John McDaniel celebrates his 60th birthday February 26. To celebrate, Playbill asked the Emmy-winning musical director to spotlight one theatrical moment from each of his six decades.
Check out his memories below.
I will never forget the first time I stepped onto a stage. I participated in a children’s theatre group at the Webster Groves Theatre Guild in St. Louis and I played a Kingsman in our final play. I marched onto the stage singing, “We’re looking for the Unicorn!” “Onion-corn?” “Unicorn!” I felt the lights hit me, heard the audience roar with laughter, and I knew right then and there that I would spend my life in the theatre.
When I was 15, I saw my first show on Broadway, The Magic Show at the Cort, and was handed my very first Playbill. The performance had a transformative, almost bewildering effect on me, and I spent the next day walking up Broadway loudly singing every bit I could remember from “Lion Tamer” and “West End Avenue.” Many years later I had the good fortune to work with director and choreographer Grover Dale, and to my delight, I now call Stephen Schwartz a friend.
I was 24 when I got my first music director gig on a cruise ship, and the first guest artist I had the pleasure of conducting for was Cab Calloway. Wow! We hit it off, he taught me what a Basie ending was, and I think he saw a spark in me that he recognized, having been a bandleader himself in his '20s. Honorable mention: when I was 28, I made my New York conducting debut with Blame It On The Movies Off-Broadway and appeared in my very first Playbill.
In 1993, I was 32 years old when I had the honor of conducting the original cast of Company in concert at Lincoln Center, benefiting Broadway Cares and directed by Hal Prince. The first day of rehearsal, there was a special magic in the air when I led Elaine, Donna, Beth, Pam, Charlie, George and Dean (!) and the rest of that unique and stellar cast through the opening number as each of them began to remember and dread their “Bobby Baby”s. Pinch me. I think I can still hear the sold-out crowd cheering.
In 2002, we wrapped production on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, for which I had led the band for its six-year run, mingling with and conducting for so many of my idols including Billy Joel, Tony Bennett, Madonna, and Barry Manilow, as well as musically supporting every Broadway show performance we featured. It was a dream job, for sure.
So many high points in this decade including Catch Me If You Can and Bonnie & Clyde on Broadway, but the one for me that felt extra special was the 2016 world premiere of Brave New World in Asheville, North Carolina, for which I composed the score alongside the lyrics of Broadway’s Bill Russell. The show was received beautifully, selling out nightly. This annoying pandemic has temporarily shelved our plans to bring the show to New York, but stay tuned!
Check out McDaniel’s next Sunday Tea with John McD on March 7 at 3 PM ET on Facebook Live.