Stephen Bates, Conductor of Lion King and Contributor to Naked Boys Singing, Dead at 50 | Playbill

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Obituaries Stephen Bates, Conductor of Lion King and Contributor to Naked Boys Singing, Dead at 50 Stephen Bates, a conductor, musical director, composer lyricist and arranger who conducted the launch of the 2003 national tour of The Lion King, died Nov. 5 of AIDS-related lymphoma at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's Hospital in Chicago.
Stephen Bates
Stephen Bates Photo by Blandon Belushin

Mr. Bates, a Chicago resident, had last conducted the smash Disney show Aug. 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, his 17-year partner, Larry Baker, told Playbill On-Line. Mr. Bates had told people at his 50th birthday party this year that he had the greatest gig in the world conducting a show whose theme is "The Circle of Life."

As a writer, Mr. Bates contributed songs and arrangements to the popular revue, Naked Boys Singing, and was its initial musical director and conductor in Los Angeles and New York. He also wrote some 30 songs for Starr Struck, a musical spoof of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, which played L.A.'s Blank Theatre; and he was conductor and musical director of Blank's First Lady Suite, the Michael John La Chiusa musical about wives of U.S. presidents, which was preserved on CD by PS Classics.

Mr. Bates also wrote more than 20 songs for the "Barney and Friends" TV series.

Among his major theatre jobs was conducting the first national tour of 42nd Street, starring Barry Nelson, which launched in Chicago. For that show, he rose from rehearsal pianist to conductor after stepping in to conduct a performance. By intermission, impresario David Merrick approached Mr. Bates and told him he had the job. He stuck with the tour for two years and would conduct several other 42nd Street stagings, including runs in Tokyo, Vienna and Paris, as well as the 2002 Moscow staging directed and choreographed by pal Randy Skinner.

His musical-directing credits include Guys and Dolls in Las Vegas with Maureen McGovern, who became a treasured friend; The Goodman Theatre's Sunday in the Park With George; Broadway's Meet Me in St. Louis (also a tour of it) and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular; Sugar Babies with Juliet Prowse and Rip Taylor in Atlantic City and Lake Tahoe; Babes in Arms with Ginger Rogers in Tarrytown, choreographed by Randy Skinner; the fictional AIDS ball for TV's "General Hospital"; Off Broadway's Sarah, Plain and Tall at the Lucille Lortel; Drury Lane Water Tower's The Fantasticks starring Robert Conrad and a young Megan Mullaly; Drury Lane Oakbrook's 42nd Street and Anything Goes; and Holland America's World Cruise. In L.A., he won Drama Logue Awards for musical direction of Naked Boys Singing and Hello Again.

The Bailiwick Theatre in Chicago (where Naked Boys Singing plays) recently gave him a trailblazer award for his artistry and contribution to music. On Nov. 5, Naked Boys Singing played its 1,801st performance Off-Broadway, according to New York producer Carl D. White.

Mr. Bates was born Stephen Baltes in Madison, WI, where he started playing piano at age four. By age 12 he was playing church organ. He later told friends that church music is how he learned to underscore and fill a moment musically.

His first professional job was as pianist, conductor and arranger at the Red Barn Theatre in Rockton, IL, and then at the Chateau Louise in Dundee, IL. He worked at the Melody Top in Milwaukee, too, conducting a high-flying Nancy Dussault as Peter Pan. Alan Sues played Capt. Hook in that run.

Mr. Bates is survived by daughter Elizabeth Baltes, parents Dorothy and David of Madison, brother Ben and sister Beth Dibbert.

Technically, Larry Baker said, The Lion King was not Mr. Bates' final bit of musical direction. While receiving treatment in the hospital in September, a longtime friend, Chicago and New York actress Ann Arvia, came for a visit. They made their way to a piano in the 11th floor lounge, where he played and sang with her, entertaining patients and nurses. The repertoire for the impromptu recital included "Our Children," "Circle of Life" and "Before the Parade Passes By."

Memorials are being planned for New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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