May 11, 2021
Spotlight on David Chase
Among musical-theater professionals working on Broadway, David Chase is a legend for the diversity of his talents and the brilliance he brings to any production. He has credits as a composer, lyricist, arranger, music director/musical supervisor, conductor, and musician.
Chase’s conducting has earned praise not just on Broadway, but all over the country, including Chicago. He’s been crucial to the success of Lyric’s productions of My Fair Lady (2016/17), The King and I (2015/16), and Carousel (2014/15). He also curated and conducted our Bernstein at 100 concert (2017/18), a highlight of the worldwide commemoration of Leonard Bernstein’s centenary year.
Back in college, Chase wasn’t thinking about making his life in music. As a matter of fact, he was originally a biology major at Harvard! But he’d always played the piano, and he made a major contribution to Harvard’s famous “Hasty Pudding” shows as a performer, composer, and lyricist. After realizing that he’d fallen in love with music and theater, he spent four years in the orchestra pit as the pianist for the Boston production of Forever Plaid. Its music director, James Raitt, hired him as associate music director for a Broadway-bound revival of Damn Yankees. When Raitt, who was to conduct the show, died shortly before the opening, Chase took over. That show, a triumph of the 1993/94 season, marked his Broadway debut.
Over the past 27 years, Chase has been involved in 36 Broadway shows — everything from major revivals (such as Kiss Me, Kate, The Pajama Game, Follies, Hello, Dolly!) to world premieres (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Tuck Everlasting, Tootsie, and more). He’s worked on NBC’s live musical-theater productions (for which he’s received two Emmy nominations), as well as with the Boston Pops Orchestra and with many theaters in London’s West End.
Chase’s musical imagination and technical wizardry have made him an exceptional conductor and also a highly sought-after arranger. In a memorable interview with Boston Pops music director Keith Lockhart, Chase noted that many composers who write for Broadway are songwriters who are incapable of doing their own arrangements: “The composer says, ‘I imagine a tree,’ and the arranger says ‘I’m going to draw you a black-and-white sketch of a tree. And because you didn’t give me much information, I then have to decide what kind of tree it is.’ If you’ve seen Broadway musicals, whether in New York or on national tours, you’ve probably heard pit orchestras (in dance sequences or between scenes, for example), playing music written in the spirit of the composer’s own songs but actually written by Chase. His arrangements are so perfectly integrated with the songs that, in a way, “the greatest compliment is when people think I didn’t do anything!”
In another illuminating online interview, Chase succinctly explains what would be required of any young person who wants to enter his profession: “Be a good person. Be enjoyable to have in the room. Be a positive light.” He also emphasizes that “every show is different — that’s the joy of live theater — and you have to find a way to make it fresh every single time.”
David Chase is music director and pianist of “The New Classics: Songs from the New Golden Age of Musical Theater,” streaming on Lyric's Facebook and YouTube beginning June 10.