Why care about a pair of lip syncing men who won, then lost, a Grammy 24 years ago?
Because, under the silly stuff is deep stuff. Or so says Joe Diebes, the composer behind the new, New York Times-approved Milli Vanilli opera, "Wow (Work-in-Progress)."
“The moment you start digging in, you realize it’s an incredibly complex story that addresses important contemporary issues,” Diebes told HuffPost.
With the Grammy-versary upon us (Friday), complete with shady characters coming out of the woodwork for interviews, we tested this theory with some digging. Behold, eight incredibly complex, contemporarily important details:
1. The band was made in Germany, normally the cradle of solidly built products.
Logic may suggest that Robert "Rob" Pilatus and Fabrice "Fab" Morvan were born in a test tube on that one Florida street that spawned 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. Not so. The origin story starts in Munich, with a cook who dreamed of musical superstardom.
Frank Farian, as he called himself, could write hits (remember Boney M?), but he hated the limelight. Then one day, he walked into a club and saw two beautiful creatures rehearsing for a set. These men would become Milli Vanilli. The great irony, according to legend: they were singing.
2. They were not brothers.
Pilatus, the New York-born son of an African American soldier and German mother, was raised by adoptive parents in Germany. Morvan, darker, with higher cheekbones, was French. Both of these young hotties could have been described as triple threats -- actors/models/singers -- with one critical caveat. The word “aspiring” in front of all three labels.
Unbelievably, precipitation was never blamed for the CD skipping.
3. They were not (seemingly) in love.
Of course, no one can prove the above about any two people. But Diebes and the rest of the "Wow" research team aren’t spinning their story as a romance, and that’s because there’s never been evidence of it. Rob and Fab did, however, once pretend to be in love with the same blonde woman. So there's that.
"It's a tragedy for me to see the dream is over."
4. They never sang on a record. Not once.
Farian -- the cook-turned-producer -- has been likened by critics to a Svengali and Stromboli, the fictional agent who screwed over Pinocchio. Neither is a compliment! In one of the many documentaries that came out after the fall, Morvan claimed that Farian dazzled him and Pilatus after the club meet-cute with promises of riches. Only problem, the boys, in their late teens, weren't savvy enough to know the importance of understanding a contract.
Also, the contract was in German.
Should Morvan (soon to be Vanilli) have hired a translator? Probably! Should Pilatus (future Milli) have been more helpful at this juncture, seeing as he grew up in Germany? Again, yes, probably! Will we ever know the truth of the case of the confusing contract? As the Germans say, unwahrscheinlich.
5. They really wanted to sing.
According to the articles and documentaries that informed "Wow," Pilatus and Morvan were always working under the assumption they’d get to sing (even though Pilatus maybe shouldn’t have). In fact, according to the opera's telling of it, the two threatened to out the operation unless Farian loosened the rules.
6. The first scandalous concert went down in a Connecticut amusement park.
It blighted the gentlest of American landmarks: Lake Compounce, supposedly the nation’s oldest continuously operating theme park. Here, the sound of doom:
The concert was broadcast on MTV. According to a legendary VH1 Behind The Music episode, the crowd didn't care about the obvious unraveling onstage. But critics weren't so forgiving. It was time to speculate.
7. Rob died a sad, drug-fueled death.
Cue the intense Behind The Music climax. Rob got into violence and drugs, and flirted a few times with suicide. When he tragically died from a mixture of alcohol and pills in a Munich hotel room, he was 33. A decade before, he’d been in Time Magazine, comparing himself to Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.
8. Fab continues to perform The Song to this day.
But with a few big differences:
Note: If you wish you'd caught "Wow" when it was workshopped in Brooklyn, Diebes says a refined -- but still experimental -- version will be staged in a “more traditional opera venue” down the line. Stay tuned for updates.
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