Thu. Jul 18th, 2019

TV Interview: Composers Alex Lacamoire and Steven Gizicki on bringing the music of FX’s ‘Fosse/Verdon’ to life

Top left: Alex Lacamoire (courtesy of Alex Lacamoire); bottom left: Steven Gizicki (courtesy of Steven Gizicki); right: Michelle Williams as Gwen Verdon in FX’s Fosse/Verdon (photo: Eric Liebowitz/FX)

If you helped to compose the biggest Broadway musical of the decade what do you do next?

Enter Alex Lacamoire, who has won three Tonys for Best Orchestrations, three Grammys for Best Musical Theater Album (all for In the Heights, Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen) and an additional Grammy for producing The Greatest Showman soundtrack. He was also the recipient of a first-of-its-kind Kennedy Center Honors for his contribution to Hamilton alongside Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda.. Lacamoire and the Hamilton creative team were honored as the “trailblazing creators of a transformative work that defies category” — distinction never before awarded by the arts institution.

If you’ve worked on the biggest movie musical of the decade, then what?

Meet Grammy-winning music supervisor Steven Gizicki, best known for his work on Damien Chazelle’s musical La La Land, which won six Academy Awards and seven Golden Globes including Best Original Song and Original Score. Steven oversaw the creation and delivery of all things musical on the film, including the intensive rehearsal and training required for Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Steven’s work earned him a Grammy and two Guild of Music Supervisors awards for Best Music Supervision and Best Song/Recording Created for a Film.

For Alex Lacamoire and Steven Gizicki, the answer was to turn their attention to television supervising and composing the music for FX’s Fosse/Verdon. Only two individuals like Lacamoire (wearing multiple hats as supervising music producer, music director and composer) and Gizicki (the show’s music supervisor) could organize and compose music around classic musical such as Cabaret, Pippin and Chicago. Their attention to detail is as remarkable as the pair is humble. We spoke about the challenges they faced with Fosse/Verdon, the upcoming film version of In the Heights and entering the EGOT club.

AW: Thomas Kail and Steven Levenson developed the limited series; how soon did they call you?

AL: Pretty early on. I feel like Tommy was talking about the project maybe for about a year and a half before it was actually a green light thing. I’m fortunate to get to work with my best friends and it’s even better when your best friends are the geniuses that they are. So, the odds are very high it’s going to be something of good quality and something that will be a lot of fun and very artistically fulfilling.

AW: Both Fosse and Verdon were giants of Broadway and there is a lot of music from these musicals in the series and a lot of scenes take place during rehearsals. How did you approach creating a score that didn’t distract but was still noticeable?

AL:  It’s pretty remarkable the amount of time and different kinds of styles and music that the breadth of both of those legends went through, musically speaking. If you think about the same guy who directed Pippin is the same guy who directed Chicago it’s wonderful that the cannon is that large.

Recreating “Big Spender” for FX’s Fosse/Verdon. (Photo: Eric Liebowitz/FX)

But for me it was kind of like what I do in my usual theater gig, which is to come up with original music to either transition from one thing to the other. Then it’s incumbent on me to pick and choose what are the really strong motifs, what are they really strong core progressions are strong melodies, that can be reused and repurposed and rearrange so that it becomes one large piece of music. 

Case in point with Fosse/Verdon; it was up to me that if we were going to have this big sequence that featured this song, “Big Spender” and I needed to write music around that song, I wanted to really make it feel as much like “Big Spender” as possible. I was very excited at the prospect of having to arrange such different styles of music but all part of one larger breath and it’s a testament to how larger span of music those creators are responsible for.

AW: You mentioned that you’ve worked with Thomas Kail before, and with Lin-Manuel Miranda; what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working with the same people repeatedly? 

AL: Well, at the moment, I don’t know of any disadvantages, especially because they’re such great guys and they produced such great work. But the advantage is developing a shorthand, you get to a certain place much faster than you would with someone that you haven’t worked with before. When you’re working with someone new, there’s a chemistry lesson–how do I get along with this person? Can I say something that might be seen as critical? Fortunately, I got a chance to work with people who are very comfortable with that allowed things to just flow really easily and allow patients to come out really smoothly. Tom (Kail), kind of knew that I always had to shows interest in mind.

***At this point we were joined by Steven Gizicki (SG), who was on set for the upcoming film-version of In the Heights.

SG: You can hear the chaos behind me. Sorry about that. We’re shooting a big musical number with 500 extras, I apologize for the noise.

AW: Going back to the fact that there’s a lot of music already from the musicals and Fosse and Verdon’s repertoire of work, what did you find challenging about overseeing all of that music and then also having an original score in the mix?

SG: We felt that we need to tell the story right and there’s a challenge to getting everything historically accurate and to live up to these recordings that are iconic and beloved by millions. And inspired all of us to get into this business in the first place in most cases.

AW: You’ve both worked on such big projects; what’s something that you haven’t yet done that you’d like to looking forward? 

AL: I’m working on In the Heights, right now with Steve, and it’s my first feature film that’s definitely something I wanted to do. It remains to be seen how in depth I would get involved with the scoring aspect of it. Scoring for a film is something that I’d like to try my hand at.  Scoring for tv for Fosse/Verdon was my first time scoring for TV. I think it’s like a little bit of a gradual climb– something new.  I also want to get the experience of conducting a big huge symphonic score for a film. That’s something I’ve not got a chance to do and hope that I’ll get a chance to do that too.

AW: You mentioned, In the Heights, are we going to get some new songs?

SG: Undecided, at least not at the moment though. 

AW: Alex, are you pushing for a new song? 

AL:  I would only push for a new song that we felt like a moment was it landing and we felt like we needed something extra to be developed, something that’s incomplete.  I feel like the songs that we do have and the story that is currently being told for this film, we got all the moments covered. I’m not wanting to push for a song for song sake. I don’t know at the moment that we have a space for something like that.

SG: So often you see movie adaptations of popular musicals add a song purely for awards consideration and it shows in many cases. There are examples where there maybe it’s, it doesn’t feel organic to the story it feels shoehorned in–if it was the right thing, then sure. But, I don’t think we’re at that point.

AW: You might feel differently after the Emmys. (laughter) Alex, if you were to win an Emmy you would be just an Oscar away from joining the elusive EGOT Club.  

AL: (laughter) I suppose so that’s the math. That’s not why I do this though; TV was a new frontier and it was something that I hadn’t done before–the closest I came to a TV show was writing songs for Sesame Street–which was fun that’s writing one song. This was me being in charge of all the music for an eight part series it was a big, tall order, but I was so ready for the challenge because I loved the material so much. I was just after doing something that challenged me.

SG: One thing that was so exciting about Fosse/Verdon is that we had eight episodes to tell this story; it wasn’t a two hour film biopic within musical backdrop. That’s something that I’ve never seen before. We’re telling this sort of extended musical story and that was really exciting. 

AW: The series doesn’t follow a linear timeline, did that cause any difficulties?

AL: The story felt very linear from the objective perspective. Even though yes, it jumps time but I just think it makes it an interesting story. I didn’t feel the need to all of a sudden, oh, now we have to sound modern, young, have to sound crazy and hip and current–no, I just want to write and embrace something that’s evocative, something that’s within the world. And fortunately, we had such a big wealth of music to dive into, to make that happen.

SG: If anything, that was challenging from the perspective of source music cues because with the episode jumping around so much, we had to pay really close attention to which year and sometimes which month each scene took place in. You had to make sure that a song was even released by then and works for the scene. We had a few times where a song we wanted to use was not released until a few months after the scene took place.

AW: What would it mean for you to receive an Emmy nomination for Fosse/Verdon

SG: I’m trying not to think about it. The reward was doing the show. I know that sounds so cliché, but it was such a fantastic experience and meeting Alex and starting this creative relationship that is now carried on for three projects. Fosse/Verdon, itself is the reward and anything on top of–it’s sort of bizarre to even think about.

AL: The awards are not why I decided to do this. But, truth be told, any recognition for the show we did would be so wonderful because it means people are paying attention to something that honors Broadway. If anything, I would just love that people would be excited to take a closer look at the Broadway canon and that, that would be a thrill for me.

AW: Well, thank you both so much for joining me. Good luck at the Emmys coming up and with In the Heights.

AL: Thank you very much.

SG: Thank you so much.

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