How lucky for “Un-Block The Music,” to interview one of the newer members to the Joe Iconis Family of artists, that is Geoffrey Ko, the musical director for off-Broadway’s Bounty Hunter.
After having made its world premiere in 2017 at Barrington Stage Company, the show, Bounty Hunter, hit Off-Broadway at the Greenwich House Theater in New York on July 23 for a limited run through August 18.
How did Geoff find his way to Bounty Hunter? By way of Be More Chill’s music director Emily Marshall. Here’s a quick synopsis of Geoff’s career thus far. He grew up in New Jersey wanting to be an actor, so after high school he went to Northwestern University to pursue a performance degree. He was also taking classical piano lessons. “I went out to Northwestern with one of my best friends from high school, Rob Cassie. In Freshman year, Rob was the producer for the Mystery of Edwin Drood. He said, ‘I know this is not what you do, but you play piano. You obviously understand theater. Can you work on this show?’ I said, ‘sure, why not?’ I wasn’t doing anything else that spring.” That’s how Geoff became part of the musical director world. As for Rob Cassie? He works for KGM Theatrical, general management for Bounty Hunter.
Geoff ended up doing a lot of shows at school and at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire where he often still works. After graduation, he started doing workshops and readings and was ultimately hired as a Music Assistant on The Honeymooners at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse (if you are a theater geek, you know that Paper Mill has launched tons of careers). Anyway, it was here, at an after-party, that Geoff met Emily. They hit it off. Nine months later, Emily called Geoff about the possibility of working on Be More Chill.
Joe Iconis co-wrote the book as well and the music and lyrics for both shows. As you may know, Joe works with a loyal group of collaborators. Bounty Hunter has many of the same collaborators as Be More Chill. “There is such good energy, and such a good vibe with this group,” he says.
“Un-Block The Music” asked Geoff what he loves about being a musical director and what some of the challenges are with the new shows. He says, “I am the point of contact for everyone in the show. I love being part of the creative energy that comes with new work. Being able to talk with all of those people helps to shape the score, to shape the musical world of the show, and to shape all of the sounds we hear and play every night. We have moments where we do one thing one night and then …something different the next night.”
Audiences would be surprised at what affects the music in a show. Geoff offers an example. “Sometimes a change could come from the projection designer (in this case Brad Peterson). He might say, ‘that moment felt great but just so you know, this is what is happening behind you on the video screen that you can’t see.’” You can hold that note an extra four bars to complete a moment so that people will laugh when they are supposed to laugh.
In terms of the actual music, Geoff says, “one of the challenges I love about Joe’s scores is the diversity in the type of music that we go through even within one song. We are seeing more of that in musicals now a days. Composers are trying to incorporate multiple musical languages within a show so it may have a little something for everyone.”
Another change in musical theater is the trend towards smaller pit bands. Charlie Rosen, the music orchestrator handles this brilliantly, Geoff says. Bounty Hunter’s pit has six musicians, but many more instruments than that. “One guy plays two different saxes, the shakuhachi (Zac Zinger is one of the few people in New York who can play this Japanese flute), the organ, and he also creates some of the synthesizer parts.” Also, keep in mind, the band doesn’t learn the music until a few days before the show opens. Geoff says the smaller pits have a lot to do with the type of music in the newer shows. A show like Chicago needs 25 musicians, but pop/rock shows are more akin to working in a recording studio where there are only a few musicians at a time.
What is Bounty Hunter about? Star, Annie Golden of Orange Is The New Black portrays a down-on-her-luck actress of a certain age who is asked to become a bounty hunter and capture a South American drug lord. “The musical chronicles a woman’s journey to find her inner strength and true badass identity.” It sort of parodies Annie’s career. Like her character, Annie was a musical theater star, having been in Hair and The Fully Monty to name a couple. Don’t let her age fool you. The lady has pipes!
What else did “Un-Block The Music” like about this show? My seat! Not only did I have the good fortune to interview Geoff, but I also had the added bonus of sitting next to lead producer Jennifer Ashley Tepper. If you are a fan of this blog (as I hope you are), Jennifer was one of my first interviews.
There are not a lot of performances of the show left. Go get your tickets today. You will leave the theater in a good mood!
(BTW…that’s Geoff, Me and my daughter, Holly Block in the picture)