Jennifer Whyte: West End Musical Director (Les Mis, Avenue Q, Sunset Boulevard, Phantom, Cabaret)

Jennifer Whyte: West End Musical Director (Les Mis, Avenue Q, Sunset Boulevard, Phantom, Cabaret)

Jennifer Whyte: West End Musical Director (Les Mis, Avenue Q, Sunset Boulevard, Phantom, Cabaret)

Five Minute Call - S01E05 - Episode Summary

In the latest episode of the Five Minute Call podcast, hosts Oren and Claire dive deep into the fascinating story of Jennifer Whyte, a renowned musical director who has left her mark on numerous acclaimed productions such as Les Misérables, Avenue Q, Sunset Boulevard, The Phantom of the Opera, Parade, and Cabaret.  Throughout the episode, Jennifer emphasises the importance of adaptability in the world of musical theatre, as well as the significance of storytelling through music and the power of combining diverse skills to create something truly special.

In addition to her work as a musical director, Jennifer also shares insights into her creative endeavours as a composer. She discusses her musical "Underworld," a captivating piece set in a 1920s Chicago speakeasy that showcases her talent for crafting intricate and emotionally charged stories through music. Jennifer's passion for composition and her dedication to pushing the boundaries of musical theatre serve as an inspiration to aspiring artists and industry professionals alike. 

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Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Oren: Hello and welcome to The 5 Minute Call. This is a podcast where we take a deep dive into the stories of the people that make theatre happen. Today

[00:00:08] Claire: we're talking to Jennifer White. Jennifer has been the musical director on many shows, I'm gonna have to read them. Les Mis, Avenue Q, Sunset Boulevard, Phantom, Parade, Cabaret, to name just a few.

[00:00:20] Claire: Her roles also include musical supervisor on Cabaret, La Cage Aux Folles and 42nd Street. We are all about people's stories here and if you would tell us your

[00:00:30] Jen: story. I remember oral tests in primary school, you know, two notes, is this one higher or lower, you know, just slightly detuned, um, and displaying some kind of aptitude for music, being given a trumpet mouthpiece to see if you can get a noise out of it.

[00:00:45] Jen: Um, and that was as early as primary five. Um, by primary seven, I think I had a Baritone horn, which is the, the, the viola of the brass, uh, instrument, or the brass band family. Um, that's so unfair. I love violas and viola jokes are really, really awful, but the baritone horn is a complete waste of time as a brass instrument and that's the one I've got to give up.

[00:01:09] Oren: Yeah. Please don't give up your instrument. It's,

[00:01:12] Jen: it's, it's a sort of ugly big brother of the tenor horn, um, and not quite the, voluptuous beauty of a euphonium, you know, but in a similar register. Anyway, um, so yeah, playing that, um, hadn't started playing the piano at this point, um, until first year of high school.

[00:01:32] Jen: I played in a school brass band, etc, etc. I was really rubbish, and so at this point, no notion whatsoever that I was going to be, um, a musician or, you know, or any interest. Um, my dad was a lawyer, I was going to be a lawyer, I thought, and then I was interested in being a pilot for a while, still am. Um, my other half bought me a flying lesson which was the most glorious.

[00:01:52] Jen: Oh, that's amazing. A couple of hours I've spent. Um, uh, and yeah, still harbour, have harboured notions in my life of flying planes. It wasn't until fifth year at school that I, um, actually thought maybe music was gonna, you know, going to happen because it was starting to happen outside of school. Um, but in terms of the sort of formal education thing, um, I, I, I did my level of music in, in fifth year and then did a, I was Scottish obviously, I am Scottish, so I did a higher music in sixth year rather than any level, uh, and then went to university.

[00:02:23] Jen: But I really think the relevant stuff with regard to what I do now is what was happening outside of school and outside of the formal education, although there's no doubt it was backed up by that, but, um, If, if I was to get on any kind of soapbox in this environment, um, it would be, it would be about the, the breadth of musical knowledge that I think has made, my gosh, this is going to sound so presumptuous, made me the musician I am in terms of being able to hold my own in a number of different spheres.

[00:02:56] Jen: And musical theatre, bizarrely, however much it's, um, Criticized or however much it's looked down on by, by so many other, um, areas of, of, of music and, and acting. Um, and that pains me every single time. Um, is Is, is that you actually need to have a working knowledge of so many different styles of music to be able to do it properly.

[00:03:20] Jen: Um, I, I saw Next to Normal at the Dormer. Um, you know, it's basically a, a rock musical. You know, you get electric guitars and, and lots and lots of drums. Uh, But Follies is, is, you know, the, the, the level of pastiche that, that, that sometimes doing in Follies with regard to, to the twenties, the thirties, the forties, you know, all of these different years of music.

[00:03:43] Jen: Jazz musicals, um, uh, folk musicals, you know, I mean, a breadth of, of, of understanding. And if you don't have that, those, those musical palettes to draw from, I don't think you can do them well or do them properly. So how did yours develop? My. best friend's dad, um, founded the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra and, um, aged 14, I was playing the piano in the background at a, at a dinner.

[00:04:10] Jen: Um, uh, and this guy, John Mason, heard me playing and needed a piano player for, um, his folk group, the, the Ayr and Prestwick Real and Strathclyde Society. Um, and I had a glorious time and a very, very formative time from the age of about 14 to, uh, 18 I guess, um, before I went to university, playing piano for the Riegel and Strathclyde Society.

[00:04:32] Jen: The key thing is, as the piano player, you're playing from the, the violin part, because it's a, it's like a Fiddler's Rally type thing, sort of Scottish folk music. Um, and so the music consists of just literally having that top violin line with chord symbols written in. So from the age of 14, I was playing, having to make up an accompaniment, um, for the fiddle music.

[00:04:52] Jen: Now, the style is fairly straightforward, but, but there's undoubtedly a feel to it. There's undoubtedly a, uh, a stylistic element, um, to it. that you need to grasp. But ultimately, you're having to just reach for chords out of chord symbols and make up an accompaniment. And so that degree of sort of keyboard harmony and facility with busking chords started really quite early for me.

[00:05:16] Jen: While also doing piano lessons and grades and scales and all the things that you need. By the age of 16, I was playing keyboards in a working men's club band. Um, where again, it's that having to conjure it out of nowhere. Um, I've told this story so many times, it's verbatim. God's truth, um, exactly how it happened.

[00:05:41] Jen: I set up my DX7. I would have been 16 years old. My mum had driven me to the gig. Um, and there's a drummer and there's a singer. And we're in a bowling club outside Kilmarnock. Um, and the singer turns to me and says, Do you know Blanket on the Ground? A pretty well known country band. song at the time. And I said, no, he said, it's in G.

[00:06:02] Jen: One, two, one, two, three. And that, I swear to God that happened. Um, now it was a little bowling club dance sort of thing. And there was the bingo and, and, and, you know, we were basically just a little trio playing in the corner of the room, but it was, you know, I got paid 50 quid for it. You know, it was a gig.

[00:06:20] Jen: Um, and, and that, it was a bit of a roast for me that night, but that's essentially how I, Is

[00:06:26] Oren: it true that then at 17 you MD'd a panto? How do you get from 16 to 17 doing two very seemingly different things in terms of sort of skill

[00:06:38] Jen: level I suppose? I think basically from, from the age of 14, 15, 16 I sort of had a bit of a growth spurt musically and I think it became fairly clear that I, I could hold my own in a piano and sort of.

[00:06:54] Jen: So, so the, the Working Men's Club bands, um, the, the Panto was, was a direct spin off from that. Um, they, they desperately needed a keyboard player. It was four weeks of Panto. Um, we did Paisley Town Hall. Um, we did a place in Duntee, I can't remember where, and Aviemore, a cinema in, in Aviemore that had been converted into a theatre.

[00:07:15] Jen: Um, I can't believe I remember all that stuff. Anyway. Um, uh, Funnily enough, there were one or two people in that who went on to have really quite remarkable, remarkable careers. Um, but the big interesting element, or the big box office draw, if you like, in inverted commas, was Andy Stewart. Um, he, of Donald Where's Your Truesor's fame and the Scottish soldier and all, you know, he was a really, really big Scottish folk, um, uh, performer and entertainer.

[00:07:45] Jen: And, uh, he was playing Baron Hardup in Cinderella. Um, And, uh, the woman who was playing Cinderella was in, uh, Take the High Road, which was a Scottish soap at the time, and there I was, 17, took time off school, um, I had to go and speak to the headmaster to see if I could get off for four weeks to go and play keyboards in this band.

[00:08:06] Jen: And was that given freely? Yes. That's amazing. Um, I mean, I think they were a little bit reluctant. But there had already been arguments and fights because I wanted to go and do music and they didn't want me to because I was quite good at sciences and languages and things and quite academic. And, um, and I was going to give it all up and go and be a musician.

[00:08:25] Jen: And, um, they didn't fancy. Throw in my library. Throw in my library, exactly. Um, and, and they didn't fancy that much. Um, but, uh, But yeah, I go to, I mean it wasn't, it wasn't that much time off school because it was over Christmas. So it was maybe the last couple of weeks and then the two week period over, over the Christmas break or something.

[00:08:42] Jen: Um, but yes, I, I absolutely, um, had to ask off and went and toured, toured Scotland with this little, little Panto on my DX7. Um, for real, not making it up. Incredible.

[00:08:55] Claire: So, so what happens, what takes you? beyond that.

[00:08:59] Jen: Um, so that was sixth year at school. I auditioned for the Royal Academy of Music as it was then.

[00:09:05] Jen: Um, the, the Scottish Run, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Uh, it's now the RCS Royal Conservator. Um, and I didn't get in, um, quite rightly, I was a hopeless classical piano player by this point. Um, I'd only been playing since. I just, I didn't even do beyond my grade six. So yes, there was absolutely, absolutely It beat me and I stopped at four.

[00:09:27] Jen: Did you? When I failed it. I

[00:09:31] Claire: did zero grades. And now my piano playing makes total sense to you.

[00:09:35] Jen: The thing about being a piano player, of course, auditioning for somewhere like that, is everyone's Everyone's a piano player, so the competition's incredibly high. From a classical pianist perspective, I was dreadful.

[00:09:46] Jen: But from a sort of busking, working men's club, folk band, pantomime, piano playing, piano player, um, perspective, I was, um, developing a particular set of skills, I think, which made me kind of, you know, I think that

[00:10:04] Oren: sort of busking mentality and approach, does that make it easier then to approach playing musical theatre where you've got such a diverse range

[00:10:14] Jen: of music?

[00:10:14] Jen: I think there's no question that it helped and it absolutely was instrumental in me actually getting to theatre in London. Um, uh, and that's the, the sort of, how did I, how did I really get here story, um, which, which is coming up in, you can put, you can put that in the trailer. Um, uh, so, so yeah, I, I didn't get into the academy.

[00:10:38] Jen: Um, I auditioned for the university instead, uh, Glasgow University and did, um, music there. Um, where, In fact, I did an exam. Gosh, this is just coming back to me. I did an entrance exam for the university, which was much more academic and sort of, um, musical theory based, rather than just relying on the performance thing.

[00:11:01] Jen: At my interview after the exam, There had been an analysis of a piece that you only got to hear. You didn't see it written down. And you had to write certain things, and what happens at this point, and what happens at that point, and, you know, describe this and describe that. At the interview, they presumed that I had known the piece.

[00:11:22] Jen: But I hadn't known the piece. I just had heard it. been able to answer the questions based on, I don't know, maybe it's the way my brain works or whatever, but that sort of musical ability, or whatever it is, that ability to analyze it, to hear the nuts and bolts, and hear the cogs turning, and basically what I believe I've built my entire career on.

[00:11:43] Jen: My career on this, this ability, um, clearly was manifesting itself then already. So I spent five years at university in Glasgow with my middle year in Massachusetts, um, on an exchange, um, which was rather glorious. Loudon Calamity Jane. I ended up playing that, so that was my sort of first project.

[00:12:05] Jen: experience, um, of actual musical theatre outside of Pantomime. I know Pantomime is musical theatre obviously, but, but, you know, uh, repertoire, uh, musical theatre. Um, that same group asked me back to conduct, uh, to be the MD of a production of Cabaret because their MD, who had MDed Calamity Jane, actually wanted to be in the show for, for a change.

[00:12:29] Jen: And so, I ended up conducting a production of Cabaret, age 20. Um, which is kind of bizarre given what my current day job is. Um, and, uh, I should mention that the orchestra for Cabaret in this amateur dramatic production was led by, um, Nan Caldwell, or she was Nan White was her married name, who was, um, an aunt of mine who, um Um, played in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Dr.

[00:13:01] Jen: Ian White, who was a great uncle of mine, who actually founded the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Um, now, that makes me sound like a nipple baby, but I never met him. Um, I never, he died long before I was, I was born. And, and I never had any association with, with that. I mean, there was a musical side to the family.

[00:13:21] Jen: Um, And I knew Nan and her daughter Eileen growing up, and Eileen was very much a sort of busky piano player as well, and, you know, we had a certain affinity. Um, but bizarrely that sort of classical symphony orchestra gene thing clearly went, went away. past me, or maybe there's, maybe there's, there is some kind of element of the DNA, um, is in me, I don't know.

[00:13:45] Jen: Yes, I sort of imagine there might have been this route where I'm, I get taken under, under a wing and, and I end up rising in that sort of, um, uh, environment, but no, that didn't happen. Um, I was so hopeless at classical music. Um, I think I've got better at it because I've sort of grown up as a musician, but back then I really was dreadful.

[00:14:03] Jen: My piano lessons, my, um, I, uh, Isabel Anderson was my teacher and, um, I understand every single word she said to me now, but I didn't then. And, and she was tearing her hair out. And rightfully so, because, because I just couldn't translate what's written on the page back into music again. And now it's the thing I believe is my greatest skill.

[00:14:26] Jen: If I, I would never say anything that out loud, but it's a podcast, this is what you're supposed to do. You said it out loud and you're allowed to. I said it out loud. Um, but I couldn't do it until I was at least in my late twenties, if not.

[00:14:39] Claire: And does that come back to the wanting to get it right

[00:14:42] Jen: thing? Yes.

[00:14:43] Jen: Yeah. Yes, um, but also, I don't know, I didn't, I can't, I can't describe the sort of, the emotional disassociation, disassociation or disassociation, um, with it, but, but I, I wasn't connected to myself yet emotionally, I think. I think I was sort of a very emotional late developer, um, and, um. I don't know, I'm projecting back then, I don't remember.

[00:15:11] Jen: But I just remember playing this, these bits of Chopin or Bach or whatever, or Beethoven, you know, as you do when you haven't got lessons, you know, from a classical degree. Um, uh, and, And simply, mechanically representing the notes on the piano. And not even that well. But there was nothing connected. But weirdly, and this is the bit I understand, as Bellandeson was trying to get me to realise, when I played something that I'd written, I did connect with it.

[00:15:41] Jen: So I could actually play something that felt like music and felt like it was emotional and felt like it was, it belonged. Um, but I couldn't. You know that thing that happens when, when you write a piece, you're, you're, you're, you're. Perhaps you don't. Some people do. You write a piece of music, you have to write it down.

[00:15:58] Jen: And an awful lot of non reader musicians, non trained musicians hate this part because they hate the idea that it gets um, uh, sort of ossified when you, when you write it down because you have to make so many compromises to, to, to make it fit between the lines and the dots and, and the whatever. Um, you have to, you have to, you have to write it down.

[00:16:18] Jen: Compromise it, squash it, um, um, Subdivide it, you know. Reduce it. Reduce it, yeah. Into essentially what is a recipe or a set of instructions. Um, it's like, it's like you've made soup and you desiccate it to make a cup of soup and you put it in a sashi and you've got to put the hot water back in and stir it again to make it into the, into the soup again.

[00:16:42] Jen: Do you know what I mean? Um, and. I really like doing that now. Because that's the whole point of the interpretation of a piece of classical music, is remembering that you have to turn it back into the music again. Um, I even wrote a song about it. Uh, in my Underworld musical. No, I

[00:17:03] Claire: was just about to say, at what point do you start

[00:17:06] Jen: composing?

[00:17:07] Jen: Oh, um, gosh, no, I've been doing that since I wrote a piece, um, when I was 14. I wrote a piece for the school brass band at age 15 that was played at one of their concerts. I couldn't play very well back then, but I really understood how things were. So just from sitting in the middle of a brass band playing the baritone horn, I had, I had clearly registered all the little, the ways in which each of the sections of the band interacted and how you created an orchestration and the sort of broader textures of music.

[00:17:38] Jen: So I wrote this piece. The melody was really, really simple. The chords were really, really simple. I made a huge mistake with the modulation into the minor key, because I went to the tonic minor, not the relative minor, um, but that's just because I didn't have that training yet. Um, but what I did have was, was the tuba's doing what the tuba's doing and the, the seconds and the tenor horns doing the offbeats, because sadly that's all they end up, end up doing.

[00:18:03] Jen: Um, the trombones at one point had a little counter melody, um, and, uh, you know, and just in terms of. Understanding the sort of orchestration and arranging nuts and bolts. So yeah, it was called A Little Bit of Fun and it was bloody awful. But, um, but it was played in a school concert. I guess I started noodling at the piano, um, quite early, I guess.

[00:18:30] Jen: Because I really was like I don't mean, I need to be careful, not offend anyone, but I didn't enjoy piano lessons initially because I couldn't bear the dozen a day and the scales and the exercises that were just really, really dull. What I wanted was to play tunes. And this is a really, really common thing among musicians, I think.

[00:18:48] Jen: And the reason why a lot of musicians stop is because it's not very exciting. It's not very rock and roll. It's not very fun. As soon as I started playing with other people, like in the workmen's club band or in the, A real interest space society. Um, you start, um, the, the, the part that makes it feel like music, you know?

[00:19:08] Jen: Um, uh, so I guess I didn't stick in at the classical piano stuff until I ended up going to university and I was doing a performance degree, so I kind of had to, and I kind of, I, I fudged my way through my, you know, performance recitals at the end of my fourth year and my fifth year. And, and I was a pretty hopeless classical piano player.

[00:19:25] Jen: But, um. my, my facility with chords and harmonies and understanding how music works was, was developing. And, and I think that's what my degree's in. I did harmony, uh, to level four, which is quite, you know, for, for my bachelor's degree. Um, it was just me and Alan Smith in that class. Um, he's a very, very, very clever musician.

[00:19:48] Jen: Um, and um, Yeah, orchestration, analysis, just understanding how it all goes together. So I

[00:19:55] Claire: know you as an incredible storyteller through music, and somebody who, who will not let that suffer, ever, and will always support it with music. So when does that harmonic facility and the structural understanding and everything, when does that meet the storytelling?

[00:20:16] Jen: Gosh. Well here's the funny thing, is that the tunes that I was writing, I remember my first ever one called it Highland Dreams, I remember my mum showing it to a musician friend, there's no doubt that there was already a kind of trying to convey some kind of storytelling element in that. It was kind of mournful and kind of sentimental and, and, and clearly was conveying some kind of.

[00:20:43] Jen: Yeah. musical storytelling even if it wasn't conscious for me at that point. And funnily enough, obviously, uh, you know this already, but my album, Stories, um, which I recorded in 2012, um, was called Stories because it's the most common thing. Now, I mean, people will say this to, you know, to everyone about music making, you think, you know, see things or see pictures or, or, or tell stories or what have you, but, um, it was just a, it was a common refrain and, and with regard to, you know, You know, people hearing, hearing my music.

[00:21:15] Jen: And it didn't matter what the story was, even if it was different, and it says this in my album sleeve. Um, it doesn't matter if it's the same story as I'm hearing or seeing or, or imagined when I wrote it. As long as there's a story happening in your brain with the music and you're happy to listen to it, then that's, you know, that's, that's a result.

[00:21:31] Jen: Um, so that's why the album's called Stories. But connecting that to the musical theatre thing, though, I think took a while. But clearly it was sort of innate. There was a sort of instinct for that. But it didn't help me through the classical piano because, my God, I can hear the storytelling in Rachmaninoff and Chopin and, and You know, you name it, and I lean towards the Russians these days, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rimsky Korsakov, you know, absolutely obsessed with the sort of storytelling elements of those.

[00:22:05] Jen: The Firebird is my all time favorite piece of music, I utterly, utterly adore it. And Shostakovich's Piano Concerto, the second, the first movement of the second Piano Concerto, I just love, again, the storytelling, you know, just innate storytelling. Um. I even borrowed a bit of, um, danse macabre for, um, the orchestrations of Cabaret, um, because of the storytelling in it.

[00:22:29] Jen: I didn't know that. Yes. Where? Yes. Tell me. Our production of Cabaret, um, Tom Scutt is the designer and Tom designed this, um, magnificent costume for Eddie Redmayne as he came out the stage. If any of you've seen the production of Cabaret, I know you have Claire. Um, uh, so, so the MC comes out the stage dressed as, as death or as a devil or a skeleton or something.

[00:22:58] Jen: It's sort of not particularly clear but it's a fabulous sort of skeleton y spooky costume and there's, there's and then he appears out of the very depth of hell. Um, and the intro to Money, which is the song he's about to sing. Money in the movie, um, is a sort of vaudevillian sort of comedy routine with, with coins down the pants and sort of, you know, whatever.

[00:23:23] Jen: And so, for me, the arrangement of Money didn't quite carry enough storytelling to reflect this devilish figure, or death like figure, coming out of the stage. So, I felt I needed to augment with a little bit of arranging, a little bit of orchestration, the intro. to money, and indeed the the dance break in the middle.

[00:23:46] Jen: The figure that I wrote for that it was was directly, it's not borrowed, it's not a quote but it was directly influenced by by the the opening um violin passage in Tosca Macabre. There you go, I'm owning up to it on

[00:24:00] Oren: the podcast. No, I think it's fantastic. I mean in, in, in. Everywhere you look in, in such a creative space, people are always borrowing things and being inspired.

[00:24:08] Oren: And I think it's just an incredible way to be inspired by something and put it into a new format. That's what, I didn't know that and I think it's wonderful.

[00:24:17] Jen: Really cool. Um, it, it went even further because Tom had imagined this sort of, uh, Tarantella thing. He was, he was channeling a Tarantella, this sort of dance of death, this idea that you work yourself up into a frenzy and then, um, and die, dance and dance and dance until you die.

[00:24:31] Jen: And so we even put in, uh, or I wrote this, um, violin sort of obligato solo for the, for the dance sequence in the middle, which again is, is not in the original orchestration, um, but it just, it's a sort of slightly rhapsodic kind of violin feature, um, while the devil character or, or death character is, is casting spells on these poor, hapless souls that He is, uh, um, you know, the one that capitalist, capitalism has ruined or whatever, whatever this story is.

[00:25:05] Jen: Again, again, there, there's a, there's a story implied. I think I

[00:25:08] Oren: remember saying this to you, actually, after I'd seen Cabaret, that I came out and I, I remember saying it was the most immersive production I have ever seen in terms of you, you genuinely feel like you're there in that environment. Kind of, you know, the fly on the wall type thing.

[00:25:28] Oren: And yes, there's a big part because of the acting and stuff, but the, the, it's the music that just pulls you in and it holds you there and it keeps you in that story. And I think that was for me, the first time I had ever experienced something so gripping. And now I'm really happy to know some of the Ins and outs of why that's so.

[00:25:51] Jen: Well, but there's another hugely significant element, and Nick Lidster, the sound designer, deserves all the credit in the world for this. But when you imagine that if you're sitting in a theatre that has a proscenium arch, and the speakers are arranged around the proscenium arch or above, or in some cases within the, within the set, in fact most cases nowadays within the set, you're still getting a, a, a sort of framed picture of it visually as well as orally.

[00:26:18] Jen: You're still sitting outside it like listening to your stereo. The thing about the cabaret thing is that the speakers are all around you and so you're and the band of course are in the space with you um rather than hidden away or whatever. So, so you, you are in it. Do you know what I mean? Literally you're, you might as well be sitting in the pit and, but because that happens physically, you feel like you're in it and you're in the club and the dancers are performing behind you in some cases.

[00:26:47] Jen: What I love about that is that you then become complicit in what's going on with the story because you can't, you're not outside it anymore. You're not safe from it. And as things start to turn nasty and you realise that you think Ernst is just the greatest guy, isn't he great? He's so charming, so lovely, and then he turns out he's a Nazi and it's just, you can't escape, you can't run away, you know, you're stuck and you can't disassociate from it because well, it's just happening over there, you know, I love that aspect of it.

[00:27:18] Jen: I was about to tell a story earlier on about my, my, the lyric I wrote for that song, reduction of music into, into, into lines and dots and things, um, from my Underworld musical. Because before, um, uh, Cabaret happened, I had this idea of, of, uh, I'm not the first person to have this idea, but this particular musical I was writing, um, is set in a speakeasy, um, um, illicit jazz club in the twenties in Chicago.

[00:27:50] Jen: Um, And the idea was going to be that it doesn't even have a performance space. It's just, it's just a club and the performance just happens around, around you. I loved the, the, the way you could blur the edges between audience and um, And so you just feel like you're inhabiting it, like the person next to you could be a performer, then maybe there's an empty seat and the performer comes and sits down, or, or, or maybe it's, you know, somebody who's been given a hat to wear.

[00:28:16] Jen: Just, I, I, I, this idea you could, you could just give random audience members hats to, you know, to make them look like they were, you know. Part of it. And then you would further blur the edges. Anyway, I'm still quite excited about it. And Cabaret, this production of Cabaret, demonstrates just how incredibly effective it is at making you feel like you're not just watching a story, but actually part of it.

[00:28:39] Oren: Oh, absolutely. I really want to go back to Underworld though, because I listened to it and I think it is one of the most fantastic things I've listened to. I adore it, but I'm also a very big fan of sort of speakeasy. I, yeah, I want to know

[00:28:51] Jen: more. I've been working on this project for such a long time. The thing is, for the first ten years, and it's been that long, the first ten years of me writing it, I didn't know what I was doing.

[00:29:03] Jen: I was so, I was not yet connected to the storytelling. And also I'd never read a book about writing or anything like that. And I fancied my chances of doing it myself. And I was so hopeless. Something happened, I don't know when or where or why. And pennies just started dropping in terms of, in terms of writing, in terms of connecting to stuff.

[00:29:23] Jen: And so, and then I started reading books about writing and, and my lyrics started getting a bit better and my connection with, with the emotional side of the storytelling started getting better and then I started getting, um, good people to collaborate with and, and he presto'd that demo, um, which I think you're referring to.

[00:29:39] Jen: Yeah, it's, it's some, some work that I'm very, very I'm proud of and very, very fond of. The problem is, and it's a major problem, and one that I support and agree with, but unfortunately puts me in an awkward position, which is that the idea that I could write 1920s speakeasy musical set in Chicago as a playwright, quite Scottish sort of person.

[00:30:03] Jen: I mean, nobody, you know, I can't, I can't take that to, to the U. S. or to anywhere and have anyone take me seriously. What do I know about Chicago in the 20s? Um, but just, it suited my purposes because, um, it's a Orpheus story, um, and I wanted it to be set somewhere. Um, where I could play with the sort of underworld parallels.

[00:30:23] Jen: Oh, then of course, um, Hadestown came along. Um, and it's, even though it's, it's dramatically different in terms of how it's been interpreted and, and, and the music different as well. Um, it's, it's sufficiently close that, um, when I, I won't mention any institutions, but when I took my musical to a particular place, um, the, the, the knee jerk reaction was, well, it's too similar to Hadestown.

[00:30:48] Oren: I think that the, that how everything is played out and the storytelling within that and the way that the, the music and the lyrics flow into not just sung and spoken, I think it's absolutely fantastic. And I would, have loved to have seen it on a stage.

[00:31:05] Jen: I would love to see it on a stage as well, I have to be honest.

[00:31:07] Jen: But what's really interesting about that for me, and thank you by the way, that's a very, very kind thing to say. And, and I need to be careful as well because, um, I actually played the piano for the auditions for the production of Hadestown that was in, at the National, and met the musical supervisor. So, so I'm not making any value judgment here, I promise you, because as far as I'm concerned, and I believe this wholeheartedly, um, any piece of musical theatre that gets people to come to the theatre is legit as far as I'm concerned, um, whether it's a jukebox musical, whether it's, um, in the case of, of Hadestown, an album that has been, um, you know, a sort of concept album, um, that has been adapted.

[00:31:48] Jen: The, the, the distinction I want to make though is, is in regards to the, the style of song composition. Essentially it's the, the, the, the song structures are, are, um, As you would expect from that kind of music, they're very repetitive refrains, um, and again, no value adjustment, but it's what makes them groovy, it's what makes them really cool, it's what makes them a really, really good fun night in the theatre if, you know, if that's the kind of music that pushes your buttons.

[00:32:19] Jen: Um, but what it means is that there's not an awful lot of inherent storytelling, especially with a repeated refrain, because it can never go anywhere, there's a sort of static quality to the song structure. Um, And I kind of got slightly obsessed with and, and my taste veers towards this sort of more Sondheim y, post Rodgers and Hammerstein kind of, uh, songs that, that, that have a forward momentum, a lyric that can take you somewhere, that, that drops you off somewhere different to where you got on the, the, the bus.

[00:32:53] Jen: Um, And so the very idea of repeated refrain or a chorus that returns unchanged is anathema to that because it can't, it can't take you anywhere dramatically. I mean, the best example is still one of my all time favorites from a very, very troubled musical, but the end of Act One of Carousel, the soliloquy.

[00:33:19] Jen: It's an astonishing piece of musical storytelling in terms of all the chapters it goes through and the revelation. And it breaks my heart every single time because if it's played well, if this character, this troubled, damaged character has this realisation. Anyone who knows the piece will know what I'm talking about.

[00:33:41] Jen: That's what interests me about musical theatre. The way music can bend to and adapt to and also lead you on those musical journeys, on those lyrical journeys, story journeys is what floats my boat and pushes my buttons. And it makes me slightly frustrated at the moment because there's been a huge swing towards, um, Uh, the, the, the.

[00:34:05] Jen: stop the play and sing a song and then start the play again and sing a song. Um, that, that returned to that sort of jukebox style or that, um, uh, pop music style, which, which worked really well for Irving Berlin and Cold Portraiture. I mean, it's not a bad thing. It's just, it's not my preferred, you know, preferred medium, preferred style.

[00:34:28] Jen: Um, so with Underworld, um, I was very much trying to write, uh, a song. Songs that, although it's not through composed, there are scenes, but, but ultimately the songs do a lot of the heavy lifting dramatically. Whereas in the other style, um, the Hadestown style, the, um, well there are plenty of examples, um, Sunshine and Leith is an example.

[00:34:52] Jen: I love Sunshine and Leith because I love the Proclaimers songs. But I do get frustrated in Act II when the songs just keep, the story keeps getting interrupted so we can sing a song for a while. And I much, much prefer if the story keeps going through the songs. So that's what I was trying to do with Underworld.

[00:35:08] Jen: While also doing it in a jazz idiom because it's set predominantly in a jazz club. However, the Orpheus character, his name's Orville. because it's in Chicago in the 20s. Um, he's a classical musician, and so you've got this juxtaposition of classical music and jazz music, and then, and God's music and the devil's music, and let's sort of, and, and night and dark, and black and white, and you name it.

[00:35:31] Jen: Um, sort of working on metaphorical levels is what I'm trying to achieve because I'm trying to do this underworld story, um, of, of Greek mythology while also, um, having a religious background. There's also the Orville's soon to be stepmother, not stepmother, god, what am I trying to say, mother in law, Agnes is, she leads the Temperance Society.

[00:35:55] Jen: So she represents, in inverted commas, good, she's very religious, and of course Hades, Shadey, who runs this bar called Shadey's, which is the metaphor for Hades. It's not a metaphor, it's a Um, Um, is, you know, he represents the, the, the, the devil and, and alcoholism and, and, and having a good time. And Eunice, who's been brought up in this sort of religious, you know, street.

[00:36:22] Jen: You know, cosseted and sort of scorched environment, um, is seduced, obviously, um, by Shady, um, and his speakeasy and his, and the jazz and whatever, because it's a much, much more fun place to be. Um, and so essentially, yes, it's just a, it's a underworld, Orpheus, legend, parallel thing going on. I love that you've listened to it.

[00:36:46] Jen: Thank you very, very much. Um, and just, just to. Finally get around that circle, um, uh, the character Sticks who's trying to teach Orville how to be, um, jazzy, um, that's the premise, but the reality is he's just trying to connect him with his emotional intelligence, um, uh, sings a song about, um, Orville's a classical musician, he's really square and he's really, um, emotionally repressed, have you?

[00:37:14] Jen: Um, and he, he's getting a lesson from Styx and it's not going well. And he says, Oh, for heaven's sake, you know, it's because he's trying to learn jazz. And, and he says to Styx, uh, isn't there a book I can read for it? You know, do you have the sheet music for it? And, and, uh, Styx says, um, It ain't in a book, it ain't on a sheet, nowhere you can look for a hook that cooks, or a beat so sweet that you can't keep your seat.

[00:37:43] Jen: That sound ain't found, notated and bound, enshrined, confined by dots and lines. It ain't the white notes or the blacks, the fact is jazz is in the cracks. And that to me is what I struggled with. Um, in my early 20s going to, and teens, going to piano lessons, um, the dots and lines, the confinement, the, the, the ossification of, of the music that had come out of these people, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, you name it, had to be written down in some fashion and it was the bit that I couldn't do which was making it back into music again.

[00:38:19] Jen: Um, and that's, a lot of jazz musicians or, or non reader musicians have that attitude to music, somehow making it. Um, square, um, and mechanical. But the key thing is to reconstitute it, you know, in the performance. Um, it's, it's, it's just a, it's a mechanism. It's just a means to, to communicate it, you know.

[00:38:44] Jen: But you still have to be able to do that bit. And there are an awful, awful lot of musicians who can't. And I was one of them for a very, very long time.

[00:38:51] Claire: I have a question, which is something that comes up a lot with. Many of my performers, and I think might be relevant to your story because it's about belonging in a style and feeling connected to a style of music but not connected to another and it sounds like you had a little bit of that journey.

[00:39:12] Claire: How you can feel authentic in, and like, you know, you deserve to be there in a space that you don't necessarily feel that comfortable with.

[00:39:24] Jen: That's hilarious because, because I don't. I feel, this is, this is the awful thing about being a sort of multi style kind of player in musical theatre is that I, I quite genuinely believe that I'm not, Eh, good at any of them.

[00:39:38] Jen: I just have enough of the nuts and bolts and, and a lot of musician friends. Uh, in fact, uh, dear friend Paul, uh, Saunders, Clarine LER asked me to write, uh, a couple of pieces of music. He, pieces of music, he's a, a woodwind player. Um, and, and he, uh, teaches woodwind, reers, you know, flip player, cla night player saxophone players.

[00:39:57] Jen: He basically collected, um, a bunch of, um. tunes, wrote most of them himself, but asked some other friends to write some, that covered all the bases that you might encounter in musical theatre, because you can't be a woodwind tribbler with a saxophone and a flute and a clarinet without being able to do that.

[00:40:18] Jen: One minute being Anything Goes, um, the next minute being Cabaret, and then, then being Next Norm, or, no, Next Norm doesn't have a woodwind player, but what am I getting at? Les Mis, you know, Phantom of the Opera, you name it. A lot of theatre musicians need to have those And I believe it's a huge part of my armory.

[00:40:35] Jen: I believe I have the facility to do that because of all these different things that I did. My classical degree while also doing the Working Men's Club and I played in jazz bands. And I did jazz in my year in Massachusetts. I took jazz classes. Um, and so I feel I've got a sort of grounding in all of these things to be able to fake it essentially.

[00:40:57] Jen: Notes won't do it for you, it's how you interpret them, how you add in the, the scoops and squeaks and, and, and the things that, that make something sound like the thing you're trying to recreate. Because unless you know what that thing is, unless you, you've heard it and you're familiar with it, then you're never going to be able to do that because there's no way of writing it down on the page.

[00:41:15] Jen: In terms of being able to authentically recreate something, um, that's out with you, the only way is to, you can't unless you've heard it, do you know what I mean? Because that was the other thing about me when I was a lot younger as a musician, you know, I wasn't a good jazz player because I didn't listen to any.

[00:41:33] Jen: I wasn't a good, um, classical player because I didn't listen to enough. Um, I spent all my time, all my free time doing working men's clubs and folk dances. You know, I played more Cayleys, um, you know, behind the piano than I know how to do. And country and western songs in, in, in, you know, working men's clubs and football clubs and bowling clubs, golf club dances and, you know, and the odd wedding.

[00:41:58] Claire: How do you sit in that though? Are you comfortable with knowing enough and have you. Is that a journey you've taken to become

[00:42:05] Jen: comfortable? Yes, until I'm in the vicinity of somebody who really knows how to do it. Like, if you put me next to a jazz player, then I will just shut my mouth and just sit and respectfully listen and learn.

[00:42:19] Jen: And it's the same with a classical musician, I will just go, you know what I mean? I'm acutely aware of how not good at any of these things I am. Um, but. From a musical theatre perspective, I'm good enough to be able to make it sound like I kind of know what I'm doing, I think. Um, and, and I've had that conversation with a number of musicians that I work with because, you know, though we, we all have our, um, individual strengths, um, uh, and some that we're particularly good at, we all have sufficient grounding and sufficient capacity to, um, to, to fake it, essentially.

[00:42:56] Jen: That's what we're doing. So, I mean, there's an inherent musical ability in that to be able to, you know, rely on, you know, reach into and to, um, but, um, but no, I wouldn't pretend to be, um, an expert in any of them. I'm

[00:43:11] Oren: going to list some things off and I'm going to ask you a follow up question from that because I think this is very interesting what you've just said.

[00:43:16] Oren: So you've worked on Les Mis, Avenue Q, Sunset Boulevard, Phantom, Parade, Cabaret, and then the films of Les Mis, Phantom, and you've done. Some work on x factor. From everything that we've discussed today, you are, you seem to be a very capable, multifaceted, not just musician, but person, with a very diverse range of skills.

[00:43:41] Oren: And I have a quote here from another interview that you did that says, I'm absolutely crippled by imposter syndrome. And I would love to dive into that, because everything that you've kind of explored today, from the outside, I don't get that. I don't see you as this person, as this imposter, but I'm really curious from your perspective to understand how you see

[00:44:03] Jen: that.

[00:44:04] Jen: The weird thing about being a musical director now is with budgets getting ever smaller and people not understanding what musicians do, and also not wanting to pay for musicians. Oh my god, bands are getting small and, and, and budgets for orchestration, but for copying, you know, because, and also as, as the technology has advanced, it's been possible to offer all these things.

[00:44:27] Jen: So, for example, as an MD, used to be all you would want to be able to do is probably play the piano, probably conduct a bit, and probably know your way around a score, you know, and maybe if you know a wee bit about how the music relates to the storytelling that's a, you know, an advantage, but there are plenty of MDs who don't know that and just interpret it musically.

[00:44:48] Jen: Um, um, but on several productions now I have not only I mean, let's leave the composition aside. I have written the music, but, but, but on most of them I've done some degree of orchestration, um, some degree of copying. So that's Sibelius for me on my laptop or my desktop. Um, uh, I'm a composer. Avid Sebelius user.

[00:45:14] Jen: That's funny. 'cause Avid now owns Bilion . Yes. I'm, I'm an avid, avid Sebelius user. That's a niche joke. Um, um, somebody's gonna get it. Yeah, absolutely. Somebody So, so, yes. Um. Arranger, orchestrator, copyist, um, you know, note, Sibelius user. For La Cage aux Folles, which I've just done, and for Cabaret, I programmed the Pro Tools tempo maps for the click tracks that we used, because I do a lot of Pro Tools stuff, and I do a lot of demos of my compositions, whether it's orchestral compositions or, um, or, or stuff that I've, uh, written for something that people need to hear.

[00:45:54] Jen: Um, I do that on Pro Tools, so I, so I know Pro Tools a bit and I've got a lot of sample libraries that I've, I've collected over the years. So I do a bit of sampling. Um, uh, I am a conductor, I'm a pianist, um, There, there are others. Um, I'm, I'm, I'm not a vocal coach, as Claire will attest, but it's a huge part of, of, of the, of the job as well.

[00:46:17] Jen: Um, and also I know a wee bit about sound because, you know, I, I have, I had a studio, I, I have a studio ish at home, um, with a collection of microphones and cables and, and, and you name it. Um, but I am not an expert at any of those things. I, I literally have, they're all, I'm self taught in all of them except for the, the musical piano playing stuff.

[00:46:40] Jen: We're obviously eye teachers, but, but the proto stuff, the Sibelius stuff, the, um, sound stuff, the recording, um, everything I'm, I'm fudging. And, and I would be instantly shown up if I was in a room with somebody who genuinely knows what they're doing with any of these things. Because, you know, there are Sibelius.

[00:47:00] Jen: experts. There are Pro Tools experts that, um, and, and I've, my, the gaps in my knowledge are laughably huge.

[00:47:09] Oren: I, I, I mean, I, I have the same experience. I, I wouldn't classify myself really as an expert in any one particular thing, but I know many, many things. I can program, I can, you know, compose a little bit, I can play the piano a little bit, vocal coach, whatever.

[00:47:25] Oren: I guess I'm, I'm sort of okay with that. Because actually I think it makes my output better and I would argue in your case It also makes your output better the work that you create and the creativity you have as a result of knowing lots of really technical things and really complex things Makes what you're creating better than one person that knows absolutely in depth everything about a piece of software but then ultimately doesn't know how to go and utilize that in You In a creative space or in a production space.

[00:48:00] Oren: So I think, I don't know, I think from my perspective, imposter syndrome is sort of not what people think, but also I understand why people think the

[00:48:12] Jen: way it is. I think to be a musical director in musical theatre, knowing a little bit, given that it is such a major collaborative. industry with all of these different aspects.

[00:48:23] Jen: You know, Nick Lidster and I, he's the sound designer of Cabaret, and La Casual Fall, we're able to talk about certain things at a certain level because I know a little bit about sound. Um, same with, with the proto stuff. Um, and, uh, Jason Carr revisited his orchestrations for La Casual Fall and, and I offered a couple of little, tiny little nuggets in the orchestration.

[00:48:45] Jen: Uh, Cabaret, I did some orchestra, some extra orchestrations. Um, so I'm able to talk. You know, on a certain level with an orchestrator, but somebody like, um, Simon Hale, um, astonishing, astonishing orchestrator, um, there are, there are countless, countless more talented people than me is what I'm getting at. Um, and, and yes, I cannot go into a room and say, I'm good at this.

[00:49:12] Jen: Because I don't believe I am, because I know, and I swear to God, this is where the imposter syndrome thing came from, and I still believe this. When I was writing music in my teens, it was bad. I mean, it was so naive, so incredibly naive. But I would never play any of it. And do you know, the reason I don't play, the reason I, I haven't sent Underworld to enough people.

[00:49:35] Jen: I haven't shown it to enough people. Or The Famished Land, or any of the other pieces I've done. Because, as long as Stravinsky existed, or John Williams, I used to say John Williams. You know, it's like, why am I trying to write film music from John Williams, or Thomas Newman, or, you know, Michael Giacchino, or whoever.

[00:49:57] Jen: You know, people who I admire exist. I sort of, I sort of just believe myself to be. not as good as them, and so I kind of, I kind of go, why? I think there's a couple of things

[00:50:10] Claire: in there that, I mean I think this is something that so many of the artists that I work with experience, this, why, why would I go there if that person can sing this that much better?

[00:50:22] Claire: And I think, well immediately, because my whole life is filled with Hamilton quotes, immediately I have a Hamilton quote for you, which is, The world is wide enough for you and Stravinsky. Absolutely. Um, but secondly, and it's coming back to what you're suggesting, Oren, that there is, and it has taken me most of my professional life to realise this, Your power, your strength and your unique skills lie in the power of other, in, in the power of the fact that it is the very mix of skills that you have in the ratio that you have them in that makes you uniquely you.

[00:51:03] Claire: And that is right for the environment you walk into. That is what you bring for the environment you walk into. And, and that's right for, you know, my, my collection of skills is right for most of the people I meet, but not all of them. And that's okay. You know, we're not right for every situation. You're absolutely right for the cabaret situation because you've absolutely been a key part of the creation.

[00:51:32] Claire: Yeah.

[00:51:33] Jen: Yeah, yeah, I, I think I got lucky with that one. And I think it has, it has yielded results in terms of what's happened in the, in the year and a bit since. Um, in terms of the phone ringing and the emails arriving. Um, but can I tell you, as evidence of my imposter syndrome, the fact that you said there's room for me and Stravinsky, I think I will, I will worry about that and I will not sleep tonight because that is going to go on a podcast and some, and my name, I'm going to sound so presumptuous that my name should be in the same paragraph as Stravinsky.

[00:52:08] Jen: You're the

[00:52:09] Claire: only one assuming that we have to put the two things side by side. Why do we have to put them side by side? I mean, I put

[00:52:17] Jen: them in that phrase. Alright. Yes. You put them in the phrase just, it's, it's . I, I swear to God I got a shiver. 'cause it like God, how I wanna swear. How presumptuous, how do you know?

[00:52:27] Jen: Arrogant. Do you know? Once upon a

[00:52:29] Oren: time , you might feel exactly the same thing. I was just gonna say that, and I think this, so this I, you know, I didn't really articulate it well before. Um, but I think this is like everybody is. Everybody suffers to some degree, I think, with imposter syndrome. But, you know, I'm such a hypocrite because I fully do as well.

[00:52:49] Oren: But then when I look at somebody else that is suffering from imposter syndrome, and I look at all of the skills that they have and all of the things that they've achieved, and all of the amazing things that they're doing, I'm just looking at that and I'm like, How do you not realise how amazing you are?

[00:53:06] Oren: How do you not realise that you are perfectly situated in Exactly, as you said, exactly where you need to be because you have the exact right recipe, ratio of skills for that. And I think you, I mean, you articulate it fantastically, but it's, yeah, but I'm such a hypocrite because I do it to myself.

[00:53:24] Jen: But what if I told you that's not where I'd rather be?

[00:53:29] Jen: Well, you want to be a pilot? No, I don't. Yes. Yes. No, I want my composing to be earning me enough money that I could have taken some, you know, pilot. lessons and, uh, flying lessons and, and, and bought my own plane. But, um, you know, I, I, I wanted to be writing film scores. And, um, and I would have needed to, perhaps if I'd found this emotional intelligence that I, I seem to think I have, or this connection that I, I'm pretending that I have.

[00:54:01] Jen: Earlier I might have been able to push harder for that, but I think I'm definitely better at it now. Which kind of is what happens, you grow up essentially, you develop all these things. But no, I wanted to be writing music for films and still do. And the musical theatre thing came along and I started earning money quite early.

[00:54:20] Jen: and started doing quite well out of that. And, and I got stuck. Because what I would have had to do is get rid of the money and the growing career and go and make the tea in the corner of a studio or become an assistant to somebody. But I was having fun doing musical theatre stuff and conducting. I mean, I conducted.

[00:54:44] Jen: Do you know, it's funny, we've skipped on from the how did I get to be here? I haven't even told my story about getting to, getting to London. Just, just turned 26. Um, which is, which is not young nowadays. I mean, because there are people arriving in the West End conducting at 21, 22, because they've been in such and such a musical theatre course and whatever, you know, but back then I was coming from Scotland, where I'd been trying to work in Scotland for a while, um, post university, and then Find my way to London, um, which is my big origin story, although it's funny because that was the, that event was the, the trigger, the, the sort of the, the once in a lifetime event that resulted in it, but weirdly it was all the things that I had worked to, you know, it was all the sort of composite elements that made me the person that was of interest.

[00:55:32] Jen: Um, I'd better explain. So, um, I'm probably in my early 20s, um, mid 20s, yeah, early 20s, 22, 23, just out of university. Um, and I've got this background in, in playing folk music, this background in working with clubs, background in theatre and pantomime, etc. Um, it means I can play from chord charts, I can, um, improvise, um, accompaniments in, in a variety of different styles already by this point.

[00:56:00] Jen: Um, and also I've been listening to musical theatre. because, um, I was just interested in it. My, my, we had musical theatre stuff on in the house. My mum and dad had taken me to theatre shows since I was, you know, knee high. Um, so there was an interest in theatre. So I, I had a huge breadth of musical experience by the time I, I got out at the other end of university and I'd started working in musical theatre in Scotland, um, albeit a smaller scene.

[00:56:28] Jen: And, um, a fabulous, uh, Glasgow piano player called Hil, Hilary Blu, Brooks. Hilary Brooks, um, uh, had double booked herself. She was supposed to be playing for auditions for the Cameron McIntosh organisation in Glasgow and had double booked herself and she asked me to see if I could go and play for these auditions.

[00:56:49] Jen: Um, and it was at a time, this was the early 90s, um, Cameron's office still did regional open auditions to find casts for Phantom and Les Mis, which were their two biggies at the time, obviously. And so I turn up, very, very green, very, very naive, but I'm sat behind the piano, and Trevor Jackson was there.

[00:57:14] Jen: This is, what, 30 years ago nearly? And the key thing, it was open edition, so there's like 300 people queued around the block. Um, and these people are from every walk of life. Um, and they've just, we, I mean, there's some amazing stories of people who just joined the queue and turned up and, and said, you know, what are you going to sing?

[00:57:33] Jen: Oh, I don't know. Um, you know, because they didn't know what they were there for, but, you know, yeah. Um, there's some, there's some great stories. Fantastic stories. We had a guy, I swear to God, sang Walking in the Air. He was, he had tattoos and he had a vest top on and he sang Walking in the Air at, you know, the Boy Soprano pitch because it was the only song he could think of.

[00:57:51] Jen: So I accompanied it because I was, you know, accustomed to busking and what have you. So, so I didn't think anything of it apart from the fact I did a perfectly lovely day playing the piano and I seemed to be getting on all right with, with these people. Turns out that the night before, the day before they'd been in Manchester and they'd had somebody from the RNCM in Manchester, who was a classical pianist, who was completely out of their depth.

[00:58:14] Jen: Now I'm sure they were technically magnificent but they didn't know the repertoire, they couldn't play from chord charts, they couldn't busk, they couldn't play poppy stuff or country stuff or whatever. I, I had that because of this peculiar upbringing I'd had. I just had fingers in all of these pies, albeit non experts in any of them, but, but enough, you know, know how to be able to kind of, you know, make it up.

[00:58:39] Jen: So I did that day, um, and then went back home to Scotland. Um, the following year, maybe two years later, I get a call to do it again, but this time they want me to come to all of the venues, because they don't want to pick up a pianist in each venue, because They'd had bad experiences, so they asked me if I'd done them all.

[00:58:59] Jen: And I, this time, just said to Trevor Jackson, is there anyone you can introduce me to in London? I'd really like to come down. And he did. Um, introduced me to, um, Sylvia Addison and Maurice Cambridge, who were two of the most prominent, um, Um, and to a certain extent still are. Um, and um, I got an interview and auditioned for Showboat at the Prince Edward.

[00:59:23] Jen: Uh, and ended up third keyboard player and second assistant musical director. And I actually conducted it. Um, so I came down to London, this is 98. Um, it was in May and I conducted the show in August. It was the only one time I did it before it came off because it was only the emergency conductor, the second assistant.

[00:59:40] Jen: But I. Um, and that's how I translated all of that weird bizarre upbringing into actually getting down to down to London and then things just spiralled from there. And what's really funny about, we're here on Carlyle Street off Dean Street and I had a cup of coffee at Café Nero opposite the stage door of the Prince Edward, which is where I did my first ever London job.

[01:00:08] Jen: So it was kind of funny coming here to talk about this and actually being in the room where it happened, or the place where it happened. We have two questions for you. Yes.

[01:00:20] Claire: We don't know what one of them is. Yes. Okay, so question one is, the show is called Five Minute Call. Can we ask you, what do you do at the Five

[01:00:28] Jen: Minute Call?

[01:00:29] Jen: At the Five Minute Call, invariably, I am struggling to get into my costume, stroke, suit, stroke, whatever I'm doing. Um, and makeup. The only time I wear makeup is when I'm performing. Um, because I spent too long going around the rooms to see the company, or, um, at a last minute rehearsal, or, um, I'm invariably late, um, because I haven't left enough time to get ready because of the stuff that MDs need to do before.

[01:01:09] Jen: before they go on. Uh, checking, checking that the, the, uh, I mean on cabaret, for example, checking that the depths, um, are right. Checking that we've got the right keys on the stand, because we, we did a, the understudies had different keys. Um, things like that. So every

[01:01:24] Oren: guest, writes a question for the next guest.

[01:01:29] Oren: That's terrifying. I'm really excited as to what this is.

[01:01:32] Claire: Oh, if you had to, underlined had, what one thing would you get rid of in the industry? And they've added three kisses just to sweeten

[01:01:40] Jen: the If I had to What one thing would I get rid of in the industry? Are we talking musical theatre? Okay, no, here's, here's, There are layers to this answer, or at least there are deeper hidden layers in this answer, but what I would get rid of, um, what I struggle with regularly is this snobbery.

[01:02:07] Jen: with regard to musical theatre from other forms of theatre, other forms of music, other forms of art. Um, and the, the, one of the layers to that is because sometimes musical theatre deserves it. Because we don't serve ourselves terribly well by not hiring people who know what they're doing in certain areas.

[01:02:28] Jen: Um, whether that's composers, songwriters, lyricists, actors. We constantly hamstring ourselves. Um, people look down their noses at musical theatre and say, Oh, it's a bit empty or it's a bit this or, or, you know, the acting's not very good or whatever. And it's because very often it isn't. How can we expect to take musical theatre seriously if we're going to cast?

[01:02:48] Jen: you know, people that are just going to put bums in seats. Now, I understand bums in seats, I understand producing, I understand money, I understand all of that. Um, I understand it acutely, um, given the work I'm doing just now. Um, but I would, yes, so broadly, uh, I, I wish to get rid of the snobbery, but I also wish to get rid of the stuff that is constantly undercutting as an art form because musical theatre at its best, um, is sublime and is life changing and I've been incredibly lucky to work on some astonishing productions, um, recently that have genuinely made a difference, um, and changed people's views and thoughts and, and, um, and, and demonstrate the power, uh, the transcendent power of, of music and drama together.

[01:03:38] Jen: Thank

[01:03:39] Claire: you so much for

[01:03:40] Jen: coming, sharing your story. Thank you for having me. And sorry, it didn't make an awful lot of sense. No, it did. It made so

[01:03:46] Claire: much sense. Absolutely did. And it's so wonderful for us all to hear each other's stories. Certainly, I am very passionate about this idea of the power of other and what we all bring to the industry that makes it as special as it is.

[01:03:59] Claire: So thank you for sharing your story.

[01:04:00] Oren: There's absolutely people out there that are going to listen to this and go, I experienced this, I experienced these problems, I'm, I'm in this mindset or I'm in this, this situation. And I think what you shared today is so valuable to people. So genuinely, genuinely, thank you.

[01:04:17] Oren: Thank you


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