Feelings of joy envelope you when speaking with Pianist/Composer/Musical Director Victoria Theodore. “Un-Block The Music” appreciates such delight and positivity every day! “The prevailing concept in my life is gratefulness,” she said. People recognize that energy, and it serves her tremendously, and I believe it is a huge part of her success. While one of Victoria’s latest projects, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, might be recognizable, her work in music began way before with amazing artists such as Stevie Wonder and Queen Bey herself, Beyonce.
As a piano prodigy, Victoria started playing piano when she was 2 years old! “That’s according to my mom!,” Victoria laughs. “By 11 and 12 years old I was captivated. My dad took me to see Andre Watts, and then I knew being a pianist is what I wanted to do. I loved everything about music and performing. It was my lifeline then and still is today!”
Victoria’s musical path is an interesting one. She talks about how she and her sister would write plays and songs to perform as children. Her dad, is a pianist, drummer and singer, but he never pursued it professionally, he was an engineer and computer technician. Victoria, too, worked for Apple….Read on.
“In school, I was a fast learner. I instantly became the pianist at every school I attended. They never even gave me the opportunity to pursue any other instrument; not that I didn’t love the piano.” In freshman year of high school, Victoria auditioned for a program at UC Berkeley. She got in and was featured on television and in newspapers. “They did a great job to promote artists who were destined for a career.” She was also part of another group in Oakland where she did a lot of singing, including theatrical and operatic pieces.
One day Victoria was listening to the radio and heard that MC Hammer was looking for female musicians for a tour. She auditioned and ultimately became part of Oaktown 357, an all-female rap group that were originally Hammer’s dancers. Victoria put on her booty shorts (a little out of character since she describes herself as a nerd) and hit the road. She was part of one of the biggest rap tours at the time; a tour that included Will Smith, Heavy D, Queen Latifah and more. “We played to 30,000 people a night. That was my first taste of crowds of that magnitude…And, I LOVED IT!” she said. “The bigger the crowd, the more excited I became. I was born without stage fright…the stage feels like home.”
“After that tour ended, I decided to move to New York, and try my hand at songwriting.” She worked as an office temp so that she would have time to work on her music career. One of her three college degrees was Computer Music and she worked at Apple as an engineer right after college. Victoria understood computers so well, that one of the temp companies she worked for hired her as a computer consultant.” Did I mention she also types over 100 words a minute? “It was perfect for me because I could work on my own. I was able to pursue music and still have a job that didn’t take up all of my energy!”
Although in Victoria’s heart at the time, she wanted to be “Janet Jackson,” “that wasn’t to be! “Feedback was harsh. Can’t imagine executives today would get away with what they said to me back then. These days, people are more aware. They can’t spew that kind of nonsense they spewed at me. That stopped me from an artist career, but not from a music career. I continued to write music and eventually I came back to California.” People remembered her as the child piano prodigy and she started working right away becoming the “hired gun” for all kinds of shows including jazz, theater, opera. “I was the first call and the last-minute call. It was a wide range of music. I made my living like that until 2007 when I got the call to audition for Stevie Wonder.”
When she got the call, Victoria had a gig lined up, so she had to find a sub and fly to LA right away. “I had a four-hour audition then a three-day audition. At that point, I was hired and my whole life changed,” Victoria said. “Un-Block The Music” is always in awe of musicians that can handle those high pressure auditions and come out shining. What was her secret? “I used my ears, I improvised and I went with the flow,” she said. “My attitude was that I was so grateful to be there. I had a sense of joy.” She worked with Stevie for almost 7 years loving every minute. Stevie, she says, always shows his heart.
In 2013, Victoria went to work on The Arsenio Hall Show. “It was only on television for 8 months, but it was a glorious 8 months!” It wasn’t always smooth sailing for her though. “2014 and 15 were scary years. I went through a famine. People see you in high profile jobs and assume you’re not available, or they can’t afford you.” When you are in a support position as a musician, you make good money, but by no means are you rich. Just like a freelance writer (Un-Block The Music), you are always hanging on until your next gig!
Then, in 2016, Victoria got an email that a major female artist was looking for a female pianist and she was asked to submit a video. A second video was requested. Although, no one actually revealed who the artist was, Victoria knew. “The next thing I know I am in a room with Beyonce!”
As “Un-Block The Music” has shown through all of the fabulous interviews I’ve had in the last two years, Broadway is a changing genre. Although there are classic pieces like Carousel and Les Miserables, there are many pop musicals, and therefore a need for people who understand that kind of music as well as theatrical music. If I were producing a musical, Victoria would be my obvious choice and I am not a trained professional! Ron Melrose is an outstanding professional, however. You many recognize his name as musical director, conductor and arranger for a slew of hits including Jersey Boys, Jekyll & Hude And A Bronx Tale, to name a few. As the Music Supervisor for Summer:The Donna Summer Musical, Ron approached Victoria in search of a musical director. “I was a little nervous at first. It was a different sort of job, and I would be working with someone of his caliber, but it was a thrill!” The show went to La Jolla first before making its debut on Broadway.
“It was a blast and I got to work with LaChanze!!! (who played Donna in her prime years.) I saw her back in the day when she was in The Color Purple and she was mind blowing.” Victoria said the whole team behind Summer was wonderful to work with, “Ariana (DeBose), Storm (Lever) and just the whole cast and creatives like Sergio (Trujillo, choreographer) and Des (McAnuff, book writer). “Donna Summer’s music is R&B live. They understood that I had direct experience with that kind of music. Bringing Summer to the theater and helping make it a success was an honor; only wish I could have met her.”
That brings us to the present. What has Victoria been up to since the CO-VID shutdown? In August, Playbill celebrated Women’s Equality Day with an amazing concert: Women in Theatre: A Centennial Celebration. The 90-minute special streamed on Playbill.com. It celebrated the game-changing women, non-binary, and gender non-conforming artists who made the theater what it is today. Victoria was the musical director. It was quite the undertaking; so many artists all in different places. And, Wow…they pulled it together in record time. (https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/08/26/women-wednesdays-un-block-talks-to-melissa-crespo-rachel-sussman-about-playbills-centennial-celebration-tonight/)
“I had an amazing team of women. It was incredible to have people who understand you, trust you and have a high level of worth ethic!” The show was not only educational, but relevant.
And now….as we all wait for live performance to return, artists are creating every day. Last week Victoria performed as part of EnSpirits which is a collaborative Alternative Jazz /R&B project between herself and Dave Tweedie. The show was described as an immersive, experiential 360° VR concert experience. https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/09/30/women-wednesdays-musical-director-victoria-theodore-announces-an-immersive-show-october-10th/
What’s next for Victoria? She is continuing to work on a musical about the life of Marian Anderson, the singer considered to be the first American contralto. The show is a team of five women. In 2017, Elkin Antoniou co-founded Liquid Theatre Collective with Amy Gewirtz. http://www.liquidtheatrecollective.org/marian. As its Artistic Director, she is leading the development of this original musical based on Marian’s life. According to Victoria, Elkin first had the idea to do a show about Marian 15 years ago when she came across her story. Then, about five years ago, she started brainstorming with book writer and composer/lyricist Chelsea Marie Davis. Another voice and writer on the book team is Caleen Sinnette Jennings. Also, contributing to the lyrics is Emily Ruth Hazel. Victoria was first approached about becoming musical director and arranger but since has also become co-composer. “I may possibly be contributing to the book as well,” she said.
Are you impressed? God knows, I am. The fabulous women I have met since I started Women Wednesdays has been so inspirational during these last 7 months. “Un-Block The Music” will continue to feature amazing women in all walks of musical life. If there is someone you know of that you might like me to feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime follow Victoria http://victoriatheodore.com/.