Music Director Nisan Stewart on the latest orchestral tribute to the Purple One
This isn't Nisan Stewart's first time playing a role in a symphonic Prince production. In 2017, he was the drummer in “A Symphonic Tribute to the Music of Prince,” a tour that paired a live band with an orchestra and included a stop at Columbus Commons.
This time around, Stewart is the music director for “4U – A Symphonic Celebration of Prince.” The touring production, which comes to the Ohio Theatre on Tuesday, Sept. 25, also features a live band and orchestra. But unlike its predecessor, the presentation is approved by the Prince estate. And it was curated by the Roots drummer and Prince aficionado Questlove.
“We were more creative in terms of songs and [segues],” Stewart said in a phone interview. “This show has a little more production value.”
The music, a collection of “hits and hidden jewels,” will be enhanced with photo and video content. But there won't be a vocalist singing Prince's parts.
“Prince had such a unique voice. You really can't duplicate that,” Stewart said. “We tried to … highlight what he's saying verbatim, but through instrumentation.”
Details on song selection have been kept purposely mum, but Stewart cited popular 1984 B-side “Erotic City” and “Christopher Tracy's Parade” (off 1986's Parade, an album with prominent orchestration that would be well-suited for the show) as personal favorites.
“That's the last two [songs] I'm gonna give you,” Stewart said, laughing.
Stewart first met Prince years ago outside of famous California studio CenterStaging.
“I was standing outside on the phone,” Stewart recalled. “A limousine pulled up and Prince got out the car and he walked by and I said, ‘What's up?' And he gave me a head nod and said, ‘What's up?' Ironically, a few years later, I was blessed with an opportunity to play the drums with him on the BET Awards [in 2006].”
That segment, a tribute to Chaka Khan, also featured Stevie Wonder and Yolanda Adams.
“That was my greatest musical experience, and I've played drums for everybody,” said Stewart, who currently serves as the drummer on the TV series “Dancing with the Stars.”
Being a part of “4U” is like coming “full circle,” Stewart said. And the first show, which premiered in New Jersey earlier this month, was emotional.
“I was listening to the orchestra in the introduction … and watching the screen. It brought tears to my eyes,” he said.
But there have been joyous moments throughout the tour, too.
“People were really singing the hits,” he said. “I would take my in-ear [monitors] off … and I could hear the crowd singing.”
“If you're a fan, you're gonna have a treat,” he continued. “This music makes you dance, and don't be afraid to do it.”