Singers make a power play in a commercial for BGE

March 19, 2001|By KEVIN COWHERD

IT'S THE oldest story in show biz, isn't it? Four 30-ish guys who love to sing and dance and act finally get their big break the way so many struggling artists do: playing a "boy band" in a BGE commercial warning kids not to touch downed power lines.

Oh, sure, happens every day.

The band is called the Electric Boyz - hey, this is a utility company bankrolling this baby, not Puffy Combs - and their 30-second spot gets a heavy rotation on MTV, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network, which allows the boyz, er, boys, to dream that maybe some heavy hitter in the recording industry will notice them and throw fistfuls of money at them so they can quit their days jobs as a hair-stylist, fork-lift operator, waiter and youth counselor.

A long shot? Oh, yeah. Longer than the odds of an asteroid slamming into my word processor in the next 10 seconds. But who knows? Crazier things have happened - although none, quite frankly, comes immediately to mind.

"Ever since high school, we've never stopped going after it," Irv Becker says of the guys` quest for breakout exposure. "This [commercial] is huge for us. I feel newly born."

The story of the Electric Boyz begins last fall when BGE decides to launch a new safety campaign about downed wires aimed at 9- to 15-year-olds.

A writer in the video department, Dick George, comes up with the lyrics to a tune he calls "Don't Touch the Wires." He envisions a rock band singing it. After an in-house brainstorming session, it's decided to name the band the Electric Boyz. The project is handed off to Rei Spinnicchio, an ace videographer who has just started working for BGE.

He calls his buddy Irv Becker, a 34-year-old Dundalk guy who has acted, danced and sung Top 40 stuff for years and works at a hair salon. Becker is Type A, intense, talented, so hungry for exposure he can taste it.

In so many words, he tells Spinnicchio: Forget that rock stuff. What you need to reach these kids is a "boy band." So he calls his buddy, Larry Lipka, 31, who lives in Abingdon and drives a forklift for Domino Sugars and has sung with Becker in a local show band.

They sit down with Becker's brother-in-law, Gary Cesta, another veteran musician. And within two days, they have a catchy pop tune to go along with those lyrics. BGE loves it. So Becker and Lipka bring in Chris McFadden, 29, an old friend of Becker's from Essex, and James Fox, who's a waiter in Annapolis, and the four start playing around with choreography and background harmonies, and damned if they don`t look like a real boy-band.

Think 'N Sync-meets-Merritt Boulevard. And these guys are good, hitting the moves like they've been doing them together for years.

They shoot the commercial in late December on the big stage at Patapsco Senior High School for the Performing Arts, where Becker, Lipka and McFadden went to school.

The weather forecast is for snow and the TV people are whipping viewers into the usual apocalyptic frenzy that morning. Still, some 150 kids show up to play the part of screaming, hormone-addled fans.

When the Electric Boyz arrive, they find a shimmering space-age set on the stage, a professional 22-person crew bustling about, smoke machines and high-tech cameras on cranes zipping everywhere.

"If you walked into the auditorium that day," Lipka says, "you'd think 'N Sync was performing." The Boyz have to pinch themselves to make sure they`re not dreaming. Makeup people hover over them. Someone with a towel stands by to wipe the perspiration from their faces.

"I've been performing a long time," Lipka says. "But at first, I was a little intimidated." It doesn't help matters when someone in the crew mentions that it costs $400 for every three minutes of unedited film. But the intimidation soon wears off, and Spinnicchio, the veteran director, provides a calming influence.

The shoot lasts all day, 9 to 6, but the Electric Boyz nail their routines, the energy in the room is high, and everyone is pleased.

"You didn't want the day to end," Lipka says. The next day, Lipka calls Becker and says mournfully: "Irv, I'm dying. I can't believe it's over."

As happy as they are with the shoot, the guys nevertheless worry for weeks about what will actually appear on TV.

"Please don't let it be a Gebco commercial," they say to themselves, referring to the cheesy local spot for an insurance company that features the Gebco girls singing inanely: "Go Gebco, Go Gebco."

But Spinnicchio works his editing magic. The Electric Boyz commercial turns out to be MTV-quality stuff, slick and entertaining despite the seriousness of its message. It's been airing since the end of February and is now on a heavy rotation on a number of kid-oriented channels. BGE officials say they're pleased with the feedback they've gotten so far.

The other day, Irv Becker and Larry Lipka returned to the auditorium at Patapsco High and mused about what the Electric Boyz commercial could do for their singing careers.

"Hell, you might as well form a real boy band now," someone said.

Becker laughed and shook his head.

"I know the longevity of boy bands are short. ... We're not ready to jump into that," he said. "We're getting a little old for it, too."

For a moment, there was silence. Then Becker said: "But we're performers at heart. This really validated all the hard work. And who knows? It could really get us notice as singers."

"It kind of scares me that this could be my 15 minutes of fame," Lipka said.

"It was a dream," Becker said. "We lived a dream. Now we'll see what happens next."

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