If it is possible to find a silver lining in the horrifying pandemic that has gripped the world, perhaps societal awareness and change jumps to the forefront. Women’s issues and race relations are talked about all of the time, strides have been made, but never enough. Perhaps “divine intentions” will finally become reality. As you know, “Un-Block The Music” decided to do this column the week of shutdown after attending an event focused on women and Broadway. Since, then, I have had the amazing good fortune to talk to many of these women who have been theater pioneers. One of my favorite interviews has been with orchestrator, music director, copyist and all around amazing young woman, Macy Schmidt. To refresh your memory, at shutdown, Macy was working on Tina, The Tina Turner Musical and also worked on the adaptation of Chelsea Clinton’s She Persisted. I am talking to her now because in the middle of pandemic chaos came the creation of the Broadway Sinfonietta; Macy’s idea.
The Broadway Sinfonietta is an all women-identifying, majority women-of-color orchestra. Its mission is “to support the existence, excellence, and equity of female BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) musicians, orchestrators, and contractors in the Broadway industry.”
“Un-Block The Music” initially spoke with Macy early on in the Broadway shutdown, not knowing back then, shows would be dark for more than a year. “My brain back in March was in a developmental lab hamster wheel,” she joked. Artists didn’t know what to do with their time off, but that didn’t last long; they put their creativity to work. “The idea for the Broadway Sinfonietta first came to me in June or July when the Broadway community started to talk about and become focused on the inequities in our industry.” The world has stopped, looked and listened. Macy admits, that “without the pandemic, I wouldn’t have had the pause to do this.” And, it sure wouldn’t have happened so quickly.
Macy’s inspiration came from her own experience working on Broadway, not only as a woman, but as a woman of color. She is an Egyptian American. “There have been times when I recommended a female of color that had a huge pop resume. The answer was often ‘they have never done Broadway, no track record.’ I thought that was hilarious, because what pop musicians do is harder than what we do.” They are having to change every day while they are out touring the world. She went through that prejudice as a orchestrator as well.
In creating the sinfonietta, Macy’s idea was to gather women musicians and to orchestrate a traditionally white musical; something big and splashy like Hello Dolly or Kiss Me Kate. “Originally, I thought we could do the recording at home,” but friends encouraged her to try and get funding for a bigger project.
Macy thought about who might want to champion the cause and the people that immediately came to mind were Producers Jana Shea (most recently The Slave Play, and also co-founder of Seaview Productions which produced Tik Tok’s version of Disney’s Ratatouille) and Tony winner, Daryl Roth (Kinky Boots). “That totally changed everything. Jana has been like a fairy godmother. She said, ‘let’s make it happen.” And by September the orchestra was working and by October the first video was ready.
“Initially I was so riled up about the goal of changing Broadway, I hadn’t even thought of the underlying mission of providing employment to musicians who hadn’t worked for six to eight months,” Macy said. With a lot of CO-VID testing and strictly adhering to safety guidelines, 19 musicians went into the studio to record. This first performance and video shoot included 19 musicians because it was during CO-VID, but that number is not in stone. It was magical being in a room with other musicians for the first time since the shutdown, Macy said. She would have had 40 musicians if she could have.
The Broadway Sinfonietta launched with the video “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” an original song by Andre and Dory Previn, and sung by Solea Pfieffer (New York City Center’s Evita). By December, the Broadway Sinfonietta was asked to be part of Ratatouille. As if that wasn’t enough, in January Macy teamed up with Shoba Narayan (Hamilton), Sammi Cannold (Evita), Emily Marshall (Ratatouille, Be More Chill) and Director of Photography Kate Montgomery to create “Here Comes The Change,” a music video celebrating the election of Vice President Kamala Harris which was released on the eve of her inauguration.
The Broadway Sinfonietta caught the attention of high-profile music and general interest outlets like Billboard, GRAMMY Magazine and The New York Times. After that, so many people wanted to hire them. “I got the call about Ratatouille on December 4th ish. They said the show wasn’t even written yet, but that they were going to stream on January 1!” I said, “you have to hire Emily Marshall as a music director!’” They did, and I couldn’t have done it without her.” Then, there was Dan Mertzlufft, who not only wrote additional music and lyrics but acted as the music arranger and supervisor. Macy hadn’t work with Dan before, but she was introduced to him in 2017 and had been keeping in touch with him through social media. In working with Dan on Ratatouille, “I found an artistic soul mate,” she said. “And since then,we have been dreaming up a lot of future projects.” (See “Un-Block The Music’s’ article about Dan, later this month).
While it is no accident, Macy said the number of people that want to hire the Broadway Sinfonietta is amazing, and she feels guilty to saying “no” to any project that will keep musicians working! She expects to continue adding musicians. Now, that’s what “Un-Block The Music” calls leadership! Stay tuned to find out what Macy, this ball of fire, does next!!!
You can check out “Un-Block the Music’s” story about Emily Marshall here:https://unblockthemusic.blog/2021/01/11/women-wonders-ratatouilles-music-director-emily-marshall-shares-stories-on-steps-that-got-her-to-cutting-edge-broadway/