Friday, June 10, 2016

A conversation with Mark 4man, music director of ROCK OF AGES, at Arizona Broadway Theatre

Mark 4man
by Gil Benbrook

Arizona native Mark 4man, and his wife Lynzee, have to be just about the hardest working theatrical duo in the Valley. From directing to performing, the two have collectively served in just about every major theatrical role at numerous theatres across town. 

Mark has musically directed, conducted and directed many shows while Lynzee has choreographed, directed, and performed in dozens of others, including many shows that the two have worked on together. They both also appear to work non-stop, are highly respected, and always deliver exceptional work.

These days Mark is rocking it out as the music director of Rock of Ages at Arizona Broadway Theatre.

Mark took a moment on his day off from Rock of Ages to answer some questions about his past, his favorite parts of the show and where the "4" in his name came from. 

Where were you were born and educated, and how did you get involved in the theater as a music director?

"Born in Flagstaff, AZ. Grew up a mile away from ABT. Started classical piano lessons at the age of four under the Suzuki method. In sixth grade I taught myself pop/rock/jazz and then after numerous bands and projects at Cactus High School I then studied jazz under Dave Schmidt at Glendale Community College.  I got involved in theatre as a Music Director right out of high school working on Footloose at Theater Works, directed by Kim Hart. I had played in the pit at my high school for four shows (Pippin, How To Succeed..., Into The Woods, Anything Goes) and music directed the band for our show choir productions.

What's the story behind the '4' in your name? 

'I switched to the '4' the summer heading into 7th grade. A group of us had just started a band and I had to have a stage name or something cool...So why not a number in my last name? And it stuck ever since. Some places print it as Foreman because they think the 4 has got to be a joke or a misprint. Those places I always follow up with and let them know the 4man spelling and that it's been that way for over 20 years. It's not just a fad, it's a real thing.'

For those who don't know, what exactly does a music director do?

"A Music Director teaches the cast the music, accompanies the rehearsals, rehearses and (usually) conducts the band."

I know you often do all of those things on the shows you work on - conducting, playing during the show and serving as the musical director. How complicated is it wearing all of those hats?

"It all kind of becomes the same hat. It's a fun hat to wear."

Mark 4man (at right on keyboards) with Nicholas Moulton (center) and the ABT Rock of Ages band
Photo by Joe Samplin

While you obviously have worked on many classic musicals, including music directing Les Misérables and The Sound of Music at ABT, you definitely have the persona of a rocker. Since Rock of Ages perfectly combines both rock and music theatre, is working on a show like this one a dream come true?

"Every now and then the stars align where a true rock show comes along. Ten years ago, almost to the date, I was fortunate enough to be able to music direct The Who's Tommy at Nearly Naked Theatre, the band was on stage like we are in Rock of Ages, and funny enough my drummer for that production, Andrew Hake is my lead guitarist for Rock of Ages. Being able to rock nightly and still have it be Music Theatre is very much a dream come true and I've been very blessed to be the 'Rock Guy' in town for the better part of a decade."

Is there a specific song or part of the score in Rock of Ages that you love playing every night?

"I love playing the opener! Just right from the top of the show you know it's gonna be a killer good time! I really enjoy playing 'We Built This City/Too Much Time.' I love conducting the second verse of 'Final Countdown.' I really enjoy giving the conductor's camera an 80's Music Video feel during 'Beaver Hunt.' " Oh, I also love playing 'I Can't Fight this Feeling.'

Mark 4man (in top hat) and the Rock of Ages band
photo courtesy of Mark 4man
I understand there are some members of the Rock of Ages band where this is their first experience playing in a musical theatre band.  Was there any difficulty you encountered with their lack of musical theatre experience?

"I wouldn't say difficulty because both Doug Ramlow and Jeff Lauffer are excellent musicians. It was just a different approach than usual, which I really enjoyed. Doug and Jeff are band guys and they brought a band element with them. There's a different approach to stage presence and musical attack when you're on a stage or in a bar versus playing in a music theatre pit. They were able to bring that element over to our band which, the sound team hated, but it gave our band and cast a unique energy and a cool rock band approach to this show."

Were you intimidated at all with REO Speedwagon’s Dave Amato’s recent appearance in the show?

"Excited, not intimidated. I was able to play some of these songs and music direct a rock legend who actually played these tunes all over the world! That was surreal and a ton of fun! And of course getting to jam with Dave during the sound check was a blast! He was a great guy, very professional, easy to work with and a killer guitarist!"

Are there any classic shows or rarely-seen musicals that you would like to direct or music direct in the Valley?

"There are a lot of shows that I'd love to MD/Direct.  Evil Dead, Urinetown, Heathers, Movin' OutJesus Christ Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show, School of Rock, War Of The Worlds, Tommy, Bat Boy, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Paint Your Wagon, Altar Boyz, Bright Lights Big City"

You work very closely with youth in the Valley. What advice do you give those who want to continue down the path that you and Lynzee so graciously walk?
Laurie Elizabeth Gardner and Seth Hunter
Photo by Joe Samplin

"Full Out, First Time, Everytime, ALWAYS!! I learned that from Shelli Nickels at a workshop in Disneyland years ago, but it's very true! Also, work hard before you play hard! Give it your all, and pace yourself. Don't take on more than you can handle just because it sounds fun. 'Making it' in this industry takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but if you're willing to make this a priority it can be one of the most artistically rewarding endeavors you will ever venture into"

While you work at many theatres in the Valley, what makes ABT unique when compared to the other theatre companies you’ve worked for?

"Being able to work alongside and under the mentorship of Cassandra & Kiel Klaphake as well as Kurtis Overby as an Artistic Production Team I've been able to learn a lot and get an appreciation for all the elements that go into a production. The teamwork and family approach that Cass, Kiel and Kurtis bring to the table makes for a fun and productive work environment. The production value and detail that goes into every show is truly an artwork unto itself. Combine that with an amazing dining experience and some of the best actors the country has to offer, all of that makes ABT a very unique place to work at."

for more information on Rock of Ages, which runs through June 19th at Arizona Broadway Theatre, CLICK HERE

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