S: I'm a smiley person with a passion for theatre and music. I’m a musical director, musician, actor, and singer.
R: What are some projects you’ve worked on or are currently working on?
S: I was the violist on the national tour of Spring Awakening. I performed as a sub pianist in the award-winning Off-Broadway revival of Closer Than Ever, directed by one of the show's creators, Richard Maltby, Jr. I was the musical director and conductor of the recent North American tour of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical. I also played Keyboard 1 on the world premiere recording of that show, which features Broadway veterans Patrick Page as The Grinch and John Cullum as Old Max. Most recently, I musically directed and conducted a 3-week run of My Fair Lady at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre in Singapore.
R: Have you always known you wanted to do what you’re doing with music?
S: I didn't always think I would be doing what I do. I have always loved music and I have always loved theatre. They are two things I've done my whole life. I didn't know that it could become a career choice for me, but I knew I wanted to keep doing what I love. It wasn't until I was older that I learned there is a job in theatre called a musical director. A musical director helps shape the show musically and oversees everything that involves the music in a particular production. Therefore, in musical theatre, which employs song and dance to set itself apart from being a straight play, a musical director is essential to the show and completes the creative team triumvirate that includes the director and choreographer. It's a position that involves everything I love to do. It was natural for me to try my luck at it.
S: I don't think I'll ever have the feeling of "making it." There are goals that I would like to reach, but I think that if I keep doing good and consistent work, I will be content. So far, my work has spoken for itself and I am proud about that. I'm always looking ahead, trying to see how I can improve and do better the next time I do a show. In that sense, I'm always learning and evolving with each gig I take. I'm happy with where I am, but I'm optimistic and excited about where I can go.
R: What’s the practical next step to reaching those goals?
S: My next step is to pound the pavement. Making connections, getting seen and heard, doing good gigs. It's the part of the job I feel least comfortable about since I'm shy and modest when it comes to networking. But I will have to just brave the storm so that I can get that next gig. I'm not terribly worried about it even if there is uncertainty. It's all part of the business.
R: What’s your biggest source of creative inspiration?
S: Definitely the people I get to work with when I do a production of a show. I constantly get inspired by actors, directors, choreographers, musicians. There is so much talent that it's hard not to be in awe and find some spark of inspiration. In theatre, we thrive off of creative ideas and choices bouncing back and forth. It's a total collaboration. When performing a show, I'm even inspired by the way the stage manager times a light cue or the intricacy of the work of the sound mixer or the great care that the wardrobe supervisor takes to get everything look just right. All of the different kinds of talent in the theatre inspires me to be a better theatre artist.
R: What’s the biggest creative failure you’ve had?
S: In show business, there's so much rejection that you have to have a strong hide to stick with it. There are certainly auditions I wish I'd performed better or shows I wish I'd played better or notes I wish I'd sung better, but the thing about live theatre is that it happens, it is experienced by whoever is in the room, and then it disappears. With that in mind, all of my tiny failures are already out of mind, out of sight. You just have to keep moving forward.
"Hero and Leander" from Myths and Hymns
S: I'm pretty proud of the time I had to step into Closer Than Ever. Closer Than Ever is a wonderful musical revue by David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr. originally produced in 1989. I have always been a big fan of the show. It was revived Off-Broadway in 2012 and directed by Maltby. I received an email from the show's musical director saying that within a week, he would need someone to fill in for him. Knowing the difficulty of the score, I learned the music as quickly as I could. Not only does the pianist for this show have to play what someone once described to me as "the equivalent of a two hour Rachmaninoff piano concerto," I had to sing harmonies, solo verses, and make baby crying sounds, all while playing. But I was up for the task. Learning the show was not easy by any means, but I had support from the veteran actors, the wonderful stage manager, and the musical director. The musical director somehow convinced me to even go on one performance earlier than I was supposed to, which means I had my first performance less than a week after I first got the music. Well, that first performance seemed like a blur to me, but I do remember that at intermission, Danny, the bassist, told me I should meet "Richard." Little did I know that it was Richard Maltby, Jr. himself, who happened to be in the audience that night. He told me I was doing a great job and that the way I play piano reminded him of how David Shire, the composer, plays. I will never forget that. To me, that was the highest praise I could have gotten from this generous man.
R: What’s the most important part of music and theatre for you?
S: The most important part of it all to me is honesty. A lot of music and theatre has to do with the story you're trying to tell. If a performance becomes indulgent to me or doesn't ring true to the story, that's when I tune out. There needs to be a truth and honesty about what you do because that will really convey to the audience and transport them into the world of the music or play. I think this is true in any art form as well. Of course, the music needs to be performed well, but passion, conviction, and honesty can elevate a performance from good to great. It's why we gravitate towards the artists we love.
R: What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?
S: I go to see theatre! In my head, I say it's because I need to keep up with what's current, but deep down I'm a theatre nerd at heart. I just love to go out and see shows. I'm trying to vary it up by attending cabarets and concerts and operas, but I always come back to theatre. I also keep up with movies and TV. I'm an entertainment junkie and I love awards shows, so I try to watch what's in contention for all the end-of-season accolades. I also love a good board game. Game night, anyone?
R: Finally, at the end of it all when you’re old and gray, what’s the one word you’d like friends and family to use to describe you?
S: I don't need to be known for my talents or accomplishments, although it would be nice to be remembered for that. If I'm described as the nicest guy, I'll be satisfied with that.
Find Steven on Twitter @StevenMCuevas