A clear, falsetto rings out in The Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s rehearsal space, crooning the opening notes to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Three other voices chime in, singing effortlessly, it seems. Startlingly, the mature voices belong to four local teenagers who perform together in a barbershop quartet known as The Four Reps.
Matt Morley, Henry Melhorn, Jack Dowden and Charlie Askew met in Summer Musical Theatre Instensive (or SMTI), the competitive summer program of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. The teens still participate in SMTI, in addition to performing at high-profile gigs—one of their first performances was at the Governor’s Mansion—in their a cappella group, making appearances on main-stage productions at The Rep, and participating in other activities individually.
Askew, whose buddies have dubbed him “The Human Pitch Pipe” for his innate music abilities, works on writing original music at home; Melhorn plays piano and recently appeared in “The Miracle Worker” at the Weekend Theater; Morley trains with the Arkansas Festival Ballet and travels with his family band to surrounding states; Dowden plays varsity soccer at Episcopal Collegiate School and is set to perform in The Rep’s May production “Next to Normal.”
Performing as part of The Four Reps has afforded the teens additional performance time, a fan base (yes, they’re popular with the ladies their age) and recorded albums. Perhaps most importantly, they’ve learned to work hard, gained professional experience and polished their stage presence—invaluable lessons for the teens, all of whom intend to pursue the performing arts after high school.
But these are still 17- and 18-year-old boys, after all, so when the conversation turns to favorite bands, things are bound to get heated. “Music is totally opinion-based, but when an 18-year-old boy is obsessed with Justin Beiber, I am not OK with that!” says Morley—whose tastes tend toward obscure and indie—of pop-fan Dowden. Then, there’s Melhorn who can rap the lyrics “to every Biggie song ever written” according to Dowden, and Askew who is a self-proclaimed “Mozart baby” with “very pretentious” faves.
If there’s anything they can agree on, it’s the value of the close friendships they’ve formed with one another—Askew says they’re “almost like brothers”—and that they love singing Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time.”