Music Credits: “Carnaval del Barrio,” performed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and company, from the play In the Heights; “Wait for It,” performed by Leslie Odom, Jr. and company, “One Last Time,” performed by Christopher Jackson and company, from the play Hamilton; all music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
<Musical excerpt from “Carnaval del Barrio” from In the Heights>
Alex Lacamoire: In the Heights was a show about the Latin experience. I don’t know, it’s just a sense of love I think and community in just the Latin culture. And to be able to portray that on stage was just really wonderful and there was a part of me in a story and in a music that’s not normally seen on Broadway and it was really wonderful to see that. Being a part of the In the Heights creative team is a huge honor and it’s something, it’s hard to top something like that.
Jo Reed: That is musical polymath Alex Lacamoire. And this is Art Works the weekly podcast produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed.
Alex Lacamoire is an arranger, musical director, orchestrator, conductor and musician, probably best-known for his collaborations with Lin-Manuel Miranda: In the Heights and Hamilton. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, he began his career on Broadway as musical director of Bat Boy: The Musical. He worked extensively with Stephen Schwartz on the national tour of Godspell and on Broadway with Captain Louie and Wicked. But it was his work with Lin-Manuel Miranda that brought him a Tony award for Best Orchestration for the musical In the Heights, making Alex the first Latino to win that award and the first Berklee graduate to win a Tony. Alex followed that with a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for In the Heights, and repeated the process in 2016 with a Tony and a Grammy for Hamilton.
I spoke with Alex Lacamoire in a New York City rehearsal room. He had spent the day working with the Chicago cast of Hamilton to prepare them for their opening and he would spend the evening as he does every evening: serving as the show’s conductor on Broadway. Yet, he was extraordinarily gracious and generous with his time and as you’ll hear, we spoke until we were thrown out of the room because the building was closing. There was a lot to talk about.
Jo Reed: First of all, again, thank you.
Alex Lacamoire: Oh my God, thank you.
Jo Reed: But I need to begin with the basics and I’m going to sound like a complete moron but I’m just going to put it out there.
Alex Lacamoire: I’m sure you won’t, but, okay, go ahead.
Jo Reed: I really would love to tease out what an arranger does versus a musical director versus an orchestrator.
Alex Lacamoire: Sure. That’s a very good question because they’re all very different jobs. And there are certain music directors who do all three things. And there are certain people who only do one of the three. But they can all be related. So in terms of music director, that to me is just kind of the job of just directing the music of the show, meaning, teaching the music to the actors. Rehearsing the band. Possibly conducting the band. Being the liaison between the composer and the cast. You know, just the kind of mechanics and the management side of things. Then, for arranging, that to me is kind of about the big picture of a song. Things such as trying to see if the key is in the best place, wondering if the tempo is the right tempo. You know, this is all based off a composition, for example. So you’ll have the song composed. But then the arranger might say, “Hey, you know what would be good for this, let’s have like three backup singers singing a harmony at this bar and that bar. And how about we add a couple of extra bars of music at the end just to give a nice satisfying payoff so that the audience knows when to clap.” So adding things like that, maybe deciding if there’s a moment where the entire band drops out to highlight a certain lyric or deciding that the piano parts should sound like this or like that. That’s kind of what arranging is. And a good example, I think, for that is you can have a song. And this song at its core is the melody, the lyrics, and potentially a hook or a riff in the song. But you can have several arrangements of the same song. So you just look online and you just type in a popular song like “All About That Bass.” And you see that there’s the original version that Meghan Trainor did but then there’s also a very cool version that someone did that sounds like a very kind of like jazzy version with like an upright bass and jazz horns. So it’s the same song with a different feel so that’s a different arrangement. And then for orchestration that is really about the detailed work. That is about taking a pencil to paper or in my case a computer, and deciding what the actual instruments in a song is going to be and writing down what every instrument is going to be doing. So in the case of Hamilton, as an orchestrator it was my job to say okay, I really feel that a ten-piece band is the best way to present this music. And, you know, I could have said it could have been fifteen. It could have been eight or whatever. But that was creatively what I thought was the best way to make the sound of Hamilton the way that I felt it should sound like. And then it was my job as an orchestrator to actually write down exactly what the violin plays, exactly what the drummer plays, exactly what the bass player plays and do that for every bar in the show. So it took me eight months to orchestrate Hamilton because it’s two-and-a-half hours of straight music. It’s a big show. So that is the detailed work.
Jo Reed: So some of those little touches like that beautiful cello that comes in in “Wait for It”. I mean I wait for that cello. It’s so beautiful.
Alex Lacamoire: Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you. And those are choices that I, as an orchestrator, make. Like for me, it’s about filling spaces. Meaning, I, as a listener, like when something is there to kind of hold my interest, if you will. So in this moment, this cello line that you’re talking about there was a space that I felt needed to be filled. So Burr has that line, “But there are things that the homilies and hymns won’t teach you.” And then the bass line has been playing the figure, so then I decided, you know what why don’t we have the cello complete the thought that the bass line was having? Because no one is singing. We have this little void so it’s time to have a fill, if you will.
<Musical excerpt from “Wait for It” from Hamilton>
So it was all about just deciding what would be the best instrument there. And for me I like the idea of having something low. I liked that Burr is being very kind of contained and something about that low register of the cello felt like the right instrument to be using. Because I could have filled that space with something else entirely. It could have been a guitar. It could have been a violin. But for me the characteristics of that instrument, the cello, just felt like it was the right thing to answer that question that was posed.
Jo Reed: Well, thank you. That really helps a lot.
Alex Lacamoire: Oh I’m glad. Sure. Sure. And it’s a great question. Those are words that you hear a lot. And it’s really hard to define what they do because it’s very amorphous.
Jo Reed: Now, how did you Lin-Manuel work together? This is the third show you’ve worked on together.
Alex Lacamoire: Yes.
Jo Reed: How do you collaborate with one another? How does it work?
Alex Lacamoire: Well, I love working with Lin-Manuel for the obvious reasons, the biggest one being that he’s an absolute genius at what he does. And what’s great for me as a writer myself is that Lin is extremely collaborative. What I love about Lin is that he is so clear about where he wants a song to go. And he’s able to compose it in a way that I know what it is that he’s trying to say as a composer. So what Lin usually does is when he writes his song he uses his computer. And he uses a software called Logic. And Logic is great because you can track by track build a song, either using existing loops inside the software or by actually sitting down on a keyboard and playing the sounds yourself. So Lin will make a demo where he’s played a piano part, for example, like to give the basic chords of something. He will have found a bass synth sound and will play a bass line. Find some cool drum sounds and play that himself. So he track by track just plays it all out. He’ll record his vocals on top of the demo. Maybe give some ideas of where he wants harmonies to be. And then he presents the demo to us, to the creative team. So he’ll bring a demo. He’ll email it to me, to our director Tommy Kail, to our choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. And from there, we get in a room and then we just talk about what Lin has brought in. Sometimes I’ll sit down at the piano and give my representation or my thought about what it sounds like on a piano which might be very different on how it sounds on his computerized demo. But in that process I tend to kind of throw things in that are kind of my flavor, like maybe some piano lines that are just the way I approach the piano. I might suggest spots where the piano could just drop out and then you’re left with silence to come back in a bit after that in order to highlight a particular lyric. So in that process we try things and I’ll ask Lin as I go, “hey what about this? What about that?” And he’ll either go, “That’s great. I don’t like this. I don’t like that. But I do like this part of it.” So it’s a very back and forth kind of thing. And what’s great is that Lin, I feel trusts me enough that he doesn’t need to be kind of like looking over my shoulder at everything that I do. I can present him a demo of my own along the way. Or I can have him come into the room after I’ve taught all of the vocals for a song for him to approve all of the harmonies I’ve done. And I’ll have him sit next to me while they’re singing. And I’ll be like, “Do you like this that they did?” And he’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s great.” And if he hears something that he doesn’t like he’ll be, “Yeah, let’s look at that. This is why this isn’t working for me.” And then I’ll say, “Well, what about this instead?” And then he’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s great.” So it’s a back and forth that I love because it just feeds off each other. You know he presents such great ideas. And then I’ll be able to present some of my own and he’ll either go with that and maybe that will give him yet another idea and then we’ll arrive at something. But what’s wonderful and gratifying for me is to know that because of suggestions that I’ve made, I make an imprint into how the music sounds. And that for me is extremely a wonderful feeling because I get the sense that Lin wants me to be a part of his music. I get the sense that he enjoys having me there. So I just try to bring my “A game” and just do him proud along the way.
Jo Reed: Is there a song that you collaborated on in Hamilton, for example, since that’s the most current one, that you’re particularly proud of? That you just love, just love to death.
Alex Lacamoire: Sure, of course. I mean there’s a lot.
Jo Reed: All of them. I know that’s the hard one. It depends what day it is.
Alex Lacamoire: It’s all of them. Sure. Sure. One that comes to mind is “One Last Time” which once upon a time used to be called “One Last Ride”, back off-Broadway. So those who saw Hamilton at The Public got to actually see the song that eventually became “One Last Time” and it was called “One Last Ride”. And I remember how we would work on it. I remember being in my home office and Tommy Kail, our director, and Lin-Manuel were there. And we got to the point where we wanted to use Washington’s Farewell Address and use the text of that in the song. And I remember we were all just sitting around and looking at the actual texts of the real Farewell Address and trying to pair it down to the essential piece of it, maybe like paraphrasing a couple of words here and there. And what Lin was going for was this kind of very flowy thing where one person would be talking something and another person would be singing. And he got inspired by the Obama “Yes We Can” video which kind of has a similar thing to that. And I remember at first Lin had said, “Yeah, I want to sing this and we’ll have Chris Jackson speak it.” And I remember saying, “Lin, why don’t we flip it around like why don’t you speak it and have Chris singing because why do you not want Chris Jackson singing anything.” And then he was like, “Yeah, that’s great. Great idea.” And then he knew very clearly that he wanted that section to be based on the chord progression of the song, “The Story of Tonight” which appears early in the show. And we left that meeting with a clear idea of what we wanted it to sound like and feel like. And then basically from there they had left and it was just me in my room with the computer and just sitting down at the piano, looking at the phrases of Washington’s Farewell Address and setting them to notes. And in my head I was thinking to myself, you know, what if Chris were here this is how I think he’d sing this. And this is where I think it fits really well in this voice. So really phrases like, “I anticipate with reasoned expectation that we treat in which I promise myself to realize its sweet,” et cetera, et cetera. That was me channeling Chris Jackson actually writing down notes that I thought would sound good in his voice. And fortunately, they did resonate with Chris and he did like them and that’s what became part of the song.
<Musical excerpt from “One Last Time” from Hamilton>
The shape of that in terms of how many measures of music fit certain parts of bars that was something that I came up with myself and presented it to the boys and they would be like, “Yeah, that works.” Same thing with the ending of “One Last Time” that was, it used to for a moment end with a wordless vocal and it had this beautiful line that Lin had written that was just on a da-da-da sound. <singing> And that’s what the ensemble used to sing. They no longer sing that. That line itself is somewhere in the strings earlier in the Farewell Address. And I remember thinking Lin had come up with that great phrase, “George Washington is going home.” And we were using it earlier in the song. And then I thought to myself “Lin instead of a wordless vocal, what if we used the lyric?” And he’s like, “Play me what you mean.” And then I sang, “George Washington is going home,” over a different chord progression that he had composed it over. And then when he saw that they both fit together, it just felt like the right message. It felt like what we wanted to send the father of our country with. And it just felt like it had more meaning than just da-da-da-da’s.
<Musical excerpt from the end of “One Last Time” from Hamilton>
So that’s just an ending in a whole section of a song where I feel like, again, those were things that Lin had kind of said, “Hey, here are the ideas that I have. These are all of the different motifs. These are all of the different pots on the stove,” and me being like, okay, well here’s the meal that we can make out of it. Why don’t we put it all together in this way? And that’s a song that I’m particularly proud of.
Jo Reed: Oh yeah, I would be too. I love that song. How did you come to music?
Alex Lacamoire: I’ve been playing piano since I was four years old. It’s just something…
Jo Reed: Was your family musical?
Alex Lacamoire: You know, my parents weren’t. They don’t play any instruments. Legend has it that I was a kid at two years old like sitting in front of a stereo speaker, staring into the speakers as music was playing just transfixed, just transported. And there was just something about music and sound that just always called to me. Yeah, I just started playing piano since I was four and I’ve never looked back.
Jo Reed: Did your parents get a piano for you?
Alex Lacamoire: Yeah, I had a toy piano. There was a very popular song at the time called “Music Box Dancer.” And I just loved it. It was actually an instrumental pop song where the piano takes the melody. And I remember having my toy piano trying to play “Music Box Dancer” on this toy piano. And I don’t know if I was playing the right notes at all. I know I was definitely banging in rhythm. But because of that they were like, “Oh, give the kid some lessons.” And I had a couple of lessons with a couple of teachers and I was told the story when I was older that one of the piano teachers actually after having a couple of lessons with me called up her own piano teacher crying because she’s like, “I don't know what to do. I’ve taught the student everything that I know and he knows more than me now. I’ve got to pass him on to you.” And this was when I was like, I don’t know, five or six or something like that. So I guess I was very precocious and enjoyed the instrument.
Jo Reed: Both your parents are Cuban but they met in the United States.
Alex Lacamoire: They met in the United States. I know. You don’t usually hear that happening that way.
Jo Reed: In L.A.
Alex Lacamoire: In L.A., not in Miami, which is funny.
Jo Reed: Then they did the right thing and moved to Miami.
Alex Lacamoire: Yeah, I think that was the right thing for all of us. Yeah. I mean they gave L.A. a try and God Bless them and we had family out there trying to guide us along the way. But we had more family in Miami and then it all just kind of clicked in that way.
Jo Reed: Did you grow up listening to Latino music a great deal? Cuban music is so powerful.
Alex Lacamoire: Extremely. Yeah. It’s so rhythmic. It’s trance like in a way. But no, you know, I wasn’t-- when I was young I was way, way into pop radio. And I learned my classical pieces, but in terms of what I listened to it was like Top 40 all the way especially when I was in L.A. in the early eighties like Culture Club, Thomson Twins, Wham!, whatever it was. So I really was more keen to that music. And then when I got to Miami that’s when I started listening to Latin music but not by my own accord. It’s just like it was on at the parties that I went to. So really in Miami you go to a Christmas party or a Thanksgiving party there’s salsa blasting for four hours. So just being around that stuff I didn’t realize that I was paying attention to that music but I was definitely subconsciously paying attention to that music because when it came time to orchestrate In the Heights I knew so much that I didn’t know that I knew.
Jo Reed: Yeah, that’s where I was going with that.
Alex Lacamoire: And it’s like I automatically like once I got a couple of tips and read like this amazing book about how to arrange for salsa I’m like oh, yeah, I know all of this stuff. It was stored away in my brain somewhere just by the exposure of it. So, you know, I would listen to more Latin music more during In the Heights in preparation for orchestrating the show. But by no means was I a connoisseur of Latin music at least not the way my sister is or my family is.
Jo Reed: In the Heights, does that have a special place in your heart? Because it’s a Latin infused musical created by Latinos about Latinos in a Latino neighborhood.
Alex Lacamoire: Sure. Absolutely. It’s super special. And there’s no other show quite like it. And I think what you said is what’s really, something that was really wonderful for us was yes, it was a show about the Latin experience, written, you know, there were people on the creative team who weren’t Latin. There are other shows that try to portray the Latin experience but there aren’t Latinos in the creative team I’m meaning like Kate Mann or West Side Story, for example. And I don't know just the sense of love, I think, and community in just the Latin culture. And to be able to portray that on stage was just really wonderful and just, you know, there was a part of me in a story and in a music that’s not normally seen on Broadway and that was really wonderful to see that. And being a part of the In the Heights creative team is a huge honor. And it’s something that, it’s hard to top something like that.
Jo Reed: The set. There are many wonderful, wonderful things about In the Heights, you know, the score, the music, the orchestration, the cast.
Alex Lacamoire: Thank you. Thank you. Yes, everything. Of course.
Jo Reed: The set was kind of jaw dropping.
Alex Lacamoire: Amazing. Oh, wasn’t it great? Yeah. Anna Louizos did our set and she did a fantastic job with that. I remember that her and Lin and Tommy would just take trips around Washington Heights just like looking around and being like “Oh, look at this, look at that.” And just getting that feel on stage. And my wife was born and raised in Washington Heights. So she saw that set and she’s like, “Oh my God”. Like this is no joke, but my wife, you know, the apartment she grew up in in Washington Heights the view out her window was basically our set, like that view of the George Washington Bridge. And that’s someone from the hood who like says we got it right. So that’s nice to know that we had that piece of authenticity there.
Jo Reed: Do you have a special moment in that play that you particularly love? Either in the creative process or the way it finally appeared on stage?
Alex Lacamoire: That’s a great question. Yeah, you know, “Carnaval” comes to mind which is a great song. And that’s a song that underwent a huge transformation, I feel, not only from its workshop phases until what we ended up with. But even between the off Broadway phase to the Broadway phase that song was very different. And there was a whole chunk of that song that didn’t exist when we were off Broadway. That whole section about that Usnavi saying “I’m going to fly this flag that I got in my hand. And I hold para arriba esta bandera,” that whole refrain of “para arriba esta bandera” Lin wrote that in the fall before we got to Broadway. And I do know that even the ending of that song we were a little stumped because it didn’t quite end in a way that felt satisfying. And our producer Jeffrey Seller and Kevin McCollum had said the same thing. They just felt like the number wasn’t like paying off. And I remember being in a room here in this very building at New 42 on the sixth floor in the back room just all of us kicking around ideas of what it could be. And Lin referenced the end of “America” in West Side Story how the music just kind of spirals and gives you like <singing>. And with that just somehow we kind of unlocked the key that ended up being the last eight bars of “Carnaval” that wound up being the finale of that song as we have it now.
<Musical excerpt from “Carnaval del Barrio” from In the Heights>
That was just a song that I just loved the collaborative piece of it because even with Bill Sherman, my co-orchestrator and arranger, you know, all of the harmony bits for that we came up with ourselves. And Andy suggested certain elements of rhythmic pulses that he wanted and Bill Sherman and myself would put that into the orchestration. So that was a very collaborative thing where all six of us on the creative team just really kind of created that song as it is. And that was a moment that I loved.
Jo Reed: Yeah. It’s a great song. It reminds me of the streets of Washington Heights which is great. And you were the conductor and won enormous praise for the excitement that you managed to get from that orchestra that people say you just don’t hear this on Broadway which is great.
Alex Lacamoire: Thank you, I’m glad you like it. Thank you. Thank you for saying that. You know, like Hamilton, In the Heights, both those show have a particular kind of music that you don’t hear on Broadway very often. Therefore, the kinds of musicians required to play that music is a very smaller pool. And in both of those cases I’m super proud of the band that we got together to play that music because I feel like we played it authentically. I feel like we played it with like muscle and with real power in a way that just felt emotionally and organically right. So I love both of those bands very much and I really feel like they made my job easy just because they knew how to do it. And to be in those bands and playing keyboard and conducting and just being a part of that, there’s nothing like that. That's an absolute thrill.
Jo Reed: How did you move into musical theater?
Alex Lacamoire: So that for me happened in junior high school. So I went to an arts junior high school in Miami called Southwood Middle School. And I started a summer early. So we’re talking the summer of 1986. I had just turned eleven. And the drama department of the school was putting on the summer musical which was Bye-Bye Birdie. And they needed a bass player for that band, the pit band. And they couldn’t find someone who actually played the bass. But what they did have was a small keyboard that was probably an octave-and-a-half that was a bass keyboard. And the actually asked me if I wanted to play bass keyboard in the band for Bye-Bye Birdie. And I was like sure, no problem. Meanwhile, now, like what the hell are they doing asking an eleven-year-old to play in a pit? But clearly, I guess, they had enough faith in me that they decided to ask me to do it because everyone else in the band were adults and there were some high schoolers as well in the band. But I was like this eleven-year-old like nerd playing this keyboard. And something about seeing peers of my age on a stage singing a song, being in costume and performing something in that collaborative community way it just really spoke to me. And there’s just something about that group of students, they were just so outgoing, and so fun and just so like “performery”. <laughs> I don't know there was just something that I loved about it and I just got bit by the bug. And then I tried to just kind of hang out with the theater kids as much as I would hang out with the music kids. And then I just became known as the one who liked to play piano for theater stuff. So I got into Pippin. I got into Godspell and everything else Stephen Schwartz did. And they would have a showcase of a review of musical theater songs and they wanted to do a song from Ain’t Misbehavin’ so they would get me to be on stage and play a Fats Waller tune. So there was just something about theater and the way it intersected with the music that I liked to do that it just really spoke to me.
Jo Reed: You are also hard of hearing?
Alex Lacamoire: I am hard of hearing. Oh, I don't know if you can see them I’m wearing hearing aids right now in both ears.
Jo Reed: No, I can’t.
Alex Lacamoire: And it’s funny, I’m always amazed that people don’t notice them because if someone is wearing hearing aids that’s the first thing I notice. Maybe it’s like part of a secret club that I’m in. But yeah, you know, they discovered it when I was about four. I guess maybe around the same time I picked up piano my parents got me hearing aids. And at that time those were, you know, the only kind that were available were those huge behind the ear suckers that just like went behind your earlobe. And I was very, very self-conscious about them. And we didn’t have a lot of money growing up. And I remember one time I either broke one or a new model came out and we could only afford for me to have one. So I would walk around with one hearing aide. And in junior high school that’s when it’s so important to be cool. And I got so many questions about, “What’s that behind your ear?” And I’d be like oh, nothing. So I stopped wearing it. I went through all of high school not wearing hearing aids and feeling very bad for all of my friends who had to repeat everything for me three times because I couldn’t hear it. Once I got to college I’m like you know what enough is enough, I need to start hearing what’s happening in the world around me.
Jo Reed: Well, especially because you’re at Berklee.
Alex Lacamoire: Exactly. Exactly. By then what they call the “in the canal” hearing aids were much more available. That was the new technology. So these are the kind that I wear that go kind of way more inside the ear. You don’t notice them unless you’re really looking for them.
Jo Reed: I don’t notice them at all.
Alex Lacamoire: But what’s great is that the hearing loss that I have it’s mostly like in the high frequencies. So you and I will be listening to a stereo. I will still hear that stereo but like I hear at a lower volume than you do. So you’re going to want to like probably lower it at the point where I’m going to want to raise it. And the same thing with higher frequencies like consonants and high-hats and triangles. Those kinds of thing I don’t hear very well. As a matter fact, one time were mixing an In the Heights record. And I remember saying to the mixer, I’m like can we turn up the triangle there. Okay. He turned it up. I’m like, I don’t hear triangle. Turn it up, please. And then he would turn it up. And I’m like guys, where’s the triangle? And then everyone in the room looked at me like, “Alex, if we turn up the triangle any louder this song would be a triangle concerto.” <laughs> It was just a frequency that I just don’t pick up on. So for that kind of stuff I just leave to other people and be like you tell me if the triangle is in a good place because I’m not going to be the best judge of that. But fortunately, I do hear the big picture. If I’m not wearing my hearing aids I can still play the piano and hear it all. I can still listen to music with headphones and hear it all. But my frequencies on the higher end might just be a little kind of comprised if you will.
Jo Reed: If you had to guess, do you think because you’re hard of hearing you have that focus, you can listen so intently?
Alex Lacamoire: I think so. And I don't know. It’s funny, I’ve asked myself that same question and who knows. I think part of it, yes, absolutely. I think I am more attuned to certain things because like you said, I listen harder, more intently. But at the same time I do feel like my brain just sees music in a mathematical way, if you will. Like when I’m reading sheet music like I see a chart. I’m not looking at a staff and look at a chord and be like that’s a C, and that’s an E and that’s a B. Like I see a shape. And my hand knows how to read that shape in such a way that I am not reading particular notes but I’m seeing design, if you will. So I know that I definitely got that OCD quality from, I think that’s kind of a prerequisite for being an orchestrator anyway. I do feel like yes, part of it is the listening thing but also visually I see music in a certain way that just has a shape to it. Yeah, they’re going to lock us out in a few.
Jo Reed: Oh, okay.
Alex Lacamoire: One more question?
Jo Reed: One more question. Tell me about Carmen Jones.
Alex Lacamoire: Sure. Carmen Jones, I’ve been having so much fun working on that. That’s a piece that’s basically an adaption of Carmen which we took a lot of cues from Oscar Hammerstein’s adaptation of Carmen which is Carmen Jones which came out, I believe, in the forties. It’s the opera Carmen and the story of Carmen but set in Cuba. Set in the fifties just before the revolution. And every song in the show tries to go through some kind of Cuban filter. So the “Habanera” has like a cha-cha-cha feel to it. “The Gypsy Song” has kind of like an Afro-Cuban style called cha cha loka fu. So it kind of goes through that. We take as song that’s a ballad in the opera and we turn it into a dansong which is a very popular Cuban style. So I had a lot of fun working with my co-arranger Ed Gavaro who is a brilliant genius Cuban jazz musician. We just basically like looked at every song in Carmen and we decided okay for this moment this is the kind of Cuban feel that we can we adapt to it that feels right and feels organic and serves the story in the right way. And we wound up not repeating ourselves at all. We wound up being able to use like every Cuban style that we could find under the sun and it makes for a really exciting interpretation of that score.
Jo Reed: And when can we look forward to it?
Alex Lacamoire: Hopefully, soon. We don’t know. We put it up in Paris earlier this year. It was a huge hit over there. So hopefully there will be a chance for another life.
Jo Reed: Fabulous. I look forward to it. Thank you, Alex.
Alex Lacamoire: My God, thank you.
Jo Reed: That’s arranger, musical director, orchestrator, conductor, and musician Alex Lacamoire. You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed, thanks for listening.
Alex Lacamoire on bringing Hamilton and In the Heights to life on the stage.