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Living the dream

By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / October 7, 2011

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At: Orpheum Theatre, Monday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $33-$43. 800-745-3000,

A few years ago Mike Mangini’s wife told him to get out.

Not out out, mind you, but back out on the road with a band.

The veteran drummer with an impressively long list of credits - having played with everyone from Boston-spawned metal band Extreme to guitar virtuoso Steve Vai - admits that he was feeling restless.

“I was looking at this massive drum set of mine and thinking, ‘How can I ever be myself? How can I ever get in a situation where people understand me rather than being in a situation where I’m told I have too many drums, or play too much of this and not enough of that?’’ says Mangini.

It’s not that he wasn’t content. For the past 10 years, Mangini enjoyed his work, in both part- and full-time capacities, as an instructor in the percussion department at Berklee College of Music as well as a private instructor. “I love to teach. And one of the biggest reasons is I learn a lot from my students,’’ says the Waltham native. He also scored plenty of gigs outside academia and happily made a stable home for his wife and two kids. But he longed to be playing live on a regular basis. “It’s just the way it is, I can’t control it, it’s a calling. I need to be in a band.’’

And then, in 2010, Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater. The 25-year-old, platinum-selling Berklee-spawned prog-metal band launched a search for a new drummer, and chronicled the process with a multi-part documentary on their website. They auditioned seven guys and Mike Mangini got the job.

As Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci says of Mangini in one of the episodes “He’s at a one-of-a-kind level. Guys just don’t play like that.’’

Last week, the band’s aptly titled 11th album “A Dramatic Turn of Events,’’ the first to feature Mangini holding down theintricate time signatures, debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. The band plays the Orpheum Theatre on Monday.

The same sense of joy and wonder visible on Mangini’s face captured on video when he got the call to join the band is still audible in the chipper48-year-old’s voice.

“I can’t believe this happened. I really can’t,’’ he says, overflowing with gratitude on the phone from a Michigan tour stop with the band.

But in some ways, he can. He gives most thanks to a very supportive, and highly musical, family who endured a lot of racket when he was growing up. “My mother had to listen to [me practicing] from 1 in the afternoon until dinnertime. And then everybody had to listen after dinnertime,’’ he recalls with a laugh.

There was also the encouragement of friends - “that came over and would just hang out while I played Rush ‘Farewell to Kings’ ’’ - and Waltham High music teacher Walter Tokarczyk, to whom Mangini says he can’t give enough credit.

Mangini understands that the situation with Portnoy was messy and the subject of much online debate among Dream Theater fans. (The band cofounder had expressed a desire to take a hiatus. The other members - Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess, bassist John Myung, and singer James LaBrie- did not wish to take as lengthy a break and Portnoy left. He tried to return, but the band had already committed to Mangini.) He says he never worried that they might decide to reunite with their original drummer.

“It’s because of what went on in that audition room,’’ he says. “I don’t know many languages but I do know the language of music, and I know that it doesn’t lie. “

“Everything that has to do with the band’s business, like Mike wanting to come back, we don’t talk about that. I found out all that online,’’ he says with a laugh. “Because, number one, it’s not my business. Number two, we’re moving forward. We’re busy talking about songs and lights and production and sets and cool music things. We’re just having a good time so it should make sense that that doesn’t even enter into the fold.’’

The fan response, he says, has been positive. He admits to fears of being pelted with rotten tomatoes but happily reports that in Rome, audience members were loudly chanting his name. “They had no idea how much that set me for the rest of, probably, my career with the band because it made me feel welcomed.’’

Many of Mangini’s friends, colleagues, and students offered him congratulations and most were not surprised that the man who has repeatedly won the title of “World’s Fastest Drummer’’ got the nod.

“I had no doubt in my mind that he was going to end up as their drummer,’’ says Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, who worked with Mangini in the band as well as on his solo album “Schizophonic.’’ “That band is so much what Mike is about and what he’s worked to do his whole life, it was such a perfect fit. I was so happy to find out that he actually got it. It was like he found the proper home.’’

“Everybody was pretty ecstatic about it,’’ says Mangini’s former boss, Yoron Israel, assistant chair and professor in the percussion department at Berklee, who calls the drummer a “model citizen.’’

Steve Bolognese, 29, of Stoneham, who studied privately with Mangini for several years and now works as drum instructor at Berklee, echoes that sentiment. “He definitely inspired me to check out so many different things,’’ says Bolognese, who went to Mangini to increase his speed while playing in the metal band Into Eternity, which coincidentally opened for Dream Theater in 2007. “I owe so much to him.’’

Bettencourt also thinks that Mangini will be a creative asset to the group. “He’s always trying to be innovative. The band’s been around for awhile and I think he’ll give them a nice fresh perspective.’’

Mangini is just thrilled to be doing what he loves with people who understand him. “It’s like everything that I do with this band is the right thing. It’s the completion of who I’m supposed to be.’’

Of course, now that he’s on the road, he is away from home more often. But, Mangini says there’s a silver lining for the wife that supported his dream to get out: “In my house there are a lot less dishes to clean up, and a lot less noise.’’

Sarah Rodman can be reached at


At: Orpheum Theatre, Monday, 8 p.m. Tickets: $33-$43. 800-745-3000,