Alex Lacamoire on Life After ‘Hamilton,’ Recording New Hit Musical ‘Dear Evan Hansen’
Alex Lacamoire’s ear for innovative sounds, incisive eye for a complex score and infectious energy have made him one of the most in-demand musical directors on Broadway (he’s already won two Tonys and two Grammys, for Hamilton — where he was music director, orchestrator and is still music supervisor — and In the Heights). Now, he’s musical supervisor and orchestrator for Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s new hit musical Dear Evan Hansen, starring Pitch Perfect’s Ben Platt as an awkward high school student who must suffer the consequences — both hilarious and tragic — of a white lie that spins out of control.
The show’s original cast recording just dropped digitally on Atlantic Records and will be released in physical form Feb. 24. On break from rehearsal for Hamilton’s California tour, Lacamoire chatted about how he came to Dear Evan Hansen, what it takes to make a stellar original cast recording, and what he listens to outside the Broadway sphere.
How did you become involved in the show in the first place? After working with Lin-Manuel Miranda on several shows — In the Heights, Bring It On, Hamilton — were you looking to do something that felt different?
I wasn’t actively looking. Being a music director, you’re essentially a freelancer and things happen when they happen. [Dear Evan Hansen] was actually workshopping before Hamilton. But there was really a mutual admiration between myself and Justin Paul, and we had dinner once when I was in previews for Bring It On and just kinda hit it off. I got to see [Pasek and Paul’s musical] Dogfight after that, which I loved, and not long after that I got a call saying there was a show they were working on, and they didn’t send me a script or a demo or anything: Justin just came to my apartment and sat at my piano and described the show and played the songs. Very old-school dog and pony show.
How did you know it was the project for you?
The first song he played for me was “Waving Through a Window,” and all I know is I heard that and was like, “Sign me up.” Many of the songs he played for me actually are in the show to this day. On the strength of the music, I knew I wanted to work on it. There came a point when we had a meeting after a reading and were discussing the timeline of Dear Evan Hansen, and I had to raise my hand, saying, “Hamilton is coming at just around that time!” Fortunately, they were very cool about making the space for me. When the show started out in D.C., I was able to bring a friend of mine in to help them get the show up and running while I had Hamilton; he kind of held the chair for me so I could revisit that after Hamilton.
You have a lot of experience working with composers who take a more pop-oriented approach to Broadway music. What to you was unique about Benj and Justin’s sound on this show?
What’s amazing about them as composers is no two shows sound the same, and their penchant for pop is really strong. “Waving” is just so hooky, that melody is so perfect. It hews toward just the right amount of pop. That lyric “tap tap tappin’ on the glass,” that is a lyric that would have as perfect a home in a pop song you’d hear on the radio as it does in a musical theater song.
And another thing is a lot of the songs have a trance-like, calming feel, a meditative quality, very centered while being very tense and yearning at the same time, a really wonderful mix of stuff. [Pasek and Paul] take their craft really seriously. They really work relentlessly to make sure the music is as good as it can be. The level of quality in the melodies, the chord progressions, the writing is just at a really high level.
After Hamilton, the music for Dear Evan Hansen must almost feel like chamber music — it’s a fairly small pit, with lots of guitar, piano and strings.