BWW Interview: Alex Parker Talks CAROUSEL: A CONCERT at Cadogan Hall
His latest project is a concert version of Carousel at Cadogan Hall. Alex spoke to BroadwayWorld about his career and conducting the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.
Who inspired you growing up?
It's very hard to pinpoint one person - many people have inspired me. My grandfather has always been a great inspiration. He grew up during the war living in a flat where his four siblings all shared a bed, his parents had no money and they had not really been educated either.
Despite this, he became an incredibly successful civil servant and was knighted in 1992. He is the beacon of our family and has a huge love of the arts; when I was growing up, he took me to the National Theatre all the time.
Another inspiring figure in my life was my Head of Music at secondary school. She was monumental in making me want to have a career as a musician. She was and still is an incredibly charismatic lady and she gave me some unbelievable opportunities.
We had a fairly turbulent relationship during my school years, but it was built on passion and love for music, and I think it was that extreme commitment and care that has stuck with me all these years.
When did you decide you wanted to be an MD?
When I was about 15. I always wanted to be an actor, but I realised I wasn't very good and wanted to do something in life where there was at least a possibility of me being able to take to something really well.
I started learning the piano when I was 11 and took to it quite quickly and plugged away at it during my teen years. Once I realised I wasn't going to be an actor, MDing suddenly interested me as it was the perfect way for me to be able to combine music and theatre.
What was the first production you MD'd for?
A pantomime in Onslow Village Hall, Sinbad The Sailor. It consisted of me playing far too loud and a local clarinet player, who struggled a lot with her tuning.
My first professional job was MDing a production of Smokey Joe's Café on the London Fringe when I was 19, however, I got 'let go' from the production after the first preview.
Despite this, it was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. I was trying to run before I could walk. I didn't really know what I was doing, and I was just so scared the whole time of mucking up.
When I got the call firing me, I was relieved. And it meant I could go away and just figure things out, gain more experience and really learn the craft before coming back to do it professionally.
How do you find balancing the roles of producer and MD?
Well, I'm not really a producer. I am very much first and foremost an MD. Although I have always loved the idea of getting people together to make something happen.
I haven't got the business mind of the real and great producers in the industry, but I do know how to get cool groups of performers, musicians, and creatives together. For one-off concerts etc., that is ideal - and not too high risk!
My passion is music and musical theatre. My favourite moment will always be standing in front of a band or orchestra and conducting a show or concert. I am completely in my element there and those are my highlight moments always of the job.
What are some highlights of your conducting/producing career so far?
It was amazing being able to produce Putting It Together in 2014 at the (then called) St. James Theatre. This was mainly because when we started the production in Guildford; for it to come from such humble beginnings to what it became was so unexpected.
I also loved our A Little Night Music concert at the Palace Theatre Four years ago. Being in that theatre, with that cast and doing that piece was a moment and night I will never forget.
As an MD, and apart from the above, conducting Les Misérables was amazing. I was the Assistant Musical Director for 18 months, and in that time got to conduct the show about 150 times - that was just wonderful.
I felt very privileged to be able to do it, purely because it is such an iconic show. Standing and conducting a show like that in the West End was, certainly when I was younger, everything I had ever dreamed of (no pun intended).
Every time one of the iconic numbers would happen when I was conducting, I'd think in my head 'oh my days this is literally the ACTUAL "At The End Of Day"/"I Dreamed A Dream"/"Bring Him Home"' or whatever the number was. I loved it.
Last year, I conducted a concert version of a musical version of The Railway Children at Cadogan Hall written by myself and my best friend Katie. That was a pretty unique and memorable moment.
I'd also say working with John Wilson on the Proms last summer was a real highlight. I learned so much from him.
A general highlight is just conducting amazing musicians with someone iconic singing. Those really are special moments.
What made you want to make this production of Carousel happen?
Well, I love Janie [Dee] and Jo [Riding], and I am obsessed with the fact that they did Carousel together all those years ago and that it was such a success for them both. They are also two of the most wonderful people. I thought it would be an amazing moment to relive if the timing was right.
And, of course, Carousel is one of the all-time great scores. So, I met Janie and Jo at the National Theatre between performances of Follies about six weeks ago and we decided to make it happen.
Do you have any particular moments of the score you're looking forward to conducting?
I can't wait to conduct it all really! But the "Carousel Waltz" and "The Ballet" will be particularly wonderful. They are some of the most amazing non-sung pieces of music written for a musical.
Are you looking forward to working with Hadley Fraser again after The Light Princess?
Of course. I love Hadley. He is one of our best and most versatile super-talents. I remember all of those years ago before I ever knew who he was, seeing him in Les Mis at the O2 and thinking "I need to Google this guy - that voice!".
Since then, we've worked together a handful of times - including The Pajama Game in Chichester with Jo Riding - so it's always a treat to work with him. He's also one of the nicest and most decent guys around.
Why do you think Carousel is such a beloved score?
I think it's because each song is so perfectly crafted. It's a masterclass in how to construct musical moments in theatre and how to effectively use different voices. Add to that some very memorable tunes and some of the best orchestrations ever written. It's destined to remain one of the great scores of all time for years to come.
Any other upcoming projects you can tell us about?
There are some cool things in the pipeline: I'm off to MD The Color Purple in Leicester, and then Mame at the Hope Mill later in the year.
I am also doing a lot of writing at the moment. Katie Lam and I have just been commissioned to write NYMT's next musical, so we are beavering away at that, and we've just got the rights to turn an Oscar-winning film into a musical, so we'll begin writing that soon.
There are a few other exciting projects bubbling away. As soon as I can say anything about them, you will be the first to know!
Any advice for aspiring MDs?
Learn your craft, work hard and don't run before you can walk. I did, and I learned from it. There is time. You have so long to get to where you want to be; there is no rush.
Seize opportunities, keep practising, do your homework and learn about all types of musicals and styles. Listen to all kinds of music, and figure out what genres you will contribute and can bring the most to.
Don't try and be anyone else - do the thing you do well. There are so many incredible MDs out there and they are all very different.
At the end of the day, on any given project there is only one job and one MD, so it's not worth being competitive. It's much better to make sure the thing you do, you do really well.
I've said it already, but just keep learning and be willing to listen and be taught. There are so many people to be taught by and every experience teaches you something.
Why should people come to Carousel: A Concert?
Carousel is one of the greatest musicals ever written and you will be able to hear every bar of music from the show featuring the complete original orchestration. Add to that the opportunity to hear - for the first time in 27 years - two of our greatest actresses reunite for one night only.
Then there is also the esteemed cast joining them. It's going to be a one-off iconic night. That's why people should come! We would love to see you all there.
Carousel: A Concert at Cadogan Hall on 19 May