– George Fulginiti-Shakar received his first Helen Hayes Award in 1994 for Sound Design. He has since had 8 nominations for Musical Direction, and received 2 Awards; in 2007 for Cabaret and in 2011 for Oklahoma!, both at Arena Stage –
I love the immediacy of theatre. The ‘live’ and ‘alive’ nature of it. Each time is a one-time event, never to be repeated exactly the same way. Tempos vary. Cues change slightly to fit the moment. And each audience member brings their unique energy to the show as well.
It’s delightful to find musicians and actors and music directors who can really be in the moment. It’s a challenge to do the same thing night after night, and in the long run there’s a trap you can fall into, where things just run on automatic. But good acting is about a real response to a real moment, and that’s what the music needs to do as well. It’s good leadership from the music director that keeps the orchestra alive and responsive.
There’s a lot more theatre in DC now, and a lot more musicals. Musicals are expensive — I keep hearing that from producers — but I certainly love them. It requires particular skill on the part of the director, since there are usually many more factors than when you work on a regular play. But the music director’s job can be exceptionally challenging too.
Working with the orchestrations is often quite involved — it requires a great deal of work to get a handle on them and rearrange them for the orchestra that you have. Musicals are often orchestrated for a twenty or thirty piece orchestra, so if yours is smaller, there’s a lot of adaptation needed. Even though music directors may be restrained by contractual agreements with the license holders, there is still lots of room to interpret the music, and to work with the directors to open up possibilities. Our job is to support the director’s vision.
And even though directors of musicals continue to cast from New York for many important roles, I am thrilled to see so many resident actors, actresses, music directors, and choreographers get the recognition they so richly deserve. Even the smaller theatres are taking the chances required to get nominations.
I’m often in performance, so I have seen woefully few shows outside of my own this past year. That needs to change! But I did have some wonderful moments during Liberty Smith at Ford’s. The quality at that theatre has become truly first-rate in this city.
I moved here from the Boston area. I was a jack-of-all-trades up there, including a musician. I decided to move here to be a music director. I worked at Living Stage Theatre Company, which led me to be assistant music director for Merrily We Roll Along at Arena Stage in 1990. Since then I’ve enjoyed a long-lasting relationship with Arena Stage, as music director for many of their big shows. And, since you have to keep your fires burning, I’ve developed relationships with Ford’s, Shakespeare Theatre, Studio Theatre, Imagination Stage, and a host of other theatres.
It tends to be an open community in some ways, but also small. You get to know the same people. I know many of the nominees well. Jay Crowder and I did a three-person cabaret together once at a little venue here in town — we all played piano and sang. And Jay is the music director for the production of 1776 that’s currently running at Ford’s — that’s one more connection I have with him, since I’m on keyboard and conducting for that show. Chris Youstra and I worked together on Little Shop of Horrors at Ford’s. And Jon Kalbfleisch and I go way back. He’s very talented, and it’s wonderful that Signature’s taken him on board as a full-time music director there.
When I go to the theatre, I want to hear soaring voices, a tight ensemble and real expressiveness. It’s a sign that the musical line is connected to the emotional content of the show. If I hear sloppy cutoffs, out-of-tune musicians, or moments that fall flat instead of landing with emotion, it’s usually the music director’s issue. By now, I know when it works and I know when it doesn’t.
But there are often times when I can’t tell who’s responsible for what. The distinctions between director, music director, orchestrator… They aren’t always easy to decipher just by listening and watching. At one point the organizers of the Helen Hayes Awards asked me to write up a list of points for the judges to consider, to try and clarify who does what. Especially because Helen Hayes judges rarely have any training in these fields.
It’s interesting. Very often, it seems general audiences don’t get that there’s a music director up there — or even that there’s a live orchestra! It’s amazing how often I see an audience member surprised to learn that people were playing live the whole time.
I want to see DC try some sort of encore series, like you see in New York. It would be fun to take a musical, dust it off, and put it up for just a couple of weeks. I think there would be a real audience for that. I did a few one-weekend productions at Shakespeare Theatre this past fall — The Boys From Syracuse and Two Gentlemen of Verona — that took maybe two weeks to rehearse and only a few nights to run. Arena Stage and Signature would be great places to do that too.
Also, we’ve seen a lot of new musicals go in a rock or pop direction lately. I am interested in pulling some contemporary classics into the mix, as well as performance art, dance, and hip hop. I know there are people working at Catholic and at UMD in the composition department looking for a chance to write more classical songs. It would be interesting to pull them into the musical theatre world.
For example, I’m working on a piece at Imagination Stage right now that will feature classical ballet dancers, with a classical composer. And, puppets! That will push some new boundaries. I just think we always need to look for more opportunities to mix it up.
Guess who'll receive the 2012 Helen Hayes Award for Musical Direction
- James Moore for Follies (50%, 3 Votes)
- Jay Crowder for Liberty Smith (17%, 1 Votes)
- Jon Kalbfleish for Hairspray (17%, 1 Votes)
- Christopher Youstra for Pop! (17%, 1 Votes)
- Christopher Youstra for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 6