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BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel

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John's accolades include two Emmy Awards, a Board of Director's Award from the Manhattan Association of Cabaret and a Grammy Award.

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel

It was the summer of 1996, a transition year for me between graduating from High School and going to college in the fall. Change was in the air. Luckily, I was home on June 10th of that year and happened to tune in to the first episode of The Rosie O'Donnell Show. Besides the amazing Rosie, confetti, and koosh balls, there was a very catchy musical introduction to the show created by the man with an electric smile - the leader of the band, John McDaniel.

Little did I know how talented and accomplished John was at the time. The name seemed familiar, so after some digging, I discovered that he was the Musical Director for the revival of GREASE that I saw about a year prior on my college tour trip to NYC. There was something about his additional arrangements in the musical that made it extra toe-tapping. His energy came through in the music, especially in the finale.

John always seems to be working on a new project, many of which have brought him much success and accolades. He has created music with a lot of the greats over the years including Tony Bennett, Dick Van Dyke, Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, Liza Minnelli, Barry Manilow, Chaka Kahn, Madonna, Cab Calloway, Shirley MacLaine, George Burns, Frederica von Stade, Celine Dion and Carol Burnett amongst others.

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel
John and Shirley Jones

Two Emmy Awards, a Board of Director's Award from the Manhattan Association of Cabaret, and a Grammy Award, John's success in the entertainment industry could easily make him standoffish and narcissistic, but anyone who gets the privilege to work with him can attest that he's as nice as he is talented and his electric smile is 100% authentic. Thank you John for inspiring millions of young performers and for your passion for music and theatre.

NA: Who is your mentor and what would you like to say to your mentor?

JM: I had two impactful mentors (aside from my always supportive parents) when I was young. Nancy Harvey ran a children's theatre group in St. Louis which did full musicals with kids from 12-18. That group allowed me the opportunity to be in THE MUSIC MAN, WEST SIDE STORY, KISMET, FINIAN'S RAINBOW and so many more! My other superstar mentor was John Warren Owen, my high school acapella choir director who taught me a sense of exactness and respect for fine music. I got to see both of these marvelous folks near the end of each of their lives and was able to look them in the eye and say thank you for believing in me.

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel

NA: What has this business given you and what has it taken away?

JM: It is indeed a business - as Lily Tomlin (or rather and probably Jane Wagner) said, "it's not called show art". I dreamed about being a part of it and my dreams were surpassed. There were a few months when my name was out front on the signage for three different Broadway shows and I was enjoying daily exposure on a wildly popular daytime talk show. I think anytime you exist inside a construct that you had long desired you can begin to see the cracks and the inequalities up close, but that has not diminished my excitement for the theatre. I do hope we come back wiser, stronger and more inclusive than ever before.

NA: What is the hour like before you go on stage?

JM: Haha, well just about every time I say to myself, "now WHY did you agree to do this?" But then I get out there and I realize and remember why. I love the real-time interaction with an audience and welcome the opportunity to get back on that high wire.

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel
John with Donna McKechnie

NA: If you could experience one performance over again, which one would it be and why?

JM: That's hard. If I had to choose one right now, here today, I'd say that I'd love to relive the 1993 reunion concert of the original Broadway cast of COMPANY. It was astounding to gather all the living cast members 23 years later and each one of them knocked it outta the park. Even the "Bobby-baby's"! To this day, any time I enter the Beaumont, I can still hear the wild, cheering applause.

NA: What are you most proud of?

JM: Surviving and continuing to thrive. It also gives me terrific satisfaction that people want to work with me again and again.

NA: What was your journey like from St. Louis to New York City?

JM: I spent four years at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh - four amazing years, actually. The day before the graduation ceremony, I ran off to work on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean where I fell in love and moved to Los Angeles. I spent 10 years in LA, working my way up the ladder until I was invited to move to NYC for my first Broadway show.

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel
John and Brooke Shields

NA: Your first job on Broadway was the Musical Director for the first revival of GREASE. The cast was full of future Broadway standouts and guest stars. What was one of your favorite memories from that three-year run?

JM: There are SO many! The replacements through the years were off the chain - Chubby Checker, Brooke Shields, Al Jarreau, Jon Secada.....it was wonderful nuts. Pre-Broadway, we got a taste of how popular Rosie was by the clamor at the stage door after every show. Insane crowds - I had certainly never experienced anything like that before.

NA: You graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a BFA in Drama. How did you transition to becoming a Musical Director?

JM: While I was at CMU, Mel Shapiro, the then head of the Drama Department, who had recognized my musical skills, called me into his office and invited me to become a dean's student, whereby they created a program incorporating more music classes for me. Clearly, they did not teach me to write short sentences. :-) I emerged after four years, headed toward my life in music and the theatre.

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel
John and Rosie O'Donnell

NA: As Musical Director on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, it seemed like you were always having a good time. What was one of the biggest surprises from those six seasons?

JM: I had no idea of the power of television. My life changed literally overnight and I had to get used to being recognized just about everywhere. But the show was a wonderful learning experience for me, most especially in terms of working with all of the greats - Tony Bennett, Billy Joel, Chaka Kahn - I still have a cassette tape of phone messages from hundreds of famous folks. I smell a podcast, don't you? Haha.

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel
John and Carol Burnett

NA: How did you add Producer to your many other skills?

JM: I began to produce records and I became a producer on Rosie. Having had these experiences, I suggested to Jeff Calhoun, who had initially brought me to New York on Grease, that we produce BROOKLYN ourselves which is exactly what we did. I remain proud of that show, which ran for 9 months, had a nice tour, and is being done all over to this day.

NA: What creative endeavors are you working on now?

JM: I just wrapped a week with Kristin Chenoweth at her Broadway Bootcamp - I'm co-director with Richard Jay-Alexander. We had the most incredible time with kids from 8 countries and 36 states! Next up I'm doing another virtual music theatre intensive with Boom Broadway and I'm about to head into my 9th season as Artistic Director of the Cabaret & Performance conference in person at The O'Neill in CT. I'm writing some shows including a musicalization of an Oscar-winning film (top secret) and continue to develop BRAVE NEW WORLD as a musical. In the fall, I am back on stage with 3 weeks of concerts at the Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, FL, and some exciting Playbill cruises are on the horizon. I still love to travel and if I can make some music along the way, I'm good to go!

BWW Interview : SO NOW YOU KNOW with John McDaniel
John and Kristin Chenoweth
photo by Merrill Mitchell

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