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Jan 25, 2013

The Man Behind the Music

By Michal Jansen Miller

Alone in the band room of his small West Virginia high school, Matt lost himself in a few precious alone-time moments at the piano. As his private music filled the empty room, a head poked through the doorway. “Matt,” the drama teacher gasped, “You play piano!” And so it began. Matthew Smedal accompanied the high school musical that spring.

He went on to study at his family-favored Wesleyan college and from there for a Masters of Music at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

“I intended on becoming a classically trained pianist and music scholar,” he recalls, “but every time I turned around I kept getting drawn to theatre department productions and asked to direct the music. It finally hit me one day that my career was going to be musical direction for the stage.”

Matthew Smedal is now touring the country with the fresh-from-Broadway production of the high-flying new musical CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, based on the hit Dreamworks film and the incredible true story that inspired it.

I recently caught up with him by phone on the way to their next stop in Nashville. Not being altogether familiar with the actual role of a “music director”, I wanted to find out what that entails and garner some insider information from this particular tour.

Matt worked extensively during the rehearsal phase with the creative team to ensure that this first national tour was consistent with the Broadway production, which had closed only weeks earlier.

“Midway through rehearsals, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman decided to make a few adjustments to the show to make it more streamlined,” he tells me. “They really wanted to focus on the storytelling aspect of the show, while keeping the big production numbers intact.”

Once these final decisions were made, Matt began working with the fresh young cast as vocal coach, to set the keys most appropriate for their range and make sure they had every nuance of the music nailed.

Now that the tour has launched, it’s Matt’s responsibility to maintain the musical integrity of the show for each performance. The tour might be in an opera house one weekend, a concert hall midweek, and a larger venue the next. He also makes sure his cast is well-rested and on-target vocally (as well as one can be travelling the country doing 8 shows a week). The orchestra is also his to, well, orchestrate.

“The entire orchestra is on stage for this production, so they are an integral part of the whole feel of the show,” he says. “The notion is that of those big 1960″s TV variety shows.”

As we wrapped up our conversation, I asked Matt what he thinks Lexington theatre goers should expect from CATCH ME.

“Variety got it right in their review of the show when they said it is ‘the best music on Broadway’,” he exclaims, “This is definitely the best new Broadway score in recent years. Marc and Scott have a way of making music you’ve never heard before sound like something you’ve loved your whole life.”

“And,” he adds, “It is pretty cool that you are getting it before any of our major stops on the tour. We are playing Lexington before we open in Los Angeles for a three-week run later this spring. That’s pretty amazing.”

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INSIDER TIP: For more on Matthew Smedal, check out his website at www.matthewsmedal.com Or follow him on Twitter @mattsmedal You can also follow the CATCH ME IF YOU CAN tour on Twitter @CatchMeMusical