BY STEVE ROTHAUS, [email protected]
• He studies musical theater at New World School of the Arts, Florida State University, Miami Dade College and University of Miami, then gets a job singing with the legendary Mel Tormé.
• Rodgers later moves to New York and a friend of a friend introduces him to Liza Minnelli, who hires him as a backup singer and says, ''come around the world with me.'' Last December, he's part of her big Broadway comeback, Liza's at the Palace.
• Now, Rodgers returns to South Florida. He and his Johnny Rodgers Band will perform two shows Saturday and Sunday at the MAC Building opposite University of Miami.
''Besides New York being my base, I consider Miami to be my home. The sky, there's something special about it. It brings me back and makes me feel like a kid again,'' said Rodgers, age 34.
After a few concerts in Europe with Minnelli, Rodgers and his band will return to South Florida this summer for concerts in Miami Beach and Palm Beach.
Rodgers grew up near the Falls shopping center and decided as a child to study musical theater.
''I was very impressed with the young man,'' says professor Larry Lapin, who heads the jazz vocal program at UM's music school. ``He had a great attitude and was very, very talented. He's developed into a very, very good singer-songwriter.''
Rodgers met Tormé after he transferred from UM to Western Michigan University. He worked with the jazz giant about a year before a stroke ended his career in 1996. Tormé died in 1999.
''I got the thrill of singing with him and singing for him backstage,'' Rodgers says.
Rodgers has recorded several albums of original music and co-wrote a song for Minnelli, I Would Never Leave You, which she introduced during the Broadway run and recorded as part of the show's cast album.
''It's a love song to the audience, a thank you and a reassurance that she will always be there for them,'' Rodgers says.
Minnelli also has recorded a duet with Rodgers, Let's Make a Date, another song he co-wrote. It can be downloaded on iTunes, Amazon.com and other sites, and bought on CD at F.Y.E. and Spec's Music.
Rodgers met Minnelli through her longtime friend Fred Ebb, who wrote the lyrics to Cabaret and Theme from `New York, New York.' Ebb died in 2004.
After playing a few benefits with Minnelli, Rodgers joined her act as a backup singer and musician. Last year, he became one of the singing Williams Brothers in a touring tribute to Minnelli's godmother, MGM music arranger Kay Thompson, who helped shape the singing style of Judy Garland.
This is the show that Minnelli brought to New York, along with Rodgers.
''It was always a dream of mine to be on Broadway,'' Rodgers says. ``What a great and surprising way to get there, through an engagement with her.''
IF YOU GO
What: Johnny Rodgers Band
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: MAC Building across from University of Miami, 5960 SW 57th Ave.
Tickets: $25, $15 students with ID
Info: 305-455-3333 or www.johnnyrodgers.com