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A Special Conversation with Steven Ray Watkins, Our Featured Musical Director for October!

September 29, 2017

Hello everyone! 


Wow, time sure flew by quickly!   The next Spotlight On You Open Mic is right around the corner!   


As usual, I have special treats for you, starting with an exclusive interview with our featured MAC award-winning musical director for October, Steven Ray Watkins!   Many of you may already know him, but in case you don't, I will start with a little bio! 


Steven Ray Watkins has been playing the piano for 47 years, and has been a working musician for 43 years. He attended Shenandoah Conservatory of Music with a focus on Musical Theater and Piano. In the 80’s, Watkins was the lead singer of the techno-pop band Ampersand, who had a top 20 Billboard single with the song “Traction.” After their disbandment, Watkins returned to musical theater performance, performing in the national tours of “big,” “Singin’ In the Rain,” and “Showboat.” Regionally he performed in “Falsettos,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “42nd Street,” “Evita,” “They’re Playing Our Song,” “The Last Session,” and “Witness For the Prosecution,” among others. In 2000, Watkins turned his attention back to music, and quickly became one of the most sought after musical directors and pianists in NYC. As a theater MD, he has worked on “A Chorus Line,” “Funny Girl,” “The Last Five Years,” “Once On This Island,” etc. As a musical consultant and vocal coach he has worked with a myriad of different performers, including Patti LuPone, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, Anne Hathaway, Cynthia Nixon, Bonnie Franklin, Amanda McBroom, Louise Pitre, and Karen Mason. He consulted on the 2009 Oscars, has musical directed the MAC Awards 3 times, and has been involved in many benefits and concerts in NYC and around the country, including performances at Town Hall and Carnegie Hall. As a composer, he has written specialty material for many cabaret acts, the MAC Awards, and his song “Give Me A Voice” appears on Lennie Watts’ CD “I Want….You Want.” Currently, Watkins teaches a cabaret performance class at Marymount College of Manhattan plus many private classes, all with Lennie Watts.​


I met Steven as I have met Lennie in 2011 through the Singers Forum.  Time flies when you're having fun!  It's 6 years later!  Over the years, I've shared laughter and tears and love them both!  They're like family!     


Steven is more than just a musical director/teacher to me, he's also a confidante.   Given the amount of time we've spent together rehearsing and hanging out in preparation for the three full shows I've done, it was inevitable that we've shared and bonded. 


As a musical director, not only does Steven have a perfect pitch and can hear all the nuisances in music, he has an amazing ability to transform verbal thoughts into beautiful arrangements.  He instinctively can tell the right pitch for a song for me without even asking.  Between the wizard and the very intuitively blessed musical director, I've grown so much and I wouldn't trade the experience for the world!  


For the interview I asked Steven the following questions:

1) Can you share with us an interesting fact that most people don’t know about you?

I was the lead singer for a New Wave band in the 80's called Ampersand who toured for 2 years had a top 20 Billboard dance hit.  


2)  You are amazing as a performer, teacher and musical director and so much more.  How did you discover music and realized that it was what you wanted to do? Do you have a particularly interesting story that you'd like to share with the readers? 

My brother, when he was 7 years old was taking piano lessons and one night my mom heard him practicing while she was washing dishes and she asked about his day.  He never responded so she went into his room to see why he wasn't answering her and it was because it wasn't "him", it was Steven, who was 3 years old!   Steven sat down on the piano and just "played" his brother's lessons.  Steven got his first paid piano gig when he was 8 years old.   It's never been anything else.   


An interesting story?  Aside from being a pianist, I've worked as an actor, a singer, a dancer etcetera.  There are stories for all of those things I've done.  


Working at the Oscars for 2009 was amazing; meeting Hugh Jackman, Beyonce... It was a once in a lifetime kind of experience.   Not only was Hugh Jackman as handsome in person as he was in the movies, he is also the nicest person alive.   He is so sweet, so generous, kind and because he is all of that, you kind of forget how good looking he is.    


3) What motivates your creativity and passion for life?  Name three things that never fails to put a smile on your face!


Art, trying to make art, trying to do something different.  Anything that comes along that is a little bit "off the edge", not "normal", gets me going.    An unusual idea or unusual "take" on something.   Even the simplest idea from an "odd" angle gets me going.  


For example, last year when Kim Sutton wanted to do this Madonna show to tell the story of this incredibly brave personal journey she went through.  That made that interesting rather than someone just wanting to do a series of Madonna songs.


Another example is when you were doing your "They'd Only Just Begun" Carpenters show. You're not a girl from Kansas listening to the Carpenters. You being a Taiwanese girl. That's a totally different take/spin to what is expected from a Carpenters show. 


At the end of the day, it is about having a different "take" on music that is inspiring to my creativity.  


The three things that makes me smile?   Kylie Minogue makes me smile.   A cute doggy makes me smile. I love a good dog!  


It's funny, but I don't cry at sad things, I cry at happy things or energetic things like the opening of the Tony Awards, or the opening of a musical.  That energy of everything coming together; when you rehearsed and rehearsed and at the end of it all, everything coming together makes me cry. 


4) Share with us what you have in the pipeline for us to be on the lookout for!  

I've got shows with "Those Girls", I've got Amy Wolk that's going to be funny and great. Lennie is revisiting Mama's Next Big Act at Urban Stages where all the top fives of all three years will be performing.   


It's my greatest pleasure to present to you, our Featured Musical Director for the month of October, Steven Ray Watkins!   You don't want to miss this opportunity to sing with a him and a night of amazing performances!    Stay tuned for my interview of "Those Girls" Soon and see you all at the Spotlight on October 13th!!





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