The first new TOP FIVE comes to us from Ed Kottick, who has created many concert versions of shows in the Iowa City-Coralville area with his partner in music, Josh Sazon. As you’ll read below, he’s been a part of a number of great shows over the years. Enjoy!
5) The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon. Iowa City Community Theatre, 2005.
I was trained as a trombonist, then as a musicologist. I am also a conductor. I had professional careers in all three areas, but in Iowa City I was known (if I was known at all) as a professor of musicology at the University of Iowa. I always had a love for musical theater and fantasized about someday conducting a musical. Fantasy indeed! Who would consider calling on a retired musicologist who dabbles in old keyboard instruments to conduct a show? Nevertheless, 13 years ago, it happened. Jonathan Thull was directing an ICCT production of The Secret Garden and needed a conductor. Would I be interested? I was, and Secret Garden was the first show I did. With Jonathan’s help it was my introduction to music directorship. I didn’t know many local musicians, since I had never put together an orchestra in Iowa City. I had to scramble, and was fortunate enough to have the cooperation of some of my former colleagues at the School of Music, some of whom played and/or recommended their students. Happily, I ended up with a pretty good group. The cast was wonderful, particularly the leads, soprano Nancy Hagen (who had been a student of mine) and baritone David Raim. They had the operatic qualities their roles required, and I still remember their ringing voices in the love duet at the climax of the show. The depth of talent in this area is endless!
4) She Loves Me, Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerry Bock. Iowa City Community Theatre, 2008.
If you saw the films The Shop Around the Corner, or In the Good Old Summertime, or You’ve Got Mail, you know the plot: pen pals who fall in love with each other and don’t realize that they’re co-workers. She Loves Me was the second show for which I directed the music, and fortunately I had a cast that was happy to help me out. Josh Sazon directed, and since then, Josh and I have done many shows together. We seem to be on the same theatrical wave length and we’ve become something of a creative team. He’s a real pro, a fine director, and is highly organized. I appreciate those qualities. I’m pretty organized myself, and we like to run on-time scheduled rehearsals. She Loves Me had a great cast, and I worked with people who have become part of my theater family ever since. The leads were played by Megan Sands (now Megan Keiser) and Jon Meadows. Megan went on to earn a doctorate in neurobiology and now heads a research team in a large hospital in Philadelphia, but while she was here we worked together on a number of other musicals, including Guys and Dolls and The Sound of Music. Jon has been singing professionally with the Disney organization for many years now. Also in the cast were Jon’s father Howard Meadows, Jill VanDorpe, Rex VanDorpe, Chuck Dufano, Jim Very, Brian Lawler, Robin McCright, Steve Polchert, and Beth Ross, all of whom I worked with in subsequent shows.
3) The Sound of Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Iowa City Community Theatre, 2011.
A few years ago Josh and I started mounting concert versions of the classic Broadway musicals. To date we’ve done South Pacific (twice), My Fair Lady (twice), The Sound of Music, Man of La Mancha, Anything Goes, and Camelot (twice). The concert versions are fun. For one thing, we have the orchestra on stage, which means I have room for ensembles of 30 to 35 players. For another, we are able to attract professional singers, since it’s only a week’s commitment on their part. Consequently, I’ve had the pleasure of working with colleagues such as Rachel Joselson, Kitty Eberle, Steve Swanson, John Muriello, and Kristen Behrendt DeGrazia. While taking nothing away from the extraordinarily talented singers and actors of our area, working with the pros is different, and sharing the stage with people of this caliber has truly been a rewarding experience. I have also been fortunate to have colleagues, friends, and former students play in my orchestras: Laura LaCombe, Allen and Dawn Ohmes, Don Haines, Candy Wiebener, Randall Aitchison, Tom Nelson, Jim and Barb Reck, Valerie McNalley, Jim Christenson, Laird Addis, Nathan Platte, and others. The Sound of Music in concert, is my next Top Five choice for a very specific reason. The show opens without an overture, just the lights coming up and the peal of church bells. The nuns of the convent gather and sing their a capella morning prayers, the Gregorian chant Dixit Dominus (The Lord said unto my Lord), followed by a short Latin motet and an Alleluiah, all in Renaissance style (but composed by Rodgers). I’ve seen several productions of The Sound of Music (and there are plenty on YouTube), including the otherwise excellent one that came to Hancher last year, and have never been satisfied with the opening. I do not see any attempt to bring out the devotional quality of the chant; instead, what I hear is an even stream of vocables. It certainly isn’t Latin that makes any sense. In the motet and Alleluiah, where the nuns sing in four parts, vibrato is allowed and there is little attempt to blend the voices. In other words, the nuns in those performances did not set forth the pure and reverential tone that should serve as a foil to Maria’s worldliness and exuberance. I taught my 20 nuns to sing chant in a more authentic manner, with a pure sound and an emphasis on the words, and in the four-part music I got them to blend in the manner of a Renaissance choir. It worked. The Englert audiences were stunned by their singing, and it set the stage for the rest of the show. Many of those in the ensemble, including Susan Manuel, Nancy Mayfield, Jackie Ross Armstrong, and Linda Rowland, became members of my theater family, appearing in several subsequent shows. The ensemble’s 20 “sisters” loved the way the audiences responded to the way they sounded, and after the show they vowed to keep singing together as a group. Today they are a part of ICCT known as The Sisters of Song. They are still singing together, and I am proud of the honorific they bestowed on me, “Sister Ed.”
2) West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Laurents, and Stephen Sondheim. City Circle Acting Company, 2011.
West Side Story had never been one of my favorites, but digging into the music I was soon convinced of the sincerity and the raw emotion of the play. It was directed by the multi-talented Michael Stokes, who had a vision for West Side Story I was glad to share. Michael had been a student of mine, and I had wanted to work with him for a long time. But the main reason I’m including this in my Top Five is because it was a summer production of Coralville’s CCAC, with a teenage cast. Since the show was about teenagers, having young people in those roles added an exciting element of authenticity to the production. Those kids were wildly talented, and wonderful to work with. The highlight of the show for me was the balcony scene (”Tonight, tonight”), where Tony (Tyler Jensen) and Maria (Taylor Troyer) proclaim their love for each other, across the stage, to Bernstein’s soaring score. It was a moving experience, and I remember thinking to myself at that moment, “how fortunate I am, to be here at this moment, doing what I’m doing.” I recently had an opportunity to do the balcony scene again, in a concert of the music of Leonard Bernstein I conducted for the Coralville CPA. The singers were wonderful, mature artists, but the effect was quite different.
1) Imagine Tomorrow: The Music of George Gershwin. Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 2016.
I am torn making this choice. I would like it to be The King and I, directed about 10 years ago by Barbara Buddin. That was the first show I did with a large orchestra, it has a great overture, and amazingly high musical values; but mainly I would choose it because Josh Sazon played the King of Siam with a depth and intensity I will never forget. (I will also never forget him dancing the polka with his costar, Teresa Wagner.) Nevertheless, my choice has to be the Gershwin concert I conducted for Coralville’s CPA two years ago, a celebration of the fifth anniversary of that wonderful facility. While not a musical, it was nevertheless a show. Josh produced and directed it and spoke between numbers, talking a bit about Gershwin’s life and giving some perspective on the music we were playing. The singers (Meghan Lawler, Mary Denmead, and David Raim) did some acting and there was some dancing as well. But I need to insert a bit of history. In 1952, newly graduated from New York University, I got a job playing trombone with a touring orchestra created by Community Concerts, “The Gershwin Concert Orchestra.” For four months we traveled the US and Canada by bus, every night repeating a program of Gershwin orchestral works and songs. The conductor was a young fellow, my age, and like me, just starting out. His name was Lorin Maazel, and if that name doesn’t mean anything to you, he went on to become the conductor of the New York Philharmonic. The tour was a wonderful experience for a young musician, and it gave me a lifelong respect for the music of Gershwin, so doing this concert was a really meaningful experience for me. But the highlight of the concert was our last number, a performance of the legendary “Rhapsody in Blue.” I had the incredible fortune of having my School of Music colleague, Dr. Réne Lecuona, as my piano soloist. Réne played that piece with a passion and rhythmic drive that I’m sure would have pleased Gershwin himself, and the orchestra responded to her in kind. It was a blazing “Rhapsody,” and people still stop me to say how much they enjoyed that performance.
Ed Kottick taught in the UI School of Music for 25 years before he retired 27 years ago. He ran the early music ensemble (the Collegium) for 14 of those years, while teaching musicology courses and researching early keyboard instruments. His secret dream was to conduct Broadway musicals, and for the last 13 years he has been able to do just that, as a music director/conductor for ICCT, CCAC, and for independent productions for CCPA and Oaknoll Retirement Home. He particularly enjoys working with the classic Broadway musicals of the ‘40s and ‘50s, when pits contained small but full orchestras, and theaters were not so large that singers needed microphones—not that those great voices ever needed microphones anyway!