Music director Jermaine Hill shares his passion for working in the theater

Music director Jermaine Hill shares his passion for working in the theater
Jermaine Hill (Photo courtesy of the Goodman Theatre)

Jermaine Hill is currently serving as the music director for the production of “The Music Man” at Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Hill’s journey in musical theater began at 5 years old when he started playing the piano. He grew up in New York with an affinity for Broadway productions and went on to receive a Bachelor of Music from Ithaca College and a Master of Music from New England Conservatory in Boston. In addition to his work with Goodman Theatre and other regional playhouses, Hill is an assistant professor of theater and music director at Columbia College Chicago.

Rolling out spoke with Hill about his passion and experience as a Black man working in this space.

When did you know that music direction was something that you could do well?

I music directed a cabaret my senior year of high school and knew that was what I wanted to do. I loved performing, but there is something about helping other actors to bring their characters to life that I’m passionate about.

Talk about your experience as a Black musical director in the theater.

I did feel a bit of a sense of “Who is this guy?” when I first started working at some of the larger houses, but I hope that the quality of my work demonstrates that I work hard to be good at what I do. I think it’s important for all of us who are working in the field to serve as examples to future generations of artists and to give back to and mentor other artists in our communities. It is critical for institutions to have serious conversations around institutional power and maintaining accountability and transparency to communities and artists who are still underrepresented.

“The Music Man” is your latest job. What can the audience expect that is unique to you?

I dive deeply into score study and text analysis to try to bring the composer and lyricist’s vision alive. I find that my attention to detail and specificity is the key to unlocking compelling performances from the actors I work with.

What are your top two favorite musicals?

I love “The Wiz.” It was the first musical I did in high school and one of the reasons I knew I wanted to do musical theater professionally. The music is iconic. The show is an extraordinary achievement in terms of how it reimagines a “traditional” story and gives voice and visibility to theater-makers and musical styles not traditionally represented.

“The Light in the Piazza” is one of the most stunning, challenging and ultimately fulfilling scores in the musical theater canon. Adam Guettel wrote an incredibly gorgeous neo-classical work, and I think every moment of the score is absolutely brilliant. Every time I hear the last song in the show, “Fable,” I burst into tears.

What is next for you?

I start rehearsals for “The Color Purple,” then I move into serving as director [for] “A Man of No Importance” at Columbia College Chicago. After that, I move into rehearsals for “Sophisticated Ladies” where I’ll be music directing and serving as a pianist [and] conductor.

“The Music Man” runs through Aug. 11, 2019, at Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

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