Of all the musical experiences that have shaped Andrew Resnick, who has just become Conductor of The King and I, perhaps the liveliest took place at the annual summer arts festival in Edinburgh, Scotland. “I went there after my junior and senior years of college,” Resnick told me in his backstage office the other day.
In Edinburgh, along with six actors, Resnick, who performed at the keyboard, would improvise a musical every night. To begin, they would ask audience members to provide the name of the show, where it began, and the name of a made-up song. “It was an incredible experience,” Resnick said. “I learned so much about craft and about the rhythm a show needs. Each show would last only for about an hour, but we had to think fast on our feet the whole time.”
Such real-world training complemented Resnick’s formal education. He grew up primarily in southern California, where he studied piano seriously, and took part in piano competitions, from a young age. “When I was 12 or 13,” he said, “I started playing the drums. They made me so happy, and were a release from the rigors of practicing the piano all the time.” Around the same time, Resnick saw the musical Rent. “Seeing and hearing that musical,” he said, “made me realize that I could combine my interests in classical and rock ‘n’ roll and pop.”
At Yale, where he majored in music, Resnick music-directed shows. “I enjoyed the collaborative nature of them,” he said. “They were a contrast to the more solitary, academic nature of my coursework.”
As soon as he finished at Yale, Resnick began working professionally. “I was the music director, at Long Wharf, for Paula Vogel’s A Civil War Christmas. It was an incredible experience working with that creative team and I can't put into words how much I learned from the process.”
Resnick has been conducting performances of The King and I since its previews began this past March, often when Ted Sperling, the music director who just passed Resnick the regular baton, was otherwise engaged. How does he find conducting a Rodgers & Hammerstein score? “There’s a simplicity and directness to it, and simultaneously all kinds of little details to pay attention to.”
Resnick’s favorite part of the score to conduct is the “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” ballet in act two. “It is so rich and satisfying musically,” Resnick said. “It’s a break from having to focus on the vocalists. In the ballet, the conductor and orchestra are driving the train, versus other moments in the show.” As for those vocalists, Resnick must stay sensitive to their needs. Of Kelli O’Hara, for example, with whom he has worked off-Broadway in Far from Heaven and on Broadway in The Bridges of Madison County, Resnick said, “If during a performance I pick up something subtle happening in Kelli’s voice, that affects what I try to get out of the orchestra.”
As for the 29 musicians he conducts nightly in the pit, Resnick has high praise. “They are constantly forcing me to up my game. I have to stay very focused to work on their level.”
Given the demands of an eight-show week, how does Resnick keep himself physically and psychologically prepared? “I meditate,” he said. “And more recently, I’ve started to go to the gym, and running and dancing. Anything that keeps the body moving in a different way than conducting and helps me to let go mentally.”
Resnick is also composing a musical (no details to be divulged yet) and playing the piano regularly (Chopin Etudes). He says he wants to take up the drums again. “They brought me joy as a kid, and I’m sure they will again.”
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.