Meet Alex Lacamoire, the orchestrator behind ‘Hamilton’, ‘Dear Evan Hansen’



Seven years have passed, but it only takes a moment for Alex Lacamoire to summon his itinerary from July 19, 2015, when “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” music supervisor rushed to bring his contribution to the two future Broadways. smashes work in harmony.

After leading two previews of “Hamilton” at the Richard Rodgers Theater the night before, as the show neared its opening on Broadway, Lacamoire got up early Sunday morning and boarded a train at 9:05 a.m. for DC with his wife. He arrived at Union Station, walked to Arena Stage — where “Dear Evan Hansen” was at the start of a pre-Broadway tryout — and watched the 2 p.m. matinee. A technical glitch interrupted “For Forever,” which tugged at the heartstrings of Act 1, he recalls, but hearing the song on stage for the first time still brought him to tears. Lacamoire then oversaw a 6 p.m. orchestra rehearsal, crowded into a 7:30 p.m. meal at Jaleo, boarded a train for New York, and returned well after midnight.

“How you do one thing is how you do everything,” Lacamoire said on a recent call from his New York apartment. “The level of detail I have to put into my work as an orchestrator and the amount of planning that has to happen in my life as a music supervisor, and the fact that my schedule was so busy and I always had access to [my itinerary]? That’s how nerdy I am.

This meticulousness and work ethic helped Lacamoire win back-to-back Tony Awards for his “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” orchestrations, and back-to-back Grammys for his work on those shows’ albums. In 2018, he shares the Kennedy Center Honors with his “Hamilton” co-creators: writer-composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and director Thomas Kail.

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Over the next two months, Lacamoire’s rich arrangements will once again ripple through the Kennedy Center, with “Hamilton” returning to the Opera until October 9 and “Dear Evan Hansen” occupying the Eisenhower Theater from August 30. to September 25.

“Working with him, you know you’re going to have someone who’s going to approach the job in the most holistic way, and he’s also going to do it in the most human way,” says Kail, who has also collaborated with Lacamoire. on the musical “In the Heights” and the FX limited series “Fosse/Verdon”. “I think that’s what makes him such a gifted musician, such an incredible conductor, and that’s what makes him such a wonderful collaborator and partner for every actor and performer that’s on stage. .”

Lacamoire, 47, was born in Los Angeles to Cuban immigrant parents before moving to Miami in his youth. He laughs while recounting how, when he was 5 or 6 years old, the teenager responsible for teaching him the piano called his own instructor in tears because of how quickly he absorbed everything she knew. Although Lacamoire was diagnosed with mild hearing loss at a young age, this hurdle never swayed him as he attended colleges and high schools specializing in the fine arts and graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

In 2008, Lacamoire won his first Tony for co-orchestrating Miranda’s “In the Heights” score. A year later, when Miranda introduced “Hamilton” to the world with a performance at the White House Poetry Jam, Lacamoire was the pianist by her side. Such early involvement is not unusual for Lacamoire: orchestrations are among the final elements finalized on a musical, but he is instrumental in the development of any show he takes part in, listening to demo tracks from composers and providing commentary during what he calls this premiere, “a truly sacred sphere of vulnerable musical creation”.

“We think we owe a lot of the sound of ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ to Alex,” Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the show’s songwriters, said in a joint email. “The way he managed to blend the sound of contemporary and pop music with stunning and lush string arrangements became the show’s signature sound. No one picks up that sound like Alex does.

According to Kail, it’s as if Lacamoire “brings six tools to the production he’s been working on when most of us struggle to find a thing or two to contribute.”

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Calling himself an ‘ambassador’ of sorts, responsible for interpreting and conveying the composer’s intention, Lacamoire says his orchestrations are defined by a rhythmic section that he hopes is ‘detailed and organic at the same time’. He also considers not only the sonic aesthetic, but also the narrative resonance of every choice he makes.

While “Hamilton” is a hip-hop musical peppered with R&B beats, soul music, and traditional show tunes, the “Dear Evan Hansen” score is packed with power ballads and alt-rock earworms. However, in the spirit of Lacamoire, “everything is music for me”. As Pasek and Paul said, “His love for consuming new and all kinds of music is inspiring.”

“I like variety, and I’ve always been like that,” says Lacamoire. “I have always considered myself an eclectic person. Even growing up, it was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to listen to this Keith Jarrett record, and immediately after that, I want to listen to this Rush album.’ ”

Lacamoire, who won his fourth Grammy for working with Pasek and Paul on the musical “The Greatest Showman” in 2017 and an Emmy for “Fosse/Verdon” in 2019, is respected among his peers. But it’s not a household name, and it suits him just fine.

When he was younger, Lacamoire remembers taking over Marc Shaiman’s involvement in a myriad of projects: producing “We Are in Love” by Harry Connick Jr., arranging the score for “When Harry Met Sally…”, playing piano in the Sweeney Sisters. sketches on “Saturday Night Live”. Lacamoire therefore feels particularly attentive to fans who notice his work in the same way as he recorded that of Shaiman.

“I see myself in them,” Lacamoire says, “because it means they pay attention to music on a level that I paid attention to music when I was growing up.”

Taking a break from the stage, Lacamoire had a role in four musicals released last year: as music producer on film adaptations of “In the Heights,” “Dear Evan Hansen” and “Tick, Tick… Boom! and the composer of the Netflix animated feature “Vivo.”

Before Lacamoire heads to the next stage of his career, with what he teases will be a busy 2023, the simulcasts of “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” at the Kennedy Center provide an opportunity to reflect on these life-changing shows. And he arrives in the city where the two musicals, recognizes Lacamoire, were born: “Hamilton” in 2009 at the White House and “Hansen” in 2015 at Arena Stage.

“I can’t wait to be able to stand in the Kennedy Center, which is a building that I really love, to be able to see both those marquees and those posters,” Lacamoire said. “It doesn’t seem to happen often in a lifetime.”

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House. 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater. 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600.


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