Musical director and composer Jordan Li-Smith tells john Byrne about working on a show he loved and with people he had long admired on his first professional job
I was 20 when I graduated from the Royal Academy of Music. My first job was working as a music assistant for the 2015 Off-West End revival of Grand Hotel. I was playing for some auditions where musical supervisor Simon Lee was on the panel. He approached me to ask if I’d be interested in helping him out on this production. I was nervous, but incredibly excited.
It was a show I absolutely adored and a chance to work with people I’d long admired. One of them – producer Danielle Tarento – would later give me my big break as a musical director and become a long-standing collaborator and friend.
Joining rehearsals late in the process meant learning the show quickly. I learnt the most from observing the music department working with the company (including MD Michael Bradley and his assistant, Malcolm Forbes-Peckham). They helped knock out some of my bad habits and passed on fundamentals that set me on the right path. I wish I’d spent more time with the score prior to joining rehearsals.
Now, ample prep time and score analysis is something I absolutely live by and something I encourage all budding musical directors to do. Part of our job is to enable actors by helping them understand the DNA of a score. Analysis also helps us to understand a score’s dramaturgical structure and to know the purpose of each musical moment.
I consider my graduating show from RAM – Michel Legrand’s Amour – part of that ‘first job’ experience. It was a baptism of fire: my musical supervisor David White threw me in the deep end while carefully guiding me with great patience.
In both of these shows, I experienced ‘learning on the job’ in a very literal sense, and can safely say that the only true way to learn is just that – by doing it, jumping feet first in the deep end.
Training: Royal Academy of Music (Elton John scholarship); National Youth Music Theatre; the Hammond School, Chester; London College of Music (associate diploma)
Theatre as musical director includes: City of Angels (assistant musical director, Garrick Theatre), Preludes (Southwark Playhouse), Queen of the Mist (Jack Studio/Charing Cross Theatre), Amour and Ragtime (Charing Cross Theatre), The Assassination of Katie Hopkins (Theatr Clwyd), The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin (Theatre Royal Stratford East)
Composer/playwright credits include: Left Behind: Women of the War, a song cycle
Jordan Li-Smith was talking to John Byrne