A director's point of view on music directing

Michael Licata became a director after 25 years as an actor, which included Evita and Sweet Charity on Broadway.

He has directed nearly sixty productions, including The Most Happy Fella starring Sprio Malas, Fiddler on the Roof starring Eddie Mekka, and Gypsy starring Joyce DeWitt, and the tours of Stand by Your Man, and My Way. He is currently the associate artistic director for the West Virginia Public Theatre.

What do you expect from music directors you work with?
I expect them to know the music and the style very well. I expect them to know voices, for example to know if a particular role is within an actor’s vocal range. I also would like them to have a good knowledge of vocal technique and pedagogy, to be able to hear someone sing and say “no, they’re not gonna be able to do a show 8 times a week.”

I expect them to be organized, to know how long they need to teach the music.

They have to be very strong leaders, be passionate about the work and inspire the performers to do the best they possibly can. They also need to be understanding and compassionate of the different levels of skills that people have. If you’re doing a dancing show, understand that the dancers are not skilled singers.

If I say “I want to make a cut, or a change,” I need somebody to know how to do that, and to say yes to it.

What are mistakes you've seen music directors make?
Mistakes I've seen happened where when people weren’t prepared, and didn’t do their homework. They don’t know the music, who to assign parts to. They struggle.

And when they’re not leaders. Music directors have to be type A personalities, be able to take charge, and at the same time, understand that the needs of the director and the choreographer take preference over everything, especially in a musical.

What are some things you wish music directors did less of?

I don’t like to see them patronize performers. That comes back to being tolerant to people with less skills, but directors and choreographers do that too, it’s not isolated to music directors, we’re talking about individual personalities.

What are some things you wish music directors did more of?
They need to have the sensitivity to know when to make the orchestra soft, and when to make them loud; to not make the assumption that the sound man is gonna be able to do it.

The older music directors who have lived through not such sophisticated sound know how to do that, but the younger ones figure the sound man will do it, and they shouldn’t.

What other differences do you find between young music directors and experienced music directors?
You could work with a great young music director and a great older music director, there’s no black and white. But there is something to be said for experience. It’s really a matter of the more experience one has, the more comfortable they’ll be in a rehearsal situation.

Although I’m finding that the new young music directors are more adaptable to the more rock and popular styles, like American Idiot or Rent. Just the youth gives them a better understanding of the music itself.

What makes you want to work with a music director again?
If I like them all, it comes down to the style of the show. If I’m doing a classical piece, I’d want somebody who has a keen understanding of classical music.

If I’m doing a show like Hairspray, I want somebody who can transform a 18 piece band into a 7 piece band and make it sound great. 

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