Boonsboro native has one 'Wicked' career

August 05, 2011|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE |
  • Christy Crowl has spent the last year as the assistant conductor for the first national touring company of "Wicked." The show is on stage through Sunday, Aug. 21, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Submitted photo

It could be said that Christy Crowl's musical career has been "Defying Gravity" as it floats along on a perfect high.

The Boonsboro native has spent the last year with the first national touring company of "Wicked" as the tour's assistant conductor.

This leg of the tour stops just about 60 miles from Crowl's hometown at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. "Wicked" continues through Sunday, Aug. 21.

"'Wicked' is an amazing phenomenon to be part of," Crowl said in a telephone interview while visiting her mom, Cheryl Crowl, in Boonsboro. "It's hard to believe when you're part of it that you're actually just a small piece that makes the whole thing come together and work."

A 'Wicked' gig

In 2007, Crowl said she started playing keyboard for "Wicked" by subbing for the associate director of the Los Angeles production.

She was then asked to learn to play rehearsal keyboard before finally being asked to learn to conduct the show.

As assistant conductor she bounces between playing keyboards and conducting.

"When the associate conductor conducts, I play his keyboard parts," she explained.

When it's her turn at the podium, a local musician referred to as "keyboard II sub" will come in and play her keyboard parts.

Crowl said she conducts about once a week, but varies depending on the players and the city.

"It's a living, breathing thing, the show," she said. "We have a new cast coming in all the time; contracts are ending. New things are happening all the time. There are a lot of factors. This is no 9-to-5 job. You have to flexible."

With "Wicked," Crowl is with the show eight days a week with usually Mondays off. In the afternoon — starting around noon or 1 and ending at 5 — there is usually a rehearsal for a new cast member or understudy. Then it's show time at 7:30 p.m., sometimes 8 p.m.

The Washington stop will be Crowl's last with the tour before heading home to Los Angeles to be the musical director for a production of "Cabaret."

'Dancing Through Life'

At age 12, Crowl was already playing full time with Friends With Spirits, a band in Hagerstown that her dad, Vaughn Crowl, co-directed.

"It was always assumed that music was going to be what I did," she said of her career. "My parents were always in full support of me doing it. It was never ‘Well, maybe she'll be a marine biologist.' Because I enjoyed marine biology. It was always music. It was always going to be my path."

Her brother, Adam Crowl, is an orthopedic surgeon in the Richmond, Va., area.

After graduating Boonsboro High School in 1989, Crowl enrolled at the University of Miami. There she flourished musically while she earned her bachelor's degree in piano performance and master's degree in media writing and production.

After earning her master's, she headed west to Los Angeles because to pursue a musical career, there were two options — New York or LA. After some research, she chose LA.

"It just seemed to click," she said of the place she now calls home. "Being in Miami, I really enjoyed being close to the ocean and the multicultural aspect of Miami. Los Angeles seemed to have that — and you can't beat the weather."

Being 'Popular'

When she got there she did when most Los Angeles transplants do — she worked as a temp. For about six months, she worked as an afterschool music teacher for a church. Then she landed her first music job as a supervisor for a post-production company.

"That taught me a lot about the business of music," she said.

After about a year, Crowl said she needed to refocus on being a musician and enrolled in the doctorate program at University of Southern California, where she had a full scholarship to study piano.

Although she wanted to focus on her studies, it seemed that it wasn't meant to be. Instead, Crowl got calls to play gigs in the area, all forwarded to her from the USC keyboard administrator for whom she subbed occasionally at a church.

"If there was a call that came in the office, he referred me for everything," she said.

Her gigging landed her two shows, "Bugs Bunny on Broadway" and "Opera A La Carte," which were both touring.

"At the end of my first of semester of my doctorate I had to keep on changing my jury date because I was in Mexico playing my first concert with 'Bugs Bunny on Broadway' in Mexico City," she said.

From there, things began to fall into place.

"I ended up being a pianist in a movie," she said. "I was working more and more that summer."

Crowl had to make a decision about finishing her degree.

"I felt it would be quite difficult to return to school. I was doing a lot of things in music. ... It seemed like the thing I needed to do was to work more than going to school."

'For Good'

Through music, Crowl has been able to work with many celebrities and music professionals, such as Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews and Gnarls Barkley.

"The life of a freelance musician is very eclectic and very varied," she said. "I've been really lucky."

One of her favorite memories was singing on the Grammys in 2007 with Gnarls Barkley. The duo was nominated for and won a Grammy for "Crazy." A local contractor was asked to get background vocalists and Crowl was one of the people selected.

"It was just so exciting to be there with the energy ," she said. "Passing people in the hallway backstage — everyone walking in is someone you've heard or respected on the radio. You're like a kid in a candy store. You're like "Wow! Look at all this talent.'"

Another meeting that has meant so much to her was working with Julie Andrews on her "Julie Andrews: The Gift of Music" concert at the Hollywood Bowl.

Crowl was Andrews' rehearsal pianist and was assistant conductor to Andrews' personal conductor, Ian Fraser.  

"She's an amazing talent, just a wonderful, wonderful lady," Crowl said of Andrews.

Crowl said she, along with the cast, were invited to a Fourth of July party with Andrews. She thought it would be a larger production. Instead when they arrived it was intimate — only about 20 people who were involved in the production.  

"It was an amazing experience," Crowl said. "She was just sitting down with us at a barbecue and having a lovely day."

Being a sentimental (wo)man

As Crowl winds down her four years with "Wicked," she said it's "bittersweet."

"I love this show. It's been an amazing production," she said.

When she returns to Los Angeles, she'll be working as the musical director for "Cabaret" at the Reprise Theatre Company with Tony Award-winning director Marcia Milgrom Dodge and artistic director Tony-winner Jason Alexander. The show opens in September.

Although Crowl said she's enjoyed working with "Wicked," she's also excited to go home.

"I love Los Angeles, I really do. The timing being in D.C. was really great," she said.

She's been away from her LA home for at least five months, except briefly when she went home to bring her dogs with her as well as do some business with "Cabaret."

"The tour doesn't stop," she said. "As a musicians there's no back up for you. There's a local sub. It's not a back up if you want to take a vacation. You have to bring somebody in approved by the show."

Looking at what she's accomplished, Crowl said is amazed that she's been able to do so many things with her music.

"As long as my fingers work and my eyes work, I can do this for the rest of my life in some form," she said. "I'm very grateful I've had some great experiences and plan to have more great experiences."

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