Making It Happen: Four Questions with Dear Evan Hansen Tony-Nominated Orchestrator Alex Lacamoire
June 1st, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Alex Lacamoire won a pair of Tony Awards and Grammy Awards for orchestrating Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony-winning musicals, In the Heights and Hamilton. This year, Alex is nominated for a third Tony for his work as orchestrator and music supervisor on Dear Evan Hansen. The new mega-hit musical is Alex's 11th Broadway show, and BroadwayBox caught up with the in-demand talent to hear a bit about his big break, advice he has for others wanting to pursue the profession, and how he chooses projects.
1. What do you consider your big break? How did you land it? What’s the most important thing it taught you?
My big break was meeting Joe Church in March of 1998, when he was the Music Director for the just-opened Lion King on Broadway. I had been hired as an audition pianist by Binder Casting for local Lion King auditions in Boston, where I had been living after graduating college there. Joe flew in from NYC for the final day of callbacks, and upon hearing me play for the selected actors and learning that I had plans to move to New York the following month, Joe invited me to observe in the Lion King pit to start learning the show. I was 22 years old. Joe took a chance on me, a nerdy unknown kid, advocating for me to be a Lion King keyboard sub, rehearsal pianist, and audition pianist. Everything branched out from there: playing auditions for other shows at Binder Casting; being recommended to also play auditions for Telsey Casting, where I met Stephen Schwartz at auditions, after which he introduced me to his son Scott Schwartz (which is how I did Godspell and Bat Boy) and then recommending me for his own show, Wicked, etc etc.....It all comes from Joe Church extending a hand, but also from me working my butt off to get to a point where I could excel as a pianist. I had spent years practicing, learning how to be musically versatile, gaining experience accompanying, and so on. What did it teach me? It taught me that one thing leads to another, and that landing your next gig is dependent on how well you do on the prior gig.
2. What’s a unique challenge you faced on Dear Evan Hansen that you hadn’t before?
Hansen has instances where a pre-recorded group of speaking voices (the "Virtual Community") are part of the songs' structure, both in "You Will Be Found" and the "You Will Be Found (Reprise)." It was a joy to collaborate on this with the writers, our director Michael Greif, and our sound designer, Nevin Steinberg. The pacing and placement of those spoken voiceovers had to illustrate a clear narrative and create a build WHILE fitting into a particular count of music. I love the way it ended up!
3. How do you choose projects? When do you know if something is a right fit for you?
Being a musician, the lure of the score is the primary element that makes me say "I want to work on this piece," whether it's the way in which the songs are written or my relationship with the composers whose work I admire. The first time I heard the songs from Hansen, I knew I had to be involved; I got the same magnetic pull that I had gotten when I heard songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda or Stephen Schwartz or Larry O'Keefe or Tom Kitt. It's a gut instinct that I go with—when it feels right, it's right.
4. What are three things you would tell someone who dreams of orchestrating or arranging a Broadway musical?
1. Keep writing.
2. Keep listening.
3. Keep learning.
Head to Broadway's Music Box Theatre to experience Alex Lacamoire's work on 'Dear Evan Hansen' or pick up the cast recording.