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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Kenny Seymour

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The multi-talented conductor/arranger/musician on his work for Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations and more.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Kenny Seymour
Kenny Seymour

Today's subject Kenny Seymour is currently living his theatre life being immersed with the Motown Sound as the Musical Supervisor and Arranger for the US National Tour of Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations while still serving as the show's Musical Director on Broadway. The touring version can be seen through January 16th in the Opera House at Kennedy Center. Coincidentally, the show closes on Broadway the same day.

Kenny's Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include the Tony Award winner for Best Musical Memphis (music director/conductor), Carnegie Hall's A Time Like This: Music for Change (music supervisor/director/arranger/ orchestrator), Amazing Grace: An Epic Musical (orchestrator), Half Time: A New Musical (dance music arranger/electronic music producer), Marley: A World Premiere Musical (music supervisor/arranger/orchestrator), Tallest Tree in the Forest (music director/arranger/incidental music), Scary Musical (orchestrator), Big Maybelle: Soul of the Blues (music supervisor/orchestrator), and The Wiz at La Jolla Playhouse (dance music arranger).

His film and TV credits include Yemoja: Rise of the Orisha (composer), Oya: Rise of the Suporishas (composer), Talking with the Taxman About Poetry (composer, 2013 Global Music Award for Best Original Score), and music arranger/orchestrator for shows on Fox, BET, and NBC including the Inaugural Ball for President Barack Obama.

He has performed around the world, from the legendary Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall to the Montreux Jazz Festival. Education: music & art, Manhattan School of Music and Berklee College of Music.

For those that have seen Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations on Broadway, you might have noticed Kenny onstage during the curtain call leading the company. He is one of the most extremely talented and versatile artists working in the entertainment industry today. When your mentor is super legendary orchestrator/conductor Harold Wheeler (read on for more on this) you are definitely blessed.

It's cold and dreary outside right now here in DC so get your month of May on by getting over to Kennedy Center for Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations. The music and cast are fantastic and Kenny Seymour's work will leave you singing and wanting more.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Kenny Seymour
Kenny Seymour with his mother Mary Seymour.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

At what age did it dawn on you that working as a musician/orchestrator was going to be your chosen career?

I came from a musical family and was playing piano since age 4. At around age 7, I actually started singing jingles and recording voice overs professionally. During that time, I was also introduced to production and songwriting. However, it was when "Star Wars: Episode IV (A New Hope) was released that lit the fire fully. In addition, my mother periodically taking me to see the New York Philharmonic in Central Park on the great lawn for the summer concerts series Music Under The Stars. My mother is also an actress and was in the original Broadway company of Hair, so I was a "theater baby". My father was also a singer/musician and most notably a member of the doo-wop group "Little Anthony and the Imperials". So, the industry rubbed off on me at a very young age.

Where did you receive your musical training?

Formally I attended Music & Art High School (Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Performing Arts) and Manhattan School of Music. I also took various specialized courses at Berklee College of Music and in my younger years Mannes School of Music.

I also received invaluable experience & training while performing and traveling on tour with various top recording artists along with performing in local night clubs and event venues.

Who were some of your musical heroes growing up?

In the world of composing & instrumental music, I was always into Contemporary/Fusion Jazz & Film Scores, so my musical heroes ranged from John Williams & Jerry Goldsmith to Joe Sample, Chick Corea & David Benoit.

How did you get involved with Ain't Too Proud?

I was recommended by a friend & colleague Ron Melrose, with whom I had worked on a re- imagining of The Wiz at La Jolla Playhouse previously, along with our director Des McAnuff.

I had also worked with our choreographer Sergio Trujillo on another Broadway show Memphis of which I was the music director/conductor. In addition, my long-time dear friend and mentor Harold Wheeler is the orchestrator for ATP

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Kenny Seymour
L-R Elijah Ahmad Lewis, Marcus Paul James, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr.,
and James T. Lane in the National Touring Company of Ain't Too Proud.
Photo by Emilio Madrid.

What makes Ain't Too Proud different from other "jukebox" musicals?

It is a work of art. The heartfelt story, coupled with the timeless music, is not only just a stellar piece of American theatre, it resonates with so many people, of different races, ages and demographics. The Music of Motown is a soundtrack of American history and spans generations.

The moves are iconic. It all comes together to create a memorable experience that will never be forgotten.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Kenny Seymour
Kenny Seymour and Harold Wheeler.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Harold Wheeler is the orchestrator on the show. Being in the younger generation of orchestrator yourself, what would you say was the biggest lesson you learned from working with this legend of Broadway and beyond?

Harold Wheeler has played such an instrumental role in my life. He has imparted priceless knowledge and experience that has helped shape my life and career. He is like a second dad from whom I have learned many lessons. For example, orchestration is more than just theory, notes & articulations. It is conveying emotion through music by way of those devices.

In essence when you are writing a "chart", you are telling a story and writing in the emotion.

I also learned valuable tricks of the trade, like combining certain instruments to achieve a specific color or sound.

Harold is also a master of orchestrating various genres of music for different mediums such as Musical Theatre, Television, Film, the Recording Industry, Live Events, etc...

This is a skill I am thankful to be fortunate enough have acquired and utilize throughout my career.

When you started work on Memphis as it's Musical Director, did you have any idea that the show would hit as big as it ultimately did?

I would like to think that any music director who agrees to join a project, believes it will be successful, but no one can really know if it will be successful. That being said, Memphis was a unique project, a brand-new musical, with a very talented (yet fairly new) cast and was entering the Broadway landscape amidst a myriad of formidable contenders. My "gut" was telling me "This is a hit". Everyone in every department was at the top of their game. It felt right!

You were one of the orchestrators/arrangers for Barack Obama's Inaugural Ball. Can you please tell us how you got that job and would you say that that "gig" topped anything else you had previously done or might do in the future?

I was fortunate to be part of an esteemed team of orchestrator/arrangers led by Music Director and friend Ray Chew. To have the opportunity to take part in such a historic event leaves me speechless to this day, I look back and say to myself "Wow, did I really just do that". It was a mammoth undertaking with talent at the top of their field, a once in a lifetime experience. Every project I take part in is special, as for what could possibly top that in the future, who knows. I look at that experience as a moment in world history I will never forget

After all these years, why do you think the music of the Temptations and Motown in general still endures with its audiences?

The music of Motown and of the Temptations speaks to experiences in life that resonate with the human condition. The melodies are complex in their simplicity, the lyrics describe experiences everyone can relate to and the songs came from such an earnest place and were performed with such feeling and soul that they become cemented in your heart.

All in all, there is something for everyone, which is why stylistically the "Motown sound" still thrives to this day.

Are there any upcoming projects for you in 2022 that you would like to tell us about?

With the current status of the industry at the time of this interview, I am very thankful to be able to say yes. I am continuing as Music Supervisor/Arranger for the 1st national tour of Ain't Too Proud: The Life & Times of the Temptations.

I am working on a few new productions in development. A brand-new Pop/Rock Fantasy Musical entitled Bliss, The Harder They Come A musical based on the life of Jimmy Cliff's story, and Sullivan a production which centers around the life and television show of the iconic Ed Sullivan.

That is also alongside continuing to compose scores for film & television projects & hopefully at some point working on my own contemporary jazz/fusion project.

Special thanks to Kennedy Center's Director, Public Relations Brendan Padgett for his assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.


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