by Sarah Kim
From nearly 100 blocks uptown, I can feel the buzz from the star-studded production of Camelot at Lincoln Center. So, I called my friend Will Curry to hear about it all.
Will is an experienced Broadway musician (Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, My Fair Lady) and is currently Viola 3 and Associate Conductor of Camelot. Knowing Will as a colleague in both the orchestral music and musical theater scenes (a true orchestral crossover expert if ever there was one), I knew that this Golden Age style musical was a perfect fit for him.
While this isn’t Will’s first time working at Lincoln Center, this production is a significant departure from the original, which means a lot of serious changes for the music. It’s the first preview period where Will was met with a sheet of changes every day.
Will shares: “I really had to reframe the way I think about the piece, not as a revival, but as a new musical. I have a very classical background and I’ve realized because I’ve done so many revivals that I treat these scores like I would treat a Mozart symphony.” He wouldn’t dare change a note in a Mozart symphony, but understands that “when you get a musical, you have to make it work for the stage.”
In one instance, the intro to a song was cut. Will agreed that it wasn’t necessary for the dramatic storytelling effect, but “in terms of Golden Age musical theater, the intro is very classic,” and as an initial response, he “felt personally attacked that we cut this because I really liked it!”
I asked Will if this mental shift changes his approach to his role as a conductor:
“On one hand, it forces you to remain fresh and forces you to remain in the moment…It is about making choices in the moment, and being as musical and as dramatic as the story requires, without getting attached to it; just committing to it, and delivering something beautiful, and then knowing whatever you did that day might not exist tomorrow.”
Since he is conducting just once per week during previews, it feels like a completely different piece each time. However, he is also able to experience the changes with the show as a violist in the orchestra: “I treat it how I imagine parenting a large family. It’s not like you have a checklist of all the things that are changing, but you’re subtly aware of how things change and evolve.” For example, “I’ll be like oh, the music director came out of that vamp in a different line than I’m used to, and I’ll just write a quick note on a little sticky note and leave it on my stand and find her afterward.”
Working as both a violist and conductor on this show has been a very complementary experience for Will. The only struggle was at the beginning of the process: “I tried to figure out where I fit, how I build trust with the people around me…really it’s about me having to establish or give permission to the people around me, just in how I behave to be like what I am in this chair…It’s also establishing trust with the orchestra to be like yes, I’m the associate, but I’m also one of your colleagues and I’m here to advocate for you and I’m here to advocate for the show.”
Will’s ability to have such a clear approach is largely due to the pandemic shutdown. This time off allowed him to reassess his priorities, values, and mental health, which prepared him to get back to work and set boundaries for himself.
Part of this process was re-establishing the sanctuary of home. Living and working in New York City creates a sense of always being “on the go,” especially when working in an industry where there is rarely a day (or evening!) off. Though re-establishing his career was a very gradual process as the industry came back to life, Will felt a huge change when he started Camelot – his first full-time, full creative process since the onset of the pandemic.
“I really was having a lovely time in the building when I was at the theater, and as soon as I wasn’t in the theater I felt bad, and I couldn’t say oh, so and so said this to me and it made me feel sad or I would just wake up in the morning and feel awful for no reason…so I was talking to my partner about it, who is a former actor, dancer, now director, and I was like I’m back in this place where I logically should be so grateful and so thrilled, and I just don’t feel good.”
“He looked at me and asked, are you warming down after the show? And I was like, am I warming down? What? I’m just playing offbeats! I don’t understand what you mean.”
Will’s partner shared: You need to warm down because your brain is still in show mode, and you wake up in the morning sad because your brain wants to be back in show mode.
He was right.
Will began to make a point to “warm down” after work. Since the subway isn’t necessarily the most tranquil place for any sort of meditation, he sought the help of a choreographer and interior designer friend to redo his apartment in a way that prioritizes what he does and how he spends his time in his home.
Now, his home feels like a sanctuary. He can return from the show and do “even 2 minutes of yoga stretches and intention work thinking about being back in my space and really thinking about recentering the thought and perspective that the show doesn't define me as an artist.”
That last part has been a helpful exercise and reminder as well. “Prior to the pandemic, I defined who I was and what my worth was as an artist based on the projects that I was working on.” Especially since the reason he moved to New York in the first place was to do musical theater. So now, Will is able to enjoy all of the things that New York has to offer. “I want to have a life in New York.”
Since I was first introduced to Will in a classical and orchestral context, I thought he might miss the symphonic, orchestral repertoire and ensembles. But in Will’s eyes, this is his dream job: this orchestra at the Lincoln Center is his Met Orchestra, and these are his people.
“I love being in the theater. I love when I’m on the podium at Lincoln Center, I just feel lost in the best way. I have to keep checking myself -- you’re conducting in Lincoln Center at the Vivian Beaumont, which is so special with a 30-piece orchestra!! It truly doesn’t get better for me than doing a show in Lincoln Center like this.”
Everything Will shared was demonstrative of the person, the artist, and the type of collaborator that he is. I am so lucky to call him a friend, and I am ecstatic to be able to watch him from my seat in the audience as he takes the podium to lead this phenomenal cast, orchestra, and crew in Camelot at Lincoln Center.
This is definitely a production that should not be missed. Congratulations to Will, Viola 3 and Associate Conductor, and his colleagues at the Lincoln Center. If you’re in New York City, go see Camelot and say hello to Will – and keep an eye on Will’s Stagetime profile for the dates he is conducting.