The composer is currently represented on New York stages with two new musicals: Flying Over Sunset on Broadway and The Visitor Off-Broadway.
This week Playbill catches up with composer, arranger, conductor, musical director, and orchestrator Tom Kitt, who won two Tony Awards in 2009 for Best Orchestrations and Best Original Score for the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal. Grammy winner Kitt, who released his debut solo album Reflect in 2020 on Sony Masterworks, was also Tony-nominated in 2020 for Best Orchestrations for Jagged Little Pill, in 2018 for Best Orchestrations for SpongeBob SquarePants, and in 2014 for Best Original Score for If/Then. His numerous other Broadway credits include An Evening With Mario Cantone, Urban Cowboy, Laugh Whore, High Fidelity, 13, American Idiot, Everyday Rapture, Bring It On The Musical, Orphans, and Head Over Heels.
It's an especially busy fall for the musician, who is represented on New York stages this season with two brand-new musicals: The Visitor and Flying Over Sunset. The former, based on the 2007 film by Tom McCarthy, opened Off-Broadway at the Public Theater November 4. Featuring a score by Kitt, a book by Kwame Kwei-Armah, and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, performances are currently scheduled through December 5. Meanwhile, Lincoln Center Theater's Flying Over Sunset is currently in previews at Broadway's Vivian Beaumont prior to an official opening December 13. Featuring music by Kitt, a book by director James Lapine, and lyrics by Michael Korie, the new musical is inspired by the lives of Aldous Huxley, Clare Boothe Luce, and Cary Grant, each of whom experimented with the drug LSD.
What is your typical day like now? Happily, I am back racing to rehearsal and sometimes to multiple rehearsals because, thankfully, the fall has brought with it the resumption of all my projects. And on top of that, I get to do the greatest and most rewarding job of all, which is being husband to Rita and father to Michael, Julia, and Charlie.
Can you describe how it felt to be back in a rehearsal room on the first day you and the cast and creators of TheVisitor assembled? It was incredibly emotional to be back at The Public rehearsing TheVisitor. There were, as you can imagine, many visceral memories of those last days we were in rehearsal before the shutdown. So, I felt immense gratitude to be back in the room with my fellow artists, exploring the material and creating once again with each other. And the first time I heard the glorious voices of our cast singing the score again, I was in tears.
You have two new musicals opening this season. Can you discuss how the collaborative process with your co-creators—Brian Yorkey and Kwame Kwei-Armah for TheVisitor and Michael Korie and James Lapine for FlyingOverSunset—was different and/or similar on the two projects? Every musical has its own unique process, but both The Visitor and Flying Over Sunset have been true joys to collaborate on. Brian and I have been writing songs together since 1993, so my process with Brian is incredibly special and meaningful. It was my partnership with Brian that brought me to musical theatre in the first place, so it’s truly a gift when we begin something new together. With Michael and Kwame, these are first-time collaborations, and I can’t say enough about how much I have enjoyed creating with them. Their work has truly inspired my process and helped me grow as a writer. As for James Lapine, it is truly a thrill to be in the room with a true master of the form and someone whose work has spoken to me my whole life. When James pitched the idea of Flying Over Sunset to me, I didn’t have to think about it before saying yes.
Are there any parts of either musical that seem particularly poignant/relevant following the events of the past 18 months? There was a lyric that I heard the other day over at rehearsal for Flying Over Sunset that hit me pretty hard. The lyric is written by Michael Korie, and is sung by Aldous Huxley (Harry Hadden-Paton):
Thank you for the gift to reexplore Everything in life I missed before.
I think we are all feeling a new sense of gratitude for the things that we get to do in this life, especially a life lived as an artist. And, perhaps, the treasures we find will be even richer with this newfound perspective that nothing in life is guaranteed, and you must enjoy and truly live in every moment that you have.
What would you say to audience members who may be feeling uneasy about returning to live performances? For someone who has been quite fearful during the pandemic, I can honestly say that I feel completely safe and at ease going to the theatre. I have now sat in the theatre many times, and I feel confident that all the protocols and practices are keeping us all healthy and protected. And the feelings of joy and euphoria that you get from being back experiencing live theatre again is indescribable. My first show back was Springsteen on Broadway, and I was a complete mess.
During this time of reflection and re-education regarding BIPOC artists and artistry, particularly in the theatre, what do you want people (those in power, fellow artists, audiences) to be aware of? What do you want them to consider further? I think it is important that in this pivotal moment, everyone commits to the actions that will bring about the change we want to see for the long term. Too often we see the flames of passion to do important things ignite, only to watch that fire start to wither over time. Every day, there is something we can do, a gesture to make that will add to the collective and move our industry forward in a way that’s meaningful and has impact. What are the steps that we can all take now and in the future that will bring about lasting change? The more responsibility we take in our own lives to do the work, the quicker that change will come to be.
What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation and/or the current unrest? I think in this world of constant news feeds and stimulation from social media, you need to give yourself permission to take a break and do something to feed your soul. Try immersing yourself in something that inspires and brings you great positive feeling. This has been a very difficult and unprecedented time, and you need to make sure that you are taking care of your mental health and allowing yourself space for calmness and meditation.
What, if anything, did you learn about yourself during the past year-and-a-half that you didn't already know? I learned that I am tougher and more resilient than I thought. During the first part of the pandemic, I truly crumbled and couldn’t find the strength to create. Worse, I was not able to provide the needed comfort and inspiration for my family. But once I rediscovered my resolve, I was able to redirect my creative energies into projects that I’m enormously proud of, including my first studio album, Reflect, which was released this past summer and consists of songs co-written with some incredible artists about this challenging time that we are living in.
What organization would you recommend people learn more about or donate to during this time of change? I would love for people to know about two organizations that I am a founding member of: MUSE (Musicians United for Social Equity) and NYCNext. Both are wonderful organizations, which are doing wonderful things to make this world a better and more equitable place. In addition, there are many other organizations doing great and impactful work, such as Black Theatre United and Broadway Advocacy Coalition, among many others. GettoWork.org is an excellent resource for organizations trying to better our industry in a variety of ways, and the Actors Fund continues to be an incredible source of support for our industry and has helped out so many artists during this difficult time.