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BWW Feature: At Home With John McDaniel

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You can't keep a good McD down.

BWW Feature: At Home With John McDaniel

Let nobody say John McDaniel is a workaholic... because he says it first. The award-winning composer, musical director, arranger and (these days) performer has filled his life and his social media with an admirable output of work since the show business shut down seven months ago. It would have been easy to put his feet up and relax with his family, but the man they call John McD has such a loving relationship with his art that he has thrown himself into one creative process after another, with the latest one, STICKS AND STONES, debuting online this Friday night.

I reached out the John to find out about this latest project, and to learn about life, work, and living in Florida in the year 2020

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its entirety.

Name: John McDaniel
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): Caveman days!
Most Recent Cabaret Show: Sunday Tea with John McD - on Facebook Live, Oct 4th
Website or Social Media Handles: JohnMcDaniel.com - Facebook @JohnMcDaniel, Instagram @johnmcd123, Twitter @therealjohnmcd


John McDaniel, I'm so happy to have you chatting with Broadway World today - how the heck are you?

I'm actually doing well, thanks, all things considered. We live in crazy, unprecedented times and I, like so many others, have tucked and rolled, finding new ways of adapting to the virtual world more quickly than I could have ever imagined.


You have kept really busy since the shutdown started back in March - let's start with the newest project. You have a concert happening on October 16th. What is the story about STICKS AND STONES?

Yes, we are super excited about this streaming premiere on Friday night! My collaborator, Scott Logsdon, and I have been writing and developing this show for years - it's the David & Goliath story framed in modern times in order to address teen bullying. It's a topic we believe in strongly and we've had mounting success with the show. Our first regional production was to have been summer 2020 and we all know how that worked out. So, based on my success with the virtual Playbill Pride Spectacular, we saw how we could pivot and present the show online with everyone shooting remotely. And as a kicker, we decided to do it as a benefit to raise much needed funds for Broadway Cares and Born This Way Foundation. I have a long history with Broadway Cares and they continue to do such good work. Lady Gaga and her mother founded Born This Way Foundation to give voice and leadership to young people and it's really incredible what they're doing. The concert stars Audra McDonald, Javier Muñoz, George Salazar, Mykal Kilgore & Joshua Colley. Amazing, right? Plus, we held open video auditions for kids everywhere and have cast 135 young performers from around the world. It's quite an undertaking, but the kids are breathtaking and so talented! I'm excited, can you tell?

BWW Feature: At Home With John McDaniel


Where and when can people see the performance?

The world premiere event will premiere streaming on Friday night, October 16th at 8pm. The concert will remain *live* for 4 days so if you miss it on Friday evening, you can catch it until Monday and then, poof, it's gone forever.


One of the other things that kept you busy these last seven months has been a rather successful venture into online performing. Describe the experience of creating SUNDAY TEA WITH JOHN McD for me.

BWW Feature: At Home With John McDanielEarly on in the lockdown period, I was chatting one day with my pal, Jim Caruso, and it was Jim who suggested I should try doing an online show. The truth is, when I was in high school and college, I worked in piano bars and restaurant lounges - I love singing and playing! So I gave it a whirl on Mother's Day and that debut concert has been viewed close to 6 thousand times. I did it every Sunday through Father's Day, and then moved to doing it monthly, so that I could fit everything else in! Now I do the show on Facebook Live the first Sunday of every month and that feels perfect. The next show is November 1st, just 3 days before you know what, so that'll be memorable. I've also created my own YouTube channel, and there's lots of new & fun content often appearing there. (just search John McDaniel Helen Reddy!) My songwriting has really taken off, too, during the quarantine - my latest song, "You Gotta Vote" can be seen here: /article/VIDEO-John-McDaniel-Shares-New-Song-About-Why-You-Gotta-Vote-20200930


In life before lockdown, a lot of your time behind the piano has been as a composer and as a musical director - did you do any kind of regular entertaining in which you were the entertainer out front?

We don't need to mention my days singing & dancing in a revue aboard ships in the Mediterranean. Haha. Most of my professional work has been arranging, orchestrating and/or conducting musicals. I adored Broadway musicals just as soon as I discovered the medium when I was a kid growing up in St. Louis. One summer at the Muny, I got to see Carol Channing in HELLO DOLLY, Zero Mostel in FIDDLER, Yul Brynner in THE KING & I and Angela Lansbury zip down the banister in MAME! I know - gay gay gay. But it stuck. I dreamed of living in New York and working on Broadway and, with hard work and good connections, the dream came true. I lived in New York for 25 years and worked on 9 Broadway shows, winning my Grammy producing the OBC recording of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN starring Bernadette Peters. The full circle of that is that I had done AGYG as a kid and had seen Bernadette do MACK & MABEL, both before college. Of course, during my NYC years another pal, Rosie O'Donnell, asked me to be her bandleader on her talk show.....and that was a game changer. 6 magical years having the chance to make music with so many of my idols and friends.


After getting a taste of doing your own show online, is there a chance that you'll continue along these lines in the future?

Yes, I've been bitten once again haha. I'll be doing my first live show since March in a few weeks in St. Louis - October 25th at the Blue Strawberry. They're taking every precaution - masks, sanitizing, reduced seating capacity - I'm going to give it a go! Plus, they have a streaming option so folks can check it out from wherever they are.

Tickets and information can be found HERE


You also had a session of the Eugene O'Neill Cabaret and Performance Conference. What has been the trajectory of your work with The O'Neill?

I've been the artistic director of the O'Neill's CAB conference for 8 years now and I just adore it. Pre-pandemic, it's been a 10-day festival of concerts and a Fellows program where folks come to study the art of performance, most typically song selection, delivery & exploration of style and arrangements. It's a terrific conference, set on the idyllic water-side campus of The O'Neill in CT.


How was it, taking the conference online this year? Was the transition very difficult? Might it open things up to a wider student base in the future?

BWW Feature: At Home With John McDanielWe did - we took the conference online this summer. At first I was trepidacious, BUT it turned out to be an incredible experience. We worked with 8 Fellows from around the country and it was stunning to see the growth and the work being able to be done virtually. The online aspect did open us up to artists who might not have otherwise been able to travel to us. Our fab teachers, Natalie Douglas & Barb Jungr were wonderful along with terrific support from Lennie Watts, Betty Buckley, Richard Jay-Alexander & our 3 brilliant music directors, Tracy Stark, Mark Hartman & Brian Nash. Breaking news: we are now exploring a mini mid-winter session so stay tuned for more about that! I do long for the day when we can return to campus in person, but for now, we are keeping the art alive and well.


What is it about this work that, so, fulfills you?

I do love seeing the transformation a student will make over the course of the program. Quite often it's like a chrysalis to a butterfly. The Fellows who come to study often tell me that their lives have been changed and there are most definitely tears upon departure on that final morning. (I'm not crying, you're crying)


We've discussed a lot of work from the last seven months. Put a picture in my head of John McDaniel when he isn't engaged in the act of work.

Hahaha, my life is my work. Not all together true, my partner, Charlie and our Frenchy rescue, Clarence, keep me safe and sane in our new home in south Florida. And I am fortunate to have both of my wonderful parents, still living in the house I grew up in in St. Louis.....we talk every day and I treasure those chats.


John, thank you so much for visiting with Broadway World today. I am most grateful to you and very excited about STICKS AND STONES on October 16th!

Thank you, Stephen, always a pleasure.

John McDaniel's headshot is by Steve Ullathorne

BWW Feature: At Home With John McDaniel


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From This Author Stephen Mosher