Just before the new year, my friend and frequent collaborator, Eli Bolin, contacted me to see if I was free to music-direct a cabaret with comedy writer, podcaster, singer, and creator/star of Hulu's Difficult People, Julie Klausner. They were writing a couple songs together for the show, and her go-to MD, Jon Spurney, had moved to Los Angeles during the pandemic. I jumped at the opportunity, not knowing exactly what it would entail. But Julie and I proved to be great creative partners, and fast friends. And after a sold-out run at both Joe's Pub and City Winery, I can easily say it has been one of the most rewarding projects in recent memory; certainly, the best post-pandemic concert I could have hoped for.
As I was finishing up our third iteration of A Connecticut Christmas Carol at Goodspeed this past December, I was suddenly approached by my friend and colleague Ethan Heard, faculty directing advisor at Yale School of Drama, to step in last-minute to music-direct a new production of the cult musical Alice by Tom Waits and his wife, Kathleen Brennan. The story behind the show was perhaps as interesting as the musical itself, and both were new to me. With a concept by legendary experimental theatre creator Robert Wilson and a libretto by famed author and translator Paul Schmidt in the early 90s, Alice opened in Hamburg, Germany, before touring around Europe and very briefly at BAM before disappearing like the titular character down the rabbit hole. Waits began folding in songs from the musical into his live sets before recording a concept album in 2002, but the recordings were all in his voice, with little to no connection to their onstage antecedents. The only artifacts from the famed European tour (outside perhaps a few protected archival recordings) only exist online due to the songwriter's car being broken into in late 1992.
Enter director, Logan Ellis.
Ellis, who grew up both as a Tom Waits fan and a classical violist, had a few connections to the piece before choosing it as his graduate thesis at Yale School of Drama. A mentor from his days in a youth symphony happened to be the violinist on Tom's concept album; she was also his cousin, and provided him a means of contact. Schmidt, who wrote the (German) libretto when it toured Europe in the 90s, was a professor at Yale later in life, and released the English translation in a university publication. With rights approved, a talented creative team, and a cast of MFA candidates, Logan just needed someone to take on the musical reins, after a student music-director had to step down due to illness. Logan and I had a great chat on the phone, and I was brought on board.
There were no theatrical arrangements or orchestrations for the show whatsoever; the only materials given to us by the music publishers were what I call "songbook" arrangements, based off the 2002 concept album, and a couple lead sheets of incidental tunes. The music didn't match the libretto, nor did the materials specify the gender of characters, or vocal designations. My favorite detail was a list of instruments (some quite obscure) that Waits used in his recording, and instructions that basically said, "have fun!" That may seem frustrating, but it was very liberating to the team; we had the freedom to basically do whatever we wanted. I reconstructed the score from the ground up, trying to preserve some semblance of the "Tom Waits Sound" while making the arrangements approachable to the audience, and in service of the book. I was given six talented student musicians, and wrote an orchestration to feature them as best as I could. Thankfully, my work was deemed a success, with some especially kind words from my old boss, Michael O'Flaherty, who came in from Goodspeed to see the show Opening Night.
Concept by Robert Wilson
Music and Lyrics by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan
Libretto by Paul Schmidt
Directed by Logan Ellis
Music Direction, Arrangements, and Orchestration by Dan Pardo
Costume Design by Meg Powers
Scenic Design by Anna Grigo
Lighting Design by Riva Fairhall
Sound Design by Dakota Stipp
Projection Design by Brittany Bland
Production Dramaturgy by Evan Hill
Technical Director: HaoEn Hu
Stage Manager: Bekah Brown
Photos by T. Charles Erickson.
Robert Lee Hart
Ilia Isorelýs Paulino
John Evans Reese
Jackeline Torres Cortés
Jillian Emerson – Cello
Nate Huvard – Guitars/Banjo
Dan Pardo – Piano/Celeste/Concertina/Melodica
Some press about ALICE
Hartford Courant: 'Cult Musical Alice with songs by Tom Waits gets rare production at Yale School of Drama'
New Haven Review: 'Call Me Up in Dreamland: Review of Alice, Yale School of Drama'
"Filtering the adventures of Alice through Waits and Brennan’s Beat carnival sensibility provides a curious and delicious oddity not to be missed. Then filter those songs through arrangements by music director Dan Pardo as sung by some fine voices from the Yale School of Drama that lend them the heft and glow of opera and Broadway and that indeed should be attraction enough.” –Donald Brown, New Haven Review
Yale Daily News: 'Watch Her Disappear: A Review of Alice at Yale School of Drama'
Of all my collaborations with the great Eli Bolin (Found, Co-op, Wally Flynn, Volleygirls, Skippyjon Jones, In the Air, Schmoozy Togetherness, etc.) the most exciting and high-profile project came this summer in the form of a children's musical variety show, helmed by one of the biggest names in comedy, John Mulaney. After the success of Original Cast Album: Co-op, which garnered both an Emmy nomination and cult fandom, John called on Eli again to write songs for his newest Netflix project, John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch. Co-written with John's longtime SNL collaborator Marika Sawyer and directed by Documentary Now founder Rhys Thomas, the special dropped on Dec. 24 after a lot of anticipation and an aggressive media blitz, including a billboard in Times Square! Starring John, 15 incredible kids, and an impressive list of guest stars (Jake Gyllenhaal, André de Shields, David Byrne, Richard Kind, Annaleigh Ashford, and Natasha Lyonne), the show quickly earned a 100% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and jumped to the top 10 Spotify soundtracks. I music-directed the special alongside Mike Pettry, who orchestrated and produced the album; Mike has been another one of Eli's frequent collaborators through the years, having worked on Found, Volleygirls, and an original Christmas piece called The Last Song of Eddie Scourge. Perhaps the greatest gift of the entire special was the trust that John gave me and Eli to hire our own musicians and background vocalists. We utilized the talents our favorite people, including Found alumni Orville Mendoza and Nick Blaemire, Story Pirates bassist Brendan O'Grady, and our amazing wives, Allison and Chrissy.
"“There’s so much care and craft in Sack Lunch Bunch. All the musical numbers work, and occasionally they’re breathtakingly good.” – Kathryn VanArendonk, VULTURE
THE NEW YORK TIMES: A Comedy Special for Kids That Gets Their Dark Sense of Humor
"The highlights are the stylishly shot musical numbers led by these youngsters, including a Busby Berkeley-inspired ode to noodles and a little bit of butter, the only food worth eating, according to Orson Hong, a white-suited kid who delivers his song with irresistible panache." – Jason Zinoman, THE NEW YORK TIMES
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch” is a brilliant, multi-layered piece of performance art.
"If you only watch one hour of television this week, make it this ridiculously silly comedy special from Big Mouth's John Mulaney. John, who has no kids of his own but seems to have a general understanding of how they work, made this variety kids program featuring musical numbers, skits, and scenes of John just hanging out with young'uns. There were at least three parts that were so funny that I was left gasping for air and nearly died. It was worth it, and I will risk my life again." – Tim Surrette, TV GUIDE
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch: A Children's Show for Grown-Ups
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: John Mulaney, some huge guest stars, and a group of talented kids bring a quirky, hilarious, musical children's TV special to Netflix
"The songs are complex and catchy, producing earworms in an assortment of genres, guaranteed to leave you either humming full tunes or just repeating the phrase "Let's all see what's on kids' minds / The guest star's name is Richard Kind" from the opening song over and over again." – Daniel Fienberg, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
SALON: John Mulaney's 'Sack Lunch Bunch' is a peculiar holiday gift that's a combo of 'Mister Rogers' and 'SNL'
"A sincere showcase for talented children's unblemished imaginations, John Mulaney's Netflix special makes for a sharply funny send-off to 2019" – Ben Travers, INDIEWIRE
THE AV CLUB: The Sack Lunch Bunch is an unconventional package, but its ingredients are pure John Mulaney
"The real highlight of John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch, however, are the musical numbers... The songs are weird but funny, and never resort to cheap jokes or gross-out humor, as much as comedy writers seem to think that children saying inappropriate things is the height of hilarity." – Gena Radcliffe, THE SPOOL
For the first time in four years, I was able to stay in NYC over the summer, music-directing the Off-Broadway show I Spy a Spy by Jamie Jackson (book and lyrics) and SoHee Youn (music and lyrics). Directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino (Cagney, Desperate Measures, among others) it was a charming romantic comedy with elements of farce and pathos, but didn't quite find its audience, despite a fun, eclectic score and some terrific performances; we closed early, on August 10.
Last week, I came back from conducting a completely revamped production of Working at ACT of CT, a beautiful theatre in Ridgefield, celebrating its inaugural season. Led by Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine, Music Supervisor Bryan Perri, and Executive Director Katie Diamond, ACT was able to get special permission from the legendary Stephen Schwartz, who is both a Ridgefield resident and a member of their advisory board, to make serious rewrites to the book, and conduct 12 new interviews with local workers. They were beautifully integrated into the show through the use of a truly impressive video and projection design, making the musical a contemporary celebration of American Workers, instead of a time capsule period piece, which is a trap of the performing Working in its original version, written in the late 70s.
For me, the score still holds up tremendously well, so that stayed lovingly intact, with some minor structural changes, one new arrangement, and the inclusion of two newer songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the 2011 London Revival. With a versatile cast of six and a four-piece rock combo, I was so pleased with how the show sounded. I was also lucky to work alongside my wife Chrissy, who served as the standby for all three female tracks.
THE NEWTOWN BEE: ACT Production Employs Updated, Localized 'Working' to Great Effect
"The cast is uniformly strong and vocally gifted. A live orchestra, under the direction of Dan Pardo, is superb accompaniment for the skilled performers."
TALKIN' BROADWAY: Everything comes together beautifully in ACT's production of WORKING
"The off-stage orchestra sounds fabulous, led by the masterful music director Dan Pardo, and, incredibly, even the individual songs written by so many different composers form a unified whole."
NEW HAVEN REVIEW: Reworked WORKING Works at ACT of CT
"With such a range of musical collaborators, the songs are varied in their styles, but all land with a snap, and the unseen musicians pack a punch for what is essentially a rock band."
BROADWAY WORLD: WORKING at CT of CT
"The talented live orchestra is led by conductor Dan Pardo on keyboards, and also features Matt Hinkley on electric and acoustic guitars, Arnold Gottlieb on electric and acoustic bass, and Dennis Arcano on drums and percussion."
Was so happy to return to GOODSPEED MUSICALS this winter to spend a second holiday season conducting A Connecticut Christmas Carol, written by two of my mentors, Michael O'Flaherty and Larry Fecho. Directed by the great Hunter Foster, it was a nice mix of new and old. Some notable changes:
As an added bonus, Bob was kind enough to sit down with me and have a chat for my web series, Pardo's Turn. If you haven't seen it yet, please enjoy!
Fun Home came to a close this week, after nearly two months of pure bliss in scenic Vermont. The show, which served as the inaugural Equity production in Weston's new performance space, Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, was a huge hit, and a joy for me to conduct. The houses were full and responsive; the reviews were fantastic, and the entire company - from the actors and musicians to the designers and run crew - got along famously. The show, directed by Malcolm Ewen, proved to be his last while serving as one of Weston's Founding Directors, along Tim Fort and Steve Stettler.
THE BARRE MONTPELIER TIMES ARGUS: Weston's 'Fun Home' Goes Straight to the Heart
"Dan Pardo, the music director, led the excellent five-piece pit band at the rear of the stage."
SEVEN DAYS - VERMONT'S INDEPENDENT VOICE: In This Home
"Transitions into song are elegant, and every word is spoken with the emotional freedom of music. The score by Jeanine Tesori quotes Motown and Chopin but chiefly moves energetically between plaintive and joyous."
THE CHESTER TELEGRAPH: 'Fun Home' is a must-see theater experience; a witty, endearing musical of serious themes
"Director Malcolm Ewen, with excellent assist from Music Director Dan Pardo, brings life and pace to this short chamber piece. They have honed this fine cast into a perfect ensemble that presents us with a vibrant, rhythmic evening of musical pastiche and a courageous story tempered by irony and tenderness."
I am so excited to share that my new web series, Pardo's Turn, is officially live on its own YouTube Channel! With each episode, I will analyze a great song from the musical theatre canon from a music director's point of view. I'll approach questions like, "what does the melody reveal about the character," or "how does the music support the lyric at this moment?" I'll talk about the significance of a song's harmonization, meter, or rhythmic motives, and hopefully I'll do it all in a way that's enjoyable, approachable, and informative. Then, I'll get someone cool to sing and discuss it with me. I was so honored to have the incredible Chuck Cooper, Tony Award-Winner for The Life, and recently seen in MTC's "Prince of Broadway" as my inaugural guest. We had a great time discussing Ol' Man River from the landmark musical Show Boat, and even had a laugh or two. I filmed episode #2 with the brilliant Nancy Anderson yesterday, and have exciting guests waiting in the wings for future episodes, like as James Snyder, Ellen Harvey, and F. Michael Haynie. SQUEE!!!
Earlier this month, I finished up a reading of a fascinating new musical, Stepchild, by David Boyd and Chad Kessler. Performed at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center as a part of the Rough Draft Festival, it was a riff on the Cinderella fairy tale, but set in the Italian Renaissance, with a deaf central character, named Orella. The Prince and the Fairy Godmother were also brilliantly portrayed by deaf actors, and the rest of the talented ensemble cast were hearing/hard of hearing actors, proficient in American Sign Language (ASL). The story was told for a diverse audience in various combinations of singing, signing, and captioned performances, and received a tremendous response. It was great to reconnect with some old friends, too, including multi-instrumentalist Joe Brent and director Kim Weild.
It was so great to be back up at Goodspeed Musicals, my theatrical home, to music-direct a piece written by two of my biggest mentors: Michael O'Flaherty, Goodspeed's resident music director, and Larry Fecho, artistic director of Genesius Theater (which O'Flaherty co-founded in 1971, and where I grew up on and offstage). Hunter Foster directed, and Lisa Shriver providing the choreography and musical staging. The five-piece orchestration was masterfully done by my friend and colleague, Dan DeLange, with a superb cast led by Lenny Wolpe (Scrooge) and Michael Thomas Holmes (the Ghosts). With rave audience reviews (no critics are allowed at the developmental Terris Theatre), we fully expect A Connecticut Christmas Carol to become a perennial event for people in the "Greater Central Region of the Constitution State!"