First Wives Club the Musical is excited to have Kenny Seymour as our Musical Director and Conductor. Kenny is in great demand for his exceptional talent. He’s worked with veteran musicians and rising stars. Kenny’s ability to fuse the talent of the orchestra, the vision of the songwriters and the bookwriter and the voices of the actors is what makes each performance unique and resonant. He has brought his special touch to many Broadway musicals, films and other projects.
Kenny took time out of his busy schedule to share his thoughts about working with the creative team of First Wives Club.
How do you feel about being a part of the amazing First Wives Club family?
Kenny: The opportunity to work with Holland-Dozier-Holland, HB Barnum, Simon Phillips and the entire creative team is really thrilling. I think everyone is very excited about where the show is heading and what it is going to become and what it is already.
We always see conductors in Broadway pits, and they look very glamorous and in charge. There must be much more to the job than we realize. What does the music director and conductor really do, and what are they responsible for?
Kenny: They are similar and different in different areas of music. In theater, the main responsibility of a music director from the conceptual stage of production or from its beginning is to teach vocals, to be present at auditions and work with the director as they go through the show in rehearsal. In some cases, those duties may extend to possibly doing some slight arrangements.
Once the show is opened, it also entails keeping the musical integrity, keeping the quality of the show up and putting in rehearsals. My role is to basically be the captain of the music department once the show is up and running and to keep it at a peak level so that everyone who sees it for the first time is seeing the show the way it was when it opened. My goal is also to ensure that it maintains that beauty and excitement.
In the development of THE FIRST WIVES CLUB what are some of the things that you are working on now?
Kenny: Right now it’s marrying song to story, seeing how things work together and making sure everything fits and feels organic. I am so fortunate to be working with Holland Dozier Holland, HB Barnum and Simon Phillips. They are all masters at their craft as far as making sure all the parts fit well. Being in the room observing that is truly fascinating. That’s the stage I believe they are at now – just going through the show and making sure everything fits and moves together nicely.
In your words how would you describe the “magic” of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s music?
Kenny: It’s interesting because there is a marriage of melody, rhythm and lyric, and I think that is the magic. It’s the emotion that goes into the song, it’s the emotion that the melody evokes, the rhythm, the sound – it’s a very organic sound. In some cases, there are so many hits they have composed that it’s become sort of a soundtrack of people’s lives. There was hit after hit after hit of songs that resonated with so many people across so many different cultures. It’s incredible.
Do you like their new music as well as their legendary famous hits?
Kenny: Oh, yes, definitely. Listening to some of the songs from the show, you can hear the talent, you can hear the emotion, you can hear why they are who they are and how they have accumulated so many hits. It’s a sensibility and a musical knowledge along with a heartfelt knowledge that’s just timeless.
Oh, you’re not kidding! Even young people know all the music and love it.
Kenny: I mean, how many times you have heard “Stop in the Name of Love or “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” Their songs are just timeless and they appeal to everybody.
You’re a seasoned theater professional. What are the challenges for a composer and lyricist whose background is primarily pop?
Kenny: They are both creative processes, and I believe that in writing a song in a pop sense, you are telling a story and it has its own parameters and its own environment where it lives and reacts. With a musical, there is a story and each component of that musical helps to move that story forward and they become one. One of the challenges is finding that blend, that balance of “this is a great song,” but does it help move the story along? The beauty about Holland-Dozier-Holland’s music, is that it is so natural and so heartfelt is that it naturally does this.
That’s so true! If you think about it with any visual medium like TV, movies or theater, if you took out the music it just wouldn’t be the same, it would be seem dead somehow. Music adds so much to your experience and how it impacts your emotions.
Kenny: In the early days of film this was the case, I believe around 1895 live music was added to the showing of silent films. Musicians would play from a book containing sheet music that captured different feelings and emotions and they would choose different types of music, for different parts of the film. The music added such a different texture, and it brought things to life. In the essence of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s music, they bring things to life in the way they compose – their melodies, their rhythms, their lyrics.
You are also working with another legend in HB Barnum. What is he like? And how important are his instincts and talent in getting the HDH sound right in the orchestrations.
Kenny: HB is such a special man with an incredible heart. His talent is beyond measure. He understands that sensibility of the orchestration and the instrumentation that’s necessary to get that HDH sound. He’s been a part of a lot of that musical history – from string lines, to woodwind lines to certain rhythms – a feel what the drums should have, what they should and should not play, you know – dynamics. HB understands it internally. It’s such a pleasure being in a room with him, watching him work and watching how these sensibilities come out at any moment on demand. And it automatically works.
Will the instrumentations and players in the FIRST WIVES CLUB orchestra be different than a standard theatrical orchestra?
Kenny: From my understanding, we do have a rhythm section which a lot of today’s pit orchestras do have, depending on the type of show that it is. There are horns, there are woodwinds, and there are keyboards. I would say the rhythm section is a key component as opposed to some other shows where it may be less rhythm oriented.
There aren’t that many differences. There are similar instruments in this orchestra. I would actually call this a somewhat standard theater orchestra by today’s standards. If you have a trumpet in two different types of shows, they are both part of the same types of orchestra, but they are just playing two different types of music.
You’ve just finished orchestrating “Amazing Grace”, another Broadway Bound Musical which did its out of town try out in Chicago. What is Chicago like as a market for a pre-Broadway show? Can you compare it to other markets that do pre-Broadway productions?
Kenny: It was a great time, and it is awesome production to be a part of. I’ve been very fortunate to travel to different markets. Chicago is a wonderful market, and I say that because it is a very diverse crowd. It’s a big city. They have a very unique theatrical pallet, and the diversity as far as the theater goers, let’s you try out different types of shows in Chicago. I have to mention that I haven’t had a bad meal since I have been there. The theaters there are absolutely gorgeous. Broadway and Chicago are both so instrumental in that it is just wonderful to be part of the theatrical community. Chicago has helped bring forth such great work. It leaves the creative team in such a comfortable space because we are getting true, honest feedback.
You were such a major part of MEMPHIS – which won 4 Tony Awards, including best Musical and Best Score. Are there similarities between your approach to the music for that dynamic piece and what you will do with THE FIRST WIVES CLUB?
Kenny: The beauty about First Wives Club and also the beauty of Memphis is that everybody in every department is at the top of their game, and it works so seamlessly. Our music department in Memphis –everybody understood what it was and what the music was and how to facilitate that music integration into the story. With First Wives Club it’s the same thing – an amazing creative team – HDH, HB Barnum, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, Simon Phillips.
For the creative team on the First Wives Club, it’s second nature as far as the music. With my approach to it, I’ve basically just maintained the integrity of the music that they bring forth. The band is about a groove. There are certain technical things that have to be taken care of in a musical theater sense, but it is a feeling. HDH’s music is a feeling, it’s a groove. It’s a rhythm, it’s something that you feel in your heart. So I think it’s important that the band also become something of a family because we are going to be spending a lot of time together. Once you get that bond, you get that connection as musicians, you are having a ball. You’re playing great music with legends. I think that is also going to be a part of it.
It must help when you have producers who are in sync with everyone else’s creative vibe and have that same passion as the creative team.
Kenny: Absolutely! When the producers are behind the production, so supportive, love the music and they feel it and understand it, it makes the whole process incredible. I’ve been lucky. I can’t think of a production I’ve been a part of where the producers have not been so ecstatic about the show. They’ve all been very supportive and it’s a major part of the experience.
In your view, what about THE FIRST WIVES CLUB makes it so commercial and potentially such an exciting project?
Kenny: I think that the First Wives Club has such a strong & recognizable brand, also It’s a funny, funny story. Now pairing that with HDH and the creative team, the music and it’s brand, the direction, the choreography – everything is taking it to a height where it can connect with an audience in such a different way. I think it’s going to resonate with a lot of people.
Do you have a favorite couple of musical moments in the show?
Kenny: I love the song “My Heart Wants to Try One More Time”. I love “Shoulder to Shoulder”. There are so many in the show that I really do like. There are also some of the staple songs that are timeless. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are many moments in the show that I really do love and l look forward to playing every night.
When I talked with HDH, they had never done anything like this before and they were super excited about this project. Working with Holland-Dozier-Holland must be a once in a lifetime experience. Can you describe what it’s like to be in a room with them actually developing new hits and arranging their new work?
Kenny: It’s wonderful to be in the room and see how they interact creatively, how they come up with ideas and how they bounce things off one another and also the role HB Barnum plays. It is all very communal and it ends up with an incredible piece of music. It’s very exciting to watch their process and see how their minds work. One person would say, “Let’s sing it this way.” Another would say, “OK, let’s do it like that, but let’s add this here, or why don’t we change that lyric to this?” To see how they mold it like a piece of clay and you end up with this beautiful work is very exciting.
I don’t understand the process, but it truly is amazing.
Kenny: It’s interesting because I’ve heard it said that “singing is just sustained talking”. Because if you think about it, every word that you say has a pitch, so indirectly we are all making music when we are talking.
I read that you have been doing music since you were a child.
Kenny: I owe a lot to my Mom and my Dad. My Mom (Mary Seymour) was in the original Broadway company of Hair, as well as the Broadway company of Raisin: The Musical. I was a young person, a little kid in the house during matinee days. I just get it naturally in a sense. My Dad (Kenny Seymour Senior) was in the group Little Anthony and the Imperials and arranged many of their vocal arrangements. One reviewer mentioned it as a “musical pedigree” so I guess I accept that and I am thankful for it.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience?
Kenny: I have to say that I am very excited about the project and the ability to work with such musical legends. I’m not just saying that because of the name, I’m saying that because of who they really are, what they have done and how they have impacted my life even when I was listening to their music growing up. As a musician working in New York City, you play other “gigs” well. Sometimes you do what they call club dates and you are playing songs that everybody knows and loves and dances to. Here I have the ability to work with the people who wrote those songs. I think that is such an inspiring thing and I am very thankful to be part of this creative team and this production of the First Wives Club.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a beautiful energy and what a beautiful person Paul Lambert is and how thankful I am to be working with him. His love for the music and his love for this production is boundless.
Everyone I have talked to including the book writer, Linda Bloodworth Thomason, David Connolly the choreographer, HDH and HB and of course Simon Phillips are brilliant.
Kenny: That’s the whole thing. Everybody is at the top of their game and it’s like we are all bringing everything at 100 percent and it’s very tight. Simon is so talented and composed. He can give a direction and it’s done with such grace but it’s done with such intent and it’s perfect and it works. He is a great creative talent.
Get YOUR TICKETS here!
Playing at Chicago’s Oriental Theater
Previews: February 17th – March 10th
Premiere date: March 11, 2015
Chicago run: thru March 29th
About Kenny Seymour
Kenny Seymour was born to work magic with music. He felt the beat while still in his mother and father’s arms. Born to Broadway Actress Mary Seymour of “Hair” (Original Broadway Cast) and Kenny W. Seymour formerly of “Little Anthony and the Imperials”, Kenny followed in his parent’s footsteps but has left his own mark on Broadway and in film and other projects.
His theater credits include Music Director and Conductor for Memphis: The Birth of Rock and Roll, the winner of 4 Tony Awards including best musical, orchestrator for Amazing Grace: An Epic Musical Music Director/Orchestrator/Incidental Music Composer for The Tallest Tree In The Forest, Music Supervisor/Orchestrator/Arranger for Big Maybelle: Soul of The Blues, Music Director/Arranger for Marley, Co-Composer/Orchestrator for Strangely Beautiful: The Musical and many more.
Kenny has also composed musical scores for films including Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, Fringe and English Egg Language Series.
As an arranger/copyist, he has worked on The 2009 Presidential Inaugural Ball with Stevie Wonder, Fox Network’s “The Singing Bee”, B.E.T Network’s “Sunday Best” and “The Celebration of Gospel” and “B.E.T. Honors, NBC Network’s “Showtime at the Apollo” (NBC Network).
Kenny has worked with Dionne Warwick, Jordan Sparks, 98 Degrees, Phoebe Snow, Faith Evans and a host of other great singing talents.