From Draper to Broadway to space, these brothers are rocking and rocketing to fame
Jul 30, 2019 03:42PM
By Mimi Darley Dutton
Brothers Kellen and Blake Hullinger, also known as BroBand, have both experienced success and national recognition in the past year. (Courtesy Tamara Squires)
By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]
The dynamic Draper duo known as the BroBand, brothers Kellen and Blake Hullinger, are making more than music these days. They’re making a name for themselves across the nation, and their idea is headed into outer space next year.
Just two years ago the brothers began with a backyard concert and then expanded to playing at restaurants and events locally and nationally, including opening for 1,000 people at the Deer Valley Amphitheater.
Fast forward to today and Blake, age 12 and a student at Summit Academy, just returned from one year of performing with the Broadway tour of “School of Rock the Musical.” Blake got his first theatrical experience 18 months ago when he tried out for the Draper community production of Disney’s “Peter Pan Jr.” and won the lead role, an experience that left him looking for more opportunities to “break a leg.” He set his sights big and decided he wanted to do School of Rock on Broadway, so his parents made plans for him to audition.
“It was really fun to be in New York. It was my first trip ever,” Blake said. He uses his first and middle names, Blake Ryan, for his stage name, “because you kind of want a simpler name,” he explained.
It was a whirlwind of events that led to Blake’s Broadway debut. “In one day he had to go to three different callbacks. Then he was excused and within two days we were boarding the plane back to Utah when we got a call from the casting director. They wanted to make sure he was willing to commit to the show because then they send a video of the audition in New York to Andrew Lloyd Webber in London. One week from the actual audition is when it became official,” said Blake’s mom, Tamara Squires.
“School of Rock the Musical” is the creation of Webber, famed composer, songwriter and theater director responsible for musicals such as “Phantom of the Opera” and “Cats.” Webber wrote the musical based on the 2003 film about a struggling rock singer/guitarist who pretends to be a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school and then forms a band of fifth graders to compete in a battle of the bands.
“We got a contract on a Tuesday, we had to sign by Thursday and we got a flight Saturday. We were on tour by that Monday,” Blake said. His tour traveled to 33 cities from coast to coast and included one week at Salt Lake’s Eccles Theater. But his favorite city he visited was Memphis. He was on a historical tour there when the guide invited him to play a piano, and Blake happened to choose the song “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, not knowing that Lewis himself had played that very piano, as had Elvis.
“It was amazing, pretty life changing,” Squires said.
Blake was able to keep up on his schoolwork with help from the teachers and administrators at Summit Academy and tutors on the road. Although it was a lot to balance his schooling with rehearsals, traveling and performing, it didn’t really faze him. “Because I’m on a Broadway tour and it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, it puts you in a good mood,” he said.
In 11 months of touring with the show, the actors only get one week of vacation, and that’s only after they’ve completed six months touring and are offered another contract to continue performing. But before Blake even began his professional debut, his family made the decision together — if he should do it and how the family would manage being apart. Because he’s a minor, Blake was required to have a guardian with him the entire time.
“My husband and I would trade off (being with Blake) and we made it mandatory that every three or four weeks we would be together as a family,” Squires said.
Blake’s next big role will be as Pugsley in “The Addams Family Musical” in San Diego this fall. This time he’ll have a solo and lots of lines rather than being a “swing” as he was in “School of Rock.” The family once again thought through the opportunity before saying yes, but in the end they decided to go for it. “This may be his last year to do it since he’s a teenager and his voice may be changing. As kid actors, you have to take it when it’s in your age range,” Squires said.
Meanwhile, brothers Blake and Kellen, age 15, collaborated with friend Cameron Trueblood of California (whom Blake met doing “School of Rock”) to enter a national contest put on by the American band OK Go, famous for their creative music videos that integrate math and science with music. Blake and Kellen’s dad, Brett Hullinger, had seen an ad for the contest on Facebook and presented the idea to Kellen, who then spent a couple weeks conceptualizing, writing an essay and drawing sketches for his submission.
“My love of space and astrophysics made me think of aspects of space that aren’t just zero gravity. My mind eventually wandered to the idea of electromagnetic radiation and creating a device that would create music and art. I’m inspired by Stephen Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson,” Kellen said.
Band members of OK Go notified the boys via a Skype call that they’d won the national contest. Blake and Kellen’s parents were notified a few days prior that their sons had won and were asked to keep it a secret, so they tricked the boys into making the Skype call happen by telling them it was someone else on the call. “You’re just so star struck when you’re meeting your idols. Everything explodes in your brain,” Kellen said of that call.
While Kellen had the driving idea, the three of them are working together to make it happen with Blake contributing musical expertise and Cameron drawing up schematics.
The three boys will work with engineers from Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, to create a device that will use cosmic radiation to trigger musical notes to be played and paint to be sprayed onto a canvas. Their device will launch into space on a Blue Origin rocket sometime in 2020.