BWW Interview: Music Director and Broadway Producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. Talks Career, US Coaching Tour, and Music

BWW Interview: Music Director and Broadway Producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. Talks Career, US Coaching Tour, and Music
Michael J. Moritz Jr.

Music director, Broadway producer, and skilled musician Michael J. Moritz Jr. will be spending this fall traveling the United States with one purpose in mind: teaching. He'll be bringing his expertise and passion for musical theatre to students in Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, Seattle, Orlando, Tampa, Houston, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma. To get the inside scoop on his US coaching tour, I sat down with Michael J. Moritz Jr., and we discussed his multifaceted career, teaching, and music.


Tell me about where the inspiration from your teaching tour came from. What was the desire behind it?

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: I really love to teach. I love all aspects of theatre. I grew up in theatre. I have a very diverse background in theatre - many different sides of the production - and it took me until last year to realize that I bring a really unique approach to anyone who might want to work with me. I've music directed. I've performed on stage. I've conducted. I've arranged. I also come from music producing. I've produced cast albums, and I've produced live records. So putting that all together, maybe a year ago, I began to realize I've kind of rounded out all of the circles. [Laughs] If there is a checklist of jobs in theatre, I've definitely crossed off at least one of the boxes in each category. I think that's a really unique experience up here, and one that I can share through teaching.

Much of your professional experience is the important work that rarely makes one a household name, so tell me how you got started with music and theatre.

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: I'm from Ohio. I grew up playing the piano. My mother saw an ad in the paper for a free piano if you could move it, and she sent my father with a truck to get the piano and bring it into our house. I was four. I was playing by ear before they put me in lessons, and I'm thankful now that my mother saw that in me and put me in the lessons.

I wasn't exactly the greatest student in those lessons. I never practiced. I loved playing things that I had recognized. I just didn't want to play the songs that were in the book. I continued with that until the eighth grade. In the ninth grade my drama director - before that I had never done any theatre at all. I had only been exposed to theatre through school field trips and things - who was the principal at the time, had found out through my grade school that I was a piano player. She said, "You know, we're changing our director this year, and we also need a music director. Would you be interested in music directing our musical?" I had no idea what that meant. None. I had no idea what that job entailed, but I said, "Sure. Yeah, that sounds good."

BWW Interview: Music Director and Broadway Producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. Talks Career, US Coaching Tour, and Music
Michael J. Moritz Jr. with Jeff Goldblum, Laurie Metcalf,
and Robin DeJesus.

She said, "Okay. Here's the music book, first rehearsals are in a couple of weeks, and we'll see you then." I got this phone book of a conductor's score - the first show was BYE, BYE, BIRDIE - and I can remember going to first rehearsal and realizing, "Oh, I'm to teach all of my classmates how to sing all of this stuff?" I was thirteen, it was baptism by fire, and I loved it. The first one was really scary, but then I did two musicals a year in high school.

That sounds intense but fun. How did you start making your way into a career with music and theatre?

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: My life is a really nice array of these pinpoints where I can say this person really took a chance on me, or this person saw something in me, trusted me, and afforded me opportunities that otherwise I would have never been a part of.

I remember my senior year the Artistic Director of our local playhouse came to see the show, and I had no idea at the time that he had come to see me. He asked me, after we met, if I would join as the resident music director of the community theatre. So, I left high school with a full-time, paying job in community theatre. It was great. I cut my teeth on all of the scores. It was wonderful, and I enjoyed that a lot.

I also had a love for recording. I started a recording studio in my parent's house. I was an enterprising little kid, which is perhaps why I ended up in Broadway producing twenty-odd years later. [Laughs] That very recording studio in my parent's basement has continued through four different locations, we've grown and grown, and it still exists in Ohio. The beauty of that, now, is that I send a lot of work home. For a lot of the mix work that I do I'll collaborate with my team back home. We'll do them in Ohio and then bring them back to New York. For example, you came to see LIBERTY be recorded and tracked, and I mixed it in Ohio with a buddy back home. I think it's really neat.

So, my little recording studio was its own little thing and I was happy. I thought at the time that I was content in what I was doing. But, the universe pulls you where you belong. I firmly believe that. Maybe four years ago, I was up here playing for someone from Ohio who was just performing in New York, and I met somebody who had a job, who wondered if I could be the music director for this gala that he was putting on. I said, "Sure." I commuted back and forth, paid my own way, stayed in hotels, and I did that gala. I met a bunch of Broadway stars at that first gala, and I played for a bunch of big, big names.

BWW Interview: Music Director and Broadway Producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. Talks Career, US Coaching Tour, and Music
Michael J. Moritz Jr. playing piano with Norbert Leo Butz.

The opener that night was a guy named Norbert Leo Butz. [Laughs] We finished the night, and when we got done he said, "You did really great." I told him thank you, that I appreciated it, and he was like, "I want to work with you again." I said, "That's great. I appreciate it." And he said, "No, no really." I thought, "All right. I've heard this before." But I woke up to a really kind email from him. That was four years ago, and the rest is kind of history. Now, Norbert and I have recorded two live records together. I music direct all of his stuff. I've played so many different shows that have turned into records and through that I end up mixing and producing records, and I still get to perform. I subbed A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN as the onstage keyboard player, so I got to check off the onstage Broadway performer box. It's been an incredible four years.

And in the last four years, I've done a bunch of Broadway shows as the producer, which has been a completely different side of the business - finance and strategy and all of that - which I really enjoy. I like all different sides of our business, and I feel completely at home in all of them.

Tell me about you. What makes you different?

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: I think my working in so many different aspects of our business is the unique part about me. I'm not the best piano player in the world. I'm not the best music director in the world. I'm not the best anything in the world. There's always going to be someone better, but I'm really thankful that a million people took these shots on me and exposed me to areas that I never would have been exposed to. None of this is lost on me. Every single day, at least several times a week, I have to pinch myself and go there's no way that I get to do what I love for a living and work in theatre in New York City. Do you think about that? I mean you live here! It's never lost on us.

I look out my window, or when I'm walking in Times Square, and I'll see an ad for BEAUTIFUL and think, "I'm a part of the American theatre history book, and that is an incredible thing." I think it's an incredible responsibility, but it's an incredible thing.

Everyone always talks about their journey to New York. What is yours?

BWW Interview: Music Director and Broadway Producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. Talks Career, US Coaching Tour, and Music
Sierra Boggess and Michael J. Moritz Jr. in the studio.

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: My path here - I don't know if there is a traditional path - but my path here was an atypical path. It was a lot of hard work, and a lot of working towards positivity but not really knowing where the end result was. Now, I can look back and see all of the amazing things led me here. I've actually been able to thank a lot of those people too.

That's the other side of the story. My high school drama coach who took a chance on me, she's come to several of my Broadway openings. It's been really cool to be able to pay that back and have her at these things. I have a big Twitter presence, and I do a lot on Periscope now, and if someone asks a question that I can answer, I'll answer it and follow up. I would've loved for someone to have been able to do that for me.

It wasn't as possible for a myriad of reasons. When I was coming into the business, there wasn't this intense connectivity through social media to these artists that there is now. So when someone emails me questions, I write them back! I always write back if they're questions I can answer. I really do like working with people. I think that's the musical director side of me too. I like getting in the room and working. I love the creative process. Coaching is the same thing when done well.

So, regarding the coaching and teaching elements, are you going to do more of an audition boot camp and masterclass approach for your tour?

Michael J. Mortiz Jr.: No. In the past I've done masterclasses with the participants and observers. On this tour there are a few opportunities for public performance and a little bit of masterclass involvement, but these are one-on-one sessions. On the website it lists the things that are options to work on.

I feel very at home doing voice technician work, and I love doing voice technician work with people and fixing the breathing system, or developing a breathing system, vowel shaping, and just working on very minute details. Often times there are little parts of the foundation that are missing in the voice and trying to find that, I think, is really fascinating. But also, building the audition book. I'm going into cities that are feeders into musical theater college programs, but also America, in general, kind of feeds into Broadway.

When I've done this before - I've never done it on this grand of a scale - it seems that whenever I coach out of town privately with someone, it invariably turns into questions about finding management and questions about career planning. And they not only have questions about career planning but just getting on the path to a career and trying to find out whether or not that's something the person wants to pursue professionally in the first place. Kind of talking about those things, I think that I bring a really unique perspective: the Broadway producer, the Broadway director, and all of that. It makes for a very interesting both-sides-of-the-fence situation. Does that make sense?

How did you pick the cities that you are ultimately going to be stopping in?

BWW Interview: Music Director and Broadway Producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. Talks Career, US Coaching Tour, and Music
Michael J. Moritz Jr. playing piano for Tituss Burgess.

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: I have friends in all of those cities. [Laughs] When we started the planning I had a small gap of time between performances in October and November that would work for the tour. So, there was a finite amount of days that I could do, and I also wanted to go to the most cities possible, but I also wanted to make sure there were people in those cities would be interested in what it is that I have to offer. I made phone calls to friends who are all in industry in each of those cities and asked, "Do you think they'll like me?" [Laughs] Those are the cities where people think they may like me, so that's where we're going. [Laughs]

So how is your teaching tour going to work exactly?

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: I'm in every city for about two to three days. It's quick, and then it's back on a plane to the next city. But at least it's not by car. [Laughs] It's a lot of flying. It's like seventeen flights, and most of them are quick ones, but there are a few long ones. Slots are limited. Slots are filling up right now. It's exciting. I'm excited to teach! It's really neat, I think, to be able to bring the New York knowledge outside of New York.

For a kid who grew up in Ohio, this opportunity never came to me. It just didn't. There's a beautiful university in our town, but it never brought anybody through who worked in the industry, who could speak from experience and not just speak in hypotheticals. I have done these things. That's a unique perspective that I would have loved to have had even five years ago.

I hate to put you on the spot like this, but I feel like I have to ask this. Do you have a preferred composer or composing team when it comes to being a musical director?

BWW Interview: Music Director and Broadway Producer Michael J. Moritz Jr. Talks Career, US Coaching Tour, and Music
Michael J. Moritz Jr.

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: It waxes and wanes with me. I get in moods. Like right now, in the non-theatre realm, I'm on female folk again. I'm on Joni Mitchell, and I'm on all of that stuff right now. I'm in a Paul Simon mood, and I feel like I just completed my Beatles phase again. Stephen Sondheim is in regular rotation, and Jason Robert Brown is a major influence on my playing. When he created PARADE, when he created THE LAST FIVE YEARS, and SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, those were my high school and college years. So, I played those to death on CD and learned them before there was sheet music. Honestly, I love a good lyric. For a musician and a piano player, sometimes a good lyric and a melody is all I need, but boy oh boy if there's more to it. So, for me, It's kind of all over the place. That's such a copout answer. [Laughs]

Before we bring things to a close, how can people who miss out on these one-on-one classes with you reach out to you?

Michael J. Moritz Jr.: I am super active on Twitter. On Periscope, I've been bringing Broadway stars into my living room, and I play the grand piano and they sing. We do an in-the-rehearsal-room kind of experience. They bring in their book, we'll turn on the camera, and there's truly no rehearsal. You'll see this because we often times mess up! [Laughs] It often times goes off the wheels, but that's fun. It's a live stream, and there are commenters who can comment. We just bring people in. We get people in these rooms from everywhere.

For more information about the coaching tour, which kicks off on October 11 and ends November 24, please visit http://www.michaelmoritz.com. Also, be sure to follow Michael J. Mortiz Jr. on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Periscope.

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