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Stage & Music Direction

Les Miserables

University of South Dakota

Fall 2013

This show is special to me for many reasons. It was the first musical I saw on Broadway, the first book of musical selections I owned, and I sang “A Heart Full of Love” at my first voice recital. Needless to say, as soon as the rights became available, I was going to direct it. In this case, I ended up wearing three hats - those of stage director, music director, and orchestra conductor. I wouldn’t generally recommend this as the workload was voluminous, but when the material is as good as this it is worth the extra time and effort.


My research began with reading the full novel by Victor Hugo, which was so vital to see the big picture that Hugo was writing about. I also researched 18th century France’s class caste system, penal system, education system, child work and welfare laws, and of course the student revolution of 1832. As musical director, I listened to the romantic operas of the 19th century, as well as the lush rock opera sounds of musical groups like Queen, The Who, and Styx for reference and inspiration. This musical was one of the first to marry opera and rock, and I wanted to bring these traditions into my musical direction. As rehearsals started, we focused initially on music, with a particular focus on style, tone, intonation, and creating our own vocal aesthetic that would carry throughout the production. With such an iconic and well-known show, audiences come in with high musical expectations and we were not about to disappoint them. This early stage was also a time for table work on historical and social context, character, and developing relationships. I expect every actor to create full back stories and family trees, regardless of the size of their role, and these early rehearsals are where those seeds are planted.

For me, the combination of stage and musical direction is very natural, as acting and communication of the text and the melody are intrinsic elements of my voice studio teaching, right along with vocal technique and style. Directing from both points of view simultaneously allows me to observe what is happening on stage visually and aurally and make real-time adjustments in one or both areas as needed. During rehearsals, I employed Lessac Kinesensics extensively, from constant awareness of tonal and structural NRG to physical character development using the different body NRGs. I also utilized Bogart’s Viewpoints quite a bit, particularly exercises with time and space in moments of heightened conflict.


When we got to the point of bringing in the orchestra, which I conducted, I video-recorded each rehearsal and watched it in its entirety prior to the next rehearsal so I could give the actors and production team notes. At the same time, I found that being in the pit and sharing the immediate, visceral excitement of live performance with the cast every night allowed me to communicate and ,evolve with them, through my conducting, in ways that a stage director never gets to enjoy.  This production was nearly sold out for the entire run, and audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I hope that I have the opportunity to revisit this beautiful show again and again, as a director or an actor.

Photos by Raimondo Genna and Callie Hisek. Used with permission.

Scenic Design by Victor E. Shonk

Costume Design by Linda Wigley Scribner

Lighting Design by Anthony Pellecchia

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Black Hills Playhouse

Summer 2013

Sharp, clear, heightened, yet truthful physical comedy was at the top of the list of my goals for my stage direction of Forum. I used the 1960’s/70’s sketch comedy shows like Laugh In and The Carol Burnett Show as references, and almost immediately once rehearsals started began working with the cast to ,explore the physical characteristics and extremes of their characters, utilizing different dialects of Lessac body NRGs (potency, radiancy, buoyancy) in conjunction with Viewpointing exercises in order to identify those traits that best define their characters. I was also very fortunate to be directing Broadway veteran Eric Johnson (Chess, Aspects of Love) in the role of Pseudolus, and I was able to draw on his experience and comic timing when directing scenes with him and younger members of the company.
As music director, I wanted the cast to focus in particular on clarity and precision of their use of text, as ,many of the songs have elements of patter and carry comedic elements that are dependent upon the ,delivery of the line. We regularly vocalized with Lessac consonant NRG warm-ups, and the beauty of this work is that it carries seamlessly back and forth from sung text to spoken text, so I was able to use the same coaching shorthand whether I was music or stage directing.
Photos by Sage Studios. Used with permission.
Scenic Design by Kathy Voecks; Costume Design by Amber Marissa Cook; Lighting Design by Robert Fitzsimmons


University of South Dakota

Spring 2013

The musical direction process for Rent started with a workshop for all auditioning actors on the style and pedagogy of rock singing. We listened to examples of iconic singers whose style matched that which the director and I were looking for, such as the group Heart, Pat Benatar, Joan Jett, Janet Jackson, Steve Perry, Bon Jovi, Guns N’ Roses, Foreigner, and Styx, among others. I discussed some of the pedagogical idioms that are true to the style, such as the rock belt, twang, straight tone, and more conversational, as opposed to classical bel canto, approach to singing. We also explored the different physicality of this style of singing, and the latitude for movement that isn’t inherent in traditional musical singing. This was difficult for some of the more legit-focused singers in the room, but through coaching of several students that performed their rock pieces, what we were looking for began to make sense to everyone.
Once we had cast the show and were in rehearsals, I spent a lot of time continuing to focus on style, as well as vowel and timbre blend in the ensemble numbers. As is always the case when I music direct, my goal is to bring the performers to a place where they are honoring the music and the text, the direction they have been given, and their own take on why their character is singing. If the intent and emotional core aren’t clear, it doesn’t matter how pretty the singing is. A final, and unfortunate, challenge with this show was the re-casting of two leads just before to the start of tech week. We elevated one ensemble member and brought in one person from outside the cast. Both replacements did standout work, but it challenged everyone in the production to be at the top of their game. Ultimately, this unexpected trial brought the cast closer together and the show was stronger for it.
Photos by Raimondo Genna. Used with permission.
Scenic Design by Emilie Borer; Lighting Design by Anthony Pellecchia; Costume Design by Nancy Rumney
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