BY SARAH VASSELLO I The Daily Tar Heel
Canvas is following UNC Pauper Players’s production of “Avenue Q” from the beginning to the end in its series“The Avenue Ahead” throughout the semester.
In the third installment of the series, staff writer Sarah Vassello profiled the show’s music director, Alex Thompson.
After four years of piano lessons, senior Alex Thompson almost gave up on music.
But then he then discovered something that would change the course of his life — the Broadway musical “Wicked.”
“Broadway kind of reinvigorated the (music) bug,” Thompson, a communication studies major, said. “I don’t know how to explain it, because where I am now, I’m just so passionate about it that it’s hard to go back to where I was in my head then.”
Passionate is an apt description of Thompson who has been a performer and director in multiple venues throughout his time at UNC. Thompson’s involvement ranges from being the musical director of the UNC Walk-Ons a capella group to acting in Pauper Player’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show” to a keyboard player for the Company Carolina’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Currently, he is focusing on his next big project as musical director for “Avenue Q.”
“I’d first heard the soundtrack a long time ago and the songs on their own are very funny — you don’t know that they’re puppets from just the music,” Thompson said. “I thought that it was a strange, but very endearing, thing considering how crude the humor is.”
Thompson got involved with Pauper Players as a freshman, and he has been involved in at least one show per semester with the group since then. It was in Company Carolina where he met the director of the show, senior Clare Shaffer, who he has since worked with at least 15 times and who shared his dream of seeing “Avenue Q” brought to life on campus.
“She’s one of my favorite people to collaborate with,” he said. “‘Avenue Q’s been her dream show and it’s one of my dream shows, as well, to music direct so this worked out for us.”
As the music director, Thompson is doing something unique: by March 5, a month before the show opens, the cast and the orchestra will know all of the music in the show.
“This is my first time music directing a full scale (show), so I approached it in a way that ensured that the level of productivity would be as high as possible,” he said.
“I’ve worked on so many shows in college and this is the only one that I have been a part of where 100 percent of the music was completely learned and memorized by the cast over a month before the show goes up.”
Thompson, along with the rest of the cast, has appreciated this approach.
“He plays it once for you and you have to do it and learn it and he doesn’t want to do it again, which can be jarring for a lot of people, but it’s really efficient and we get it done very quickly,” said sophomore Kyle Conroy, who plays Princeton. “It’s nice. I’ve never been on a show so streamlined.”
Sophomore Brooke Wilson, who plays Kate Monster, mirrors Conroy’s respect for Thompson.
“Alex is a really, really cool guy. I just can’t emphasise how talented he is,” she said.
“He can pick up an instrument and play it amazingly, but he’s also got a great voice. He’s an asset wherever he’s working in a show.”
Above all else, Thompson hopes that the hard work pays off in order for the audience to truly appreciate the show, just as he does.
“When it’s done right, the show is just endlessly unpredictable, and just moves and moves; it’s one of the most entertaining scripts that I’ve read and one of the most musically diverse groups of songs just in terms of the show,” he said.
“I hope that the audience — I just want them to have as much fun as possible.”
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