Musical Director David O’s Diversity Of Talent Led Him To “Mr. Saturday Night” & Yes…”My Little Pony”

Before “Un-Block The Music” was ever a possibility (there was no internet when I started my career!), two of my greatest mentors told me not to let any editor dictate my career to me. I was encouraged to come up with story ideas every day and to store them in the vault that is my brain! So, while there are many reasons to like Mr. Saturday Night’s Musical Director, David O, his work ethnic passed on from his parents is what hit me first.

While David’s career is bi-coastal, a good part of it has been in free-spirited California. “My mom was a church choir director and my parents were part of a five-person singing group in the 1970s and early 80s. They played a lot locally and toured around the area,” he said. Their repertoire included original music and covers with their own spin! “I grew up thinking that was something all people did. They got together every week to work on songs they loved as their kids played hide and seek up and down the street!” David learned so much from being around that kind of devotion to music. “(My parents) weren’t depending on anyone else to tell them what to do. They were self-driven!,” he said.

Working in California is very different than working in New York, and David says his ability to combine methods is what, he believes, makes him a desirable choice for Mr. Saturday Night. The show opened on Broadway in April and stars Billy Crystal. “LA show business is more actor driven whereas Broadway is more centered on the writers and composers. This show is a little bit of both. “Billy is one of the writers and is, of course, the star of the show based on a character he has been playing for a long time.”

While David has a longtime friendship with Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown (He worked on 13 also), Mr. Saturday Night is David’s Broadway debut. “We workshopped the show with different cast members over the course of several years,” and continued to pick up cast members who stayed with the show along the way. Shoshanna Bean was the last puzzle piece, he said.

(Just an aside: I mentioned Jason Robert Brown composed the music, but Amanda Green also wrote the lyrics!! https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/06/10/women-wednesdays-lyricist-amanda-green-talks-about-her-broadway-path-with-the-boystom-kitt-lin-manuel-miranda/)

You would think a California kid may choose to become a film composer. While David grew up in Salinas, CA., there was access to theater in Monterey and San Francisco. “I got the theater bug as an actor first. I did a lot of plays in high school as well as in church and at local semi-professional theaters.” David earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Theater Arts from The California Institute of the Arts. Upon graduating, he began to realize “I didn’t really have the temperament to be the actor I wanted to be. I also kept getting calls from people saying, we have a great role for a piano player in the show!” While he grew up playing piano, David never considered it would be part of his career. “Piano was always the way I communicated emotions!”

That said, theater people knew piano playing was a skill David had. Easing into the musical director role, David often worked on projects where a couple of extra songs needed to be written. With that skill, he worked with a comedy group, for example, and was the actor/musical director. Then there were the Blues and Salsa bands who hired him. It’s the cruise ships, however, that truly developed his versatility. “A couple of years on cruise ships really helped me find my skills as a band leader. I was hired as a piano player and very quickly, due to unexpected personnel shifts, became band leader in spite of not having a lot of experience. Cruise ships are a great place to do that because you are working with the same ensemble everyday sometimes doing wildly different things.”

While a lot of film composing is solitary work in a studio, being in film at some point is inevitable when living in Los Angeles.  David worked on a documentary, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. The Bronies are adults (mostly male) fans of the animated television show, My Little Pon,y “It’s a very specific fan demo,” David said.  The documentary offers background and the experiences of a number of fans, explaining their introduction to the fandom, the hardships they have faced by admitting this to others, and enjoyment of their conventions. In addition to the live footage, the documentary includes original animations  in the style of Friendship Is Magic, featuring songs composed by Arthur Sullivan and David O with  lyrics by Amy Keating Rogers, Zachary Lobertini, and show creator Lauren Faust. “I wrote music for the movie and curated this collection of bronie music from all over America, France, Israel, Australia, a military ship off the coast of Japan, and more,” David said. “The Internet can bring together people with unusual passions who otherwise might be operating alone in their own locations.”

David also credits career skills to his work in education. He ran Idyllwild’s Arts’ Summer Program. He was also co-creator of Voices Within and the Oratorio Project outreach programs within the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Voices Within is the songwriting program for students fifth grade through high school. It also led to a large-scale chorale work he created called a Map of Los Angeles which premiered at Walt Disney Concert Hall. “It was amazing to have a piece that it was created from the wildest and greatest parts of my imagination filling that room with an amazing group of ensemble singers and instrumentalists. I had never written any other chorale pieces. That was a different sphere of my career, And I love when I get to work in that environment. (Like me, David likes to “Un-Block The Music!)

Despite all of these great projects, it all comes back to theater. Another “recent” project was Soft Power (remember, theater was shut down for more than 19 months, so “recent” is a relative term). David once again lent his bi-coastal talent to this musical with book and lyrics by David Henry Hwang and music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori. Sadly, “Un-Block the Music” did not see this show. It sounds fascinating. Some say it was intended as a reverse of the King and I. But, most describe it as a an exploration of America through China’s point of view. It played in California but also played New York’s Public Theater in 2019.

David said, what he loves about being a musical director is that he is part of the creative team from the initial process and then gets to conduct it live. “I find that is something I need in my life and privileged to be able to do it.”

Go experience David’s musical directing every night at the Nederlander Theater. For tickets to Mr. Saturday Night, go to: https://mrsaturdaynightonbroadway.com/

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