: How would you complete this sentence? I wish… 
BB: I wish that I can create shows and work with nice people, such as Il Divo, for the rest of my life. It is my ultimate passion.

JC: Anything else you wish to share with us? 
BB: After a show I always go and walk among the crowd leaving the venue to hear what they are saying. The audience tells us everything we need to know in order to understand how to make a show that appeals to them.

Il Divo's A Musical Affair: The Greatest Songs of Broadway Live will be in Hong Kong On Sunday 23 March 2014 at Hall 5B&C, HKCEC.