Currently touring the UK with hit musical Jersey Boys, Executive Editor John Roberts catches up with a very busy and highly in demand musical director Gareth Weedon about the show, future projects and what needs to change in the industry.
How did you become a musical director?
I’ve always been involved in music from a young age, I’ve done local shows in my home town of Llandudno in North Wales. I did a few pantomimes and someone saw one of them and offered me my first musical director position on a UK tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Many people have the impression that Musical Directors just play the piano, so what does your job involve on a day-to-day basis on a show such as Jersey Boys?
I know they do… firstly if my job was as easy as just playing the piano, I’d certainly have a lot more sleep, that’s for sure! With a show such as Jersey Boys there are two people who are on the road with the show all the time; the resident director and the musical director who look after the show. Our job is to keep it fresh and as vibrant as it was when it left the rehearsal room. I work very closely with the sound department and the resident director to keep it dynamic and we keep it consistent to what the authors have written – in this case Bob Gaudio and Ron Melrose the original composer and musical supervisor.
My job is to keep the musicians playing it like it’s their first time making sure that edge of your seat feeling is present, making sure the singers are on the right harmonies, making sure nothing drifts around and keeping the energy levels up. I watch the show every week – I don’t conduct it, but I have two brilliant assistants who do that, and I speak to the sound department regularly, making little tweaks here and there “could we go a little bigger in the section and pull back on this part a little” – look at how the audience are receiving the show and maybe speed up a small segment here and there. So yeah, it’s not just about playing the piano!
Jersey Boys is a huge success; do any of the “boys” still have a hand in the proceedings?
Funnily enough last night I was in the recording studio with Bob Gaudio for five hours, we have a new Frankie Valli joining the cast at the moment and before, we start rehearsals Mr. Gaudio likes to bring his 50 plus years experience of his material and give it to the performer first hand. He has lots of anecdotal evidence, which he is so generous to share about the how and why of each song, even the tiny details on how Frankie Valli first sung a song. It’s all about making the show as honest to the era as possible.
How does having people like Bob around add to the pressure of your job?
I’m doing two shows at the moment, so as well as Jersey Boys, I am about to open Motown in the West End. So during the days this week, I have been with Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, and last night was Bob Gaudio – but it’s not a stress at all, it just adds another layer of excitement to what we do and allows you to have that slap across the face moment of “Oh my God you have the best job in the world!” – It’s not daunting just pure excitement.
In Jersey Boys – do you have a favourite song and if so what is it and why?
Ah this is like asking a father to pick his favourite child… I say that because I have to look after the whole show, yes of course there are parts of the show I enjoy more than others, that could be because the vocal harmonies are so complex or the orchestrations sound so rich – but I have always liked Let’s Hang On.
A lot of the big award ceremonies are still failing to recognise the work that Musical Directors do and bring to a show, how do you feel about this?
It’s a real shame, and I know there are some very passionate and prolific musical directors who are trying to raise awareness about this and I am always trying to do the same myself. It’s such an essential part of the show, especially the musical directors/supervisors who are setting up a show for the first time – they are just as important as the director and choreographer in what you see and hear on the stage, yet it is the one area that is always overlooked – we have so much input to what you see and hear and how it all ties together and the audience as much as these awards bodies need to be more aware of this fact.
If you had a magic wand and could change one specific element of your side of the industry, what would it be?
There are so many things, but I wish there were more opportunities for people who are struggling to break into the industry to have work. There are so many amazingly talented up and coming actors/musicians who I’d love to see working more. It’s extortionately expensive to go and do these three-year courses and that’s before you even move to the city and have to live there. It’s that Catch 22: how do you get a decent agent, if you can’t afford to go onto one of these courses, how do you get seen? We have just had an amazing few days doing open auditions for Motown – which is a brilliant example of how we are able to meet some talented people, who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to meet the creative team Motown has on board.
As you are touring around the country on a weekly basis – what three things do you always make sure you have with you?
Can I say my brilliant assistant MD? Is that cheesy? It’ so important to have a good support team with you when working on projects as big as this, knowing you have that means you don’t have to be a hero about things. I do like having my ipad and Netflix and I guess the final one would be my car – otherwise it would be very expensive traveling the UK.
You will be going back to Llandudno in November with Jersey Boys, what are you most looking forward to?
Apart from getting chance to see my friends and family who still live in the area, It’s a great opportunity to meet up with Philip and Margaret Jones – they run LYMT (Llandudno Youth Music Theatre), which is the largest and most successful company of its type in North Wales. I joined the company over 30 years ago and it is them that gave me the theatre bug and they still own and operate LYMT to this day. They put on shows twice a year at Venue Cymru, they get funding and put everything together, so while I’m in town, myself and one of the actors are going to go and give them all a workshop based on the show and pay it forward and give it back to that company.