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Interview with Mark Hartman

By Beth Herstein

From October 26-28, the York Theatre Company will close out its Fall 2007 Musicals in Mufti Series, which has featured the works of writer Joseph Stein, with a staged concert of the Joseph Stein/Stephen Schwartz musical, The Baker's Wife. Gordon Greenberg, who directed the show for The Paper Mill Playhouse in 2005 and for Connecticut's Goodspeed Musicals in 2002, will direct. The stars include Renée Elise Goldsberry, Gay Marshall, Max Von Essen, Lenny Wolpe and Kevin Cahoon.

This production reunites Greenberg with music director Mark Hartman, who served as the show's arranger and associate conductor at Goodspeed. Hartman is looking forward to the project. Along with the rest of his generation, he says, he grew up on the music of Stephen Schwartz, "from Godspell to Pippin, to his work in the movies." Hartman considers The Baker's Wife to be Schwartz's most beautiful score. "It has a different sensibility," he says. "Sentimental is too strong a word, but it's beautifully European."

Hartman grew up in North Carolina and attended college at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he ultimately studied musical theater with Professor Paul Ferguson. In Chapel Hill, he immersed himself in the bustling theater scene - there are 20 nonprofessional theaters and four Equity companies in the area, he says - and gained experience as a musician and music director regionally before he moved to New York in 1997.


Cady Huffman, Brad Oscar and Angie Schworer in Musicals in Mufti's The Body Beautiful
For Hartman, the transition to the New York theater scene was relatively smooth. "I was lucky to get keyboard subbing work on Broadway early on," he says. Though his keyboard work kept him steadily employed, he remained interested in music directing. He got his chance when, in 1998, producer Mel Miller contacted him about the then-new venture Musicals Tonight. Hartman accepted the opportunity and worked on the company's first show, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans' Let it Ride. "We had a lot of fun," Hartman says about the experience and his collaboration with longtime Musicals Tonight director Tom Mills. Hartman has gone on to work with Musicals Tonight on a total of 13 shows.

In addition, Hartman has a longstanding relationship with The Irish Repertory Theatre. He got a call from the company's producing director Ciaran O'Reilly on December 23, 1999, asking if he would be interested in touring as music director with Irish Rep's production of The Irish and How They Got That Way. Hartman remembers the date so specifically because of the short notice; he had to be ready to start working three days later, which also happened to be the day after Christmas. Despite the time constraints, he signed on,


Josh Grisetti and George S. Irving in Musicals in Mufti's Enter Laughing:  The Musical
and he's been a company member ever since. He loves working with Irish Rep, not just because of its intimate atmosphere but because of its artistry. "It's rare that people take work as seriously as they do at Irish Rep," he says, "or make so much of the resources they have." Among numerous other projects there, he was music director of the memorable and critically lauded revival of Finian's Rainbow, starring Melissa Errico and Malcolm Gets - "a dream project," he says, and one that highlighted the talents of Artistic Director Charlotte Moore. She created an adaptation that pleased not only New York's musical theater fans, Hartman states, but earned the approval of the Burton Lane and E.Y. ("Yip") Harburg estates.


Beth Fowler and Jeff McCarthy in Musicals in Mufti's Zorba
Hartman is best known to the theater community for his involvement with Avenue Q. In 2003, Stephen Oremus, the musical supervisor, contacted Hartman about working on Avenue Q at the Vineyard Theater. Hartman was sought out because of his musical versatility; in the original Off-Broadway production, he played keyboard, guitar and banjo. Once he indicated his interest in working on the show, Hartman jokes, Oremus "finally told me that the show had puppets." He signed on, nonetheless, for what he thought would be a two or three month commitment; but in the wake of critical raves and sold out shows, Avenue Q moved to Broadway, where it won the Tony Award for Best Musical and remains a hit today. Hartman made the transfer with the show as assistant conductor, and temporarily served as musical director while Gary Adler worked on another Broadway show, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life. As musical director, Hartman's work on Avenue Q was more in the nature of "touching up" the production, teaching the material to new performers and smoothing out the show's dynamics. "The music is so strong, and it's a very conscientious cast. Plus, puppetry is such a visceral art form - the music is connected to the techniques of acting and speaking and moving. So, for the most part once the actors know their parts, they maintain themselves."

Like his other collaborations, Hartman is drawn to the Mufti series because he loves working with the people involved - in this case, "[Producing Artistic Director] Jim Morgan and everyone else at York." Also, he says, as with Irish Rep, he's drawn to the spirit there. "It's another place where it's all about the work."


Musicals in Mufti's The Baker's Wife runs October 26-28 at The York Theatre, 619 Lexington Avenue at E. 54 St. Gordon Greenberg, Director. Mark Hartman, Music Director. Reneé Elise Goldsberry, Max Von Essen, Lenny Wolpe, Gay Marshall, Kevin Cahoon, Wendi Bergamini, Jacque Carnahan, Rick Crom, Betsy DiLellio, Joy Franz, Laurent Giroux, Mitchell Greenberg, Michael Medeiros, John O'Creagh, Richard Pruitt, Maureen Silliman and Clinton Zugel. For more information, visit http://www.yorktheatre.org/.


Photos: BenStrothmann.com


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