ne of the greatest contributors to a show is also one of the least visible: the music director. Whether hidden in the “pit” or tucked behind scenery, this member of the creative team is charged not only with conducting the orchestra or band during performances, but also guiding all musical aspects of the show. From the way Curly sings the opening lyrics of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” to the driving percussion of “Born to Hand Jive,” each musical moment is carefully crafted by the music director.
Staffer Emily Dew sat down with music director Jeffrey Childs – whose credits here include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Oklahoma!, Grease, and The World Goes ‘Round (for which he won both a Drammy and a Portland Area Musical Theatre Award) – for a quick Q&A exploring the player behind the piano:
What’s your role in putting a show together? Every year Broadway Rose holds general auditions for their upcoming season. I am the accompanist at these auditions. I love playing for auditions. The music directing process begins there – in casting a show. Hiring great musicians is the next step in helping to make a great show. We have such talented artists in this community.
You also teach and music direct children’s theatre. what inspires you to work with young artists? Working with young performers gives me great joy. I love to be part of the “firsts” – first time in a musical, first solo moment, first time they are able to belt out a note that had been impossible a year earlier. Whether eight or eighteen, I truly love them all.
Dream show to music direct? Secret Garden. The music is so lush and wrenching.
Karaoke: Yay or nay? I tried it once. It was a miserable failure. I did “California Dreamin’” ‘cause I love The Mamas & The Papas, but I don’t have a rock star voice.
Longest gig? The longest run ever was an 8-week run of Camelot and I thought I would die.
Shortest gig? Anything Goes at Lakewood Theatre Company. I walked in at 5:30 when Alan Lytle [the music director] was sick, the show started at 7:30, and I had never played it before. It was exhilarating and frightening – and I didn’t screw up!
Your go-to snack for rehearsals? Almonds. Dry roasted. Lightly salted. Blue Diamond. I’m a brand snob.
Most under-appreciated player in a show: The bass player. A good bassist can add so much nuance to a pit, or even just a trio, if you get the right one. They add something special and unique.
Favorite movie musical? West Side Story. Period. It’s the first musical I ever saw. I was in 4th grade. They got to that quintet section and I thought my head was going to explode. I can’t wait to play for it here this summer.
It’s 30 minutes after the final curtain call. What are you doing? I’m home. Probably having a gin & tonic. Usually some olives. Maybe a Triscuit. It’s the perfect aftershow moment.
Jeffrey Childs’ upcoming projects include playing in the pit orchestras for West Side Story and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and music directing A Very Merry PDX-mas at Broadway Rose.