The MT Division was thrilled to welcome back to campus composer/music director Rob Baumgartner (left) and director/choreographer Joey Murray (right) from November 11-12, 2016. These accomplished alumni presented a two-day workshop on pop/rock music and auditioning techniques for the current music theatre students.
Their insight into the New York City auditioning scene and their ability to coach a vast array of musical styles made for an exciting weekend for the students.
Thank you so much for giving back to your university!
Tom: Welcome back to CUA.
Rob: Thank you, Tom! I’m thrilled to be back.
Joey: Thank you, Tom! I’m thrilled to be back!
Tom: How is it to be back after graduation in 2002 and 2004?
Rob: Somewhat surreal. The campus looks very different, but it certainly doesn’t feel like more than a decade since I’ve been back. The energy around the music school seems very familiar.
Joey: It’s fantastic. I have only been back one other time since graduation, and that was for Jane’s memorial, which was incredibly emotional for all of us. So it is wonderful to be back for such an exciting occasion, and back at our old stomping grounds where we learned so much here as students. It is also super trippy to see how the campus has grown and evolved so much. The new south campus is absolutely fantastic. Brings back so many amazing memories!
Tom: Catch us up a bit on what you've done since graduation.
Rob: After graduation I attended the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program at Tisch School of the Arts/NYU. Soon after, I became an assistant to composer Galt MacDermot and was lucky enough to work with him on the Public Theatre’s revival of Hair. I also joined the faculty of Cap21/Molloy College where I teach advanced theory/sight-reading, pop/rock, devised musical and vocal coaching. As far as writing, my show Date of a Lifetime was featured part of the NYMF festival which was a great boon to my career. The show was optioned for off-Broadway and recently received an investor reading under the direction of Jerry Zaks. I also secured representation as a result of the NYMF run. Another show of mine, Adam Lives, was a finalist for NAMT and was part of the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals and the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony.
Joey: I moved to New York immediately after graduation, and worked as an actor for several years, doing national tours, cruise ship, some film/tv/hosting work, and a bunch of plays, musicals, and workshops in the off-Broadway and downtown theatre scene in New York. However, my trajectory was always to be a director, and once I had a few initial opportunities, directing became my full time pursuit. I’ve been directing new works, musicals, plays, regional theatre, music videos, and concerts all over the United States and China. Currently, I’m the Resident Artistic Director for Jenny Wiley Theatre, and I am also directing Linda Eder and the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida holiday production at the Hard Rock Arena.
Tom: How did your education prepare you for the career you are now enjoying? Musically and dramatically.
Rob: At a certain point during grad school it dawned on me that the fundamental rules of tonal harmony are a metaphor for the fundamental rules of playwriting (and vice versa). I didn’t realize that the theory I was learning at CUA was laying the foundation for my understanding of dramatic principles, but eventually the two disciplines synthesized. What has been a gift is the ability to teach my theory students through the lens of playwriting...Theory as an extension of script analysis. It really works! In the same spirit, my sight-reading class is taught entirely using musical theatre repertoire. None of this would have been possible if my theory training at CUA hadn’t been so strong and if the musical theatre community at CUA hadn’t been so game to engage with me as a composer.
Joey: My experience at Catholic was unique because it allowed me to color outside the lines, creatively speaking. Because I was on a path towards performance art and directing, it was the freedom my teachers and mentors gave me to take chances, make mistakes, and at times, break the rules. Though there were often consequences to the risks I took, I was always forced to keep creating, and was always pushed to grow as an actor and director. My teachers at CUA allowed to me ask questions and take chances, which is ultimately what you need as a student, so you can develop your own point of view as an artist. I was given so many opportunities to think and work outside of the box – and that has uniquely prepared me for my path as a director. Also, musicality, and the recital requirements at CUA are unsurpassed for a developing artist.
Tom: Have your CUA friendships continued to be a part of your professional life?
Rob: Without a doubt. I will spare you the details, but I can trace 90% of the good things that have happened in my career back to a phone call I received from Joey asking me if I wanted to work on a show he had conceived. One thing led to the next led to the next.
Joey: Absolutely. Rob and I are perfect examples of a great friendship and collaboration that has lasted so many years! Many of my strongest friendships are still with my core group of best friends from CUA. Since graduation, we have lived together, traveled together, and most of us are still living in New York City. And I visit and still stay in close contact with those that have moved away. I still feel such a bond and a sense of support from that core group of friendships from not only my musical theatre mates, but also those who were in the drama department, and a number of other majors.Tom: What would you like our current MT's to know about being an Alumni of The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music.
Rob: My favorite quote is ‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’ I have found this to be 100% true. Most career opportunities present themselves in the form of flukes. But you have to be in the path of the fluke, which is where preparation comes in. I left CUA feeling prepared and, more importantly, confident in the training I had received. I hope current students are inspired to be audacious in their career pursuits insofar as they will always have a CUA support system to which they can turn. I’d like to put my teacher hat on and say you WILL get work if you can sight-read well. Equity readings of new musicals rehearse for 20 hours. Nine times out of ten, they will pick the amazing sight-reader/harmonizer over the performer who is a better match in terms of ‘type.’
Joey: Every relationship counts. It’s so important to cherish the time you have at CUA (it goes so fast), and not to take for granted the collaborations you are creating with your fellow musical theatre majors, but also your teachers, coaches, and the drama majors. So many relationships on Broadway were formed with these alliances in college. It is so important to support one another, and the work and relationships that you’re creating. And I would also tell you to take every job offer you can – they are precious, and you never know what job will need to another one.
Tom: What would you like to see develop with our current students and our Alumni to strengthen the CUA brand in the country?
Rob: Call me biased, but I think relationships between performers and writers can and should be pushed to the nth degree. I think it is fantastic that Dr. Simpson created a composition degree with an emphasis on music for the stage. The more CUA can be known as a place where performers and writers (established and just starting) collaborate, the better.
Joey: A strong sense of communication and creative support. There is a staggering amount of talent from Catholic University students and alumni, and it’s so important that we look at CUA alums as a support team, all of whom are rooting for each other. Being a musical theatre major at CUA has undoubtedly shaped who were are as artists, and it would be wonderful to know what everyone is doing, in and out of the industry - we are such a great resource for one another. And when possible, I think it’s important to employ as many CUA alums in every capacity that we can.
Photo by CBS Photography