Q: You’re the assistant conductor for the musical. How did you land this role?
A: When we finally received the music for Hairspray last semester, for some odd reason the conductor’s score also contained a prime keyboard part. Since she would not be able to play and conduct at the same time Dr. Bartlett asked me if I would like to take on the role of Assistant Director for the orchestra. During the previous school year, I had been a drum major for the marching band so I had previous experience in conducting a large music group.
Q: Assistant conductor also requires a lot of responsibility. Is this the hardest task in your musical career that you’ve ever experienced?
A: I believe this is the most challenging yet fun musical task I’ve encountered that involves much concentration and listening. I have to cue the music to perfectly fit with the lines, lyrics, and light cues along with clear movements to relate my intent to every single musician to make the songs flow and remain consistent in rhythm. I also was surprised to learn how much arm strength is needed to conduct songs especially if they are fast or long.
Q: What is it like to switch between playing and conducting?
A: It’s exhilarating! In addition to conducting, I am playing the flute and the baritone saxophone, which I learned just for this musical, and I find it fun to switch between the three different roles. However, at times I get annoyed from setting up my 45 pounds of music equipment to not even rehearse the pieces I play in or when musicians don’t follow my tempo or watch for my cues which really makes me appreciate the conductor when I do play.
Q: What is it like to collaborate with Dr. B in conducting?
A: I find it amazing that the Baltimore Sound orchestra has adapted to both of our conducting styles, and I’m glad I have a great mentor to guide me in directing the orchestra. There’s one scene where a song in which I play is followed seamlessly by another I conduct, so Dr. B starts the orchestra on it way while I come up in the next few bars to lead the rest of the song.
Q: Orchestra is often overlooked in musicals, compared to the actors themselves. How would you want orchestra to be recognized more?
A: I have been both an actor and musician in our past musicals, and I see the disparity of appreciation for the orchestra and the actors incredible unfair as both work equally hard; out of the two groups, Orchestra definitely requires more patience during rehearsals. I would like people to truly consider how boring and bland the show would be if all the music was sucked out of the scenes as the music is what develops the mood of the show and helps the actors deliver their lines with better intent and timing. If only a little improvement, I hope that the Baltimore Sound this year receives just as much if not more applause than the lead actors especially considering that there are so many more of us.
Q: If you were up on the stage instead, which character would you want to play? Why?
A: The role of Corny made me wish I was a guy because he is so good-natured and progressive in the face of the antagonists and has really fun songs to sing and dance to as a show host. Interestingly enough, when I auditioned for Hairspray, I was very interested in the part of Velma, the bigoted producer of the Corny Collins Show and one of the antagonists. I think it’d be fun to play such a mean character whose comments are so blatantly rude that she’s comical and to disprove my friends who can’t imagine me acting as such a mean character. I also love Velma’s main song, the only one in the musical to be written in a minor key to highlight her villainy, and the amusing lyrics expose her scheming personality.
Q: Which song in Hairspray is your favorite song to play/conduct? How does it relate to the action going on on stage? (No spoilers!)
A: Unlike past musicals, I enjoy every single song and listen to them on endless repeat almost everyday. However, I love “Without Love” so much that I made it my Hairspray audition song, and I always sing along to it during rehearsal; once I was so absorbed in the groove that I didn’t even notice Dr. Bartlett cutting off the rest of the orchestra while I kept going. The song contains such fun lyrics and couplets, beautiful harmonies and a bassline that reminds me of a beating heart. Dialogue is embedded within the song as it progresses which really helps build the emotion of how the two couples, Tracy and Link and Seaweed and Penny, really feel for each other in tandem with the comedy arising from breaking the fourth wall at the start, the couples’ absurd situations during the song, and the funny similes they sing.
Q: Which character in Hairspray do you think you relate to the most? How?A
A: I feel I share quirkiness with Penny. She also has a very restrictive mom and my own mom implements rules I often find ridiculous and, like Penny, sometimes break. When Penny finally shows her true colors on stage in song and dance, I am reminded how my mom was surprised when she saw me energized in my first show choir performance and realized how much I enjoy the performing arts.
Q: What makes the music of Hairspray different that the other musicals Keppel has put on in the past (like the genre, emotions, etc.)? Or are they all pretty similar?
A: Like other musicals, the music is made to fit the culture of the setting and its characters, so Hairspray’s songs are greatly influenced by the music of the 1960’s like Motown, soul, gospel, rock n’ roll, and pop. Unlike previous productions, Hairspray requires an extremely large array of keyboard settings, electric basses and guitar, and saxophones with few traditional orchestral wind instruments parts, causing almost my entire winds section to learn saxophone in the span of two months.
Q: What’s your favorite scene in Hairspray? How does the music correspond to the scene?A
A: Some of my favorite scenes are the ones in which the stage is split between the Council dancers and the Turnblad apartment where the household appears to be watching the show on a television set. Within these scenes, the music creates an excited, upbeat ambiance with the occasional sound effect such as a phone ringing. I especially enjoy the illusion as I cut off the music just as an actor pretends to switch off the television off.
Q: Do you have anything to say to the people coming to the show?
A: Be prepared to laugh and dance as well as think! The musical has such crazy lyrics and catchy motifs combining with the storyline and its allusions to 1960’s American culture to highlight racial integration and social acceptance, and if you pay attention, you can hear the music of the show’s two distinct musical cultures coming together at the end. No one should miss this extremely colorful and groovy show so don’t miss it! “It Takes Two” hours to feel “Welcome to the 60’s” so “Run and Tell That” this production “is a rainbow experience,” and “wake up and see [the] Baltimore [Sound] and me!”