Thursday, July 31, 2014

Interview: Jacob Houser

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And now, an interview with Jacob Houser, the music director of Jimmy!.

By Kayleen Peña (Producing Assistant)

The amazing man behind the piano is Jacob Houser, NTSA’s music director. Every day at rehearsal, he’s working hard playing for and supporting the cast, always all smiles. I caught him during break recently to get his point of view on his work for Jimmy!.

Why did you choose to be the music director for Jimmy!?

JACOB: Victoria [NTSA’s executive director] was looking for a music director, and she had talked to a theater teacher at Beacon, who then got ahold of my roommate, because my roommate is a theater person and a music person. They sent Victoria my website and my résumé, and she contacted me from there. I came aboard a little bit late in the game, I would say around late May. Victoria interviewed me at a little coffee show, and from there it all clicked.

What’s your favorite part about directing music for Jimmy!?

JACOB: I think the style of music is so much fun, and the singers are absolutely incredible, and as music director you have to be able to adapt to a lot of styles in many different ways. I’ve done things from jazz to standard musical theatre and this is another very specific kind of music. It’s gospel and Southern and things like that, so it’s been fun adapting and learning this new style.

What musicians do you admire?

JACOB: That’s a hard one. Composer and musical theater wise, I really like Stephen Sondheim, of course, I also really like Tom Kitt. Music director wise, Carmel Dean is one of my idol music directors. Because I’m from Utah, I really like bluegrass music. You get me some banjo, mandolin, and I’ll probably like those artists.

What’s been a challenge in musical directing for Jimmy!?

JACOB: This whole thing has been a challenge, but a fun challenge. This is a new musical, and with the composers in the room, things change. As a music director, you have to be able to adapt to that. For instance, the other day, we were in rehearsal, and the directors decided that they wanted a dance break, so that made one of the songs different. I was sitting at the piano, and the composer comes and writes something completely new. I have to take notes, learn it, and play it throughout the whole rest of rehearsal. So it’s a challenge, because it tests my musical chops as well as the cast’s. But it’s fun and exciting to be able to move that quickly.

What advice would you give to future music directors working on something like this?

JACOB: Music directing takes so many different skills -- yes, you have to be a good musician, know how to play the piano, know how to do voice work, you also have to know how theater works and how a song fits into a show, but you also have to have great personal skills. You need to give notes to singers without offending them. You have to phrase your criticism so that it’s actually constructive and will help them learn, instead of just bashing them down and saying “You’re bad”. Really, you just have to learn as much as you can. That’s how you can do it.

Who do you think will be the best sexy dancing peanut?

JACOB: Oh, goodness. So we have to choose from Parade, Anna, Adam . . . well, yeah, I’m gonna go with Adam. Although it’s going to be very close.

Why should someone buy tickets for Jimmy! right now? At this very moment?

JACOB: Because the show is crazy, and it’s wild, and I think people are going to absolutely love it because of that. People are going to love it for the same reason they love The Book of Mormon and all those other weird, off-kilter, zany musicals. So people should buy tickets now because not only is the show great, but this company is absolutely wonderful. They give students the opportunity to have their first New York City credit. An organization like this that pays young people to do what they love deserves so much support. It also gives us our checks [laughs].

Experience the great music of Jimmy! Buy your tickets today!

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