Live from New York: UNCG's May commencement speaker

Monday, February 10, 2014

He may not be directing the music but Dom Amendum, a 2001 graduate of the School of Music, will deliver the commencement address at UNCG's May graduation ceremony.

Amendum, who majored in classical piano performance, has found success as music director for Broadway hits "Wicked" and "First Date" and produced solo recordings for such diverse artists as Marvin Hamlisch and Dolly Parton. He will share advice and life lessons with new graduates during the May 9 ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum.

Amendum loves his job, which, simply put, means overseeing everything an audience hears in the theater. For him, the opening night of a new show is the "scariest three hours of your life" but also the most exhilarating.

"I understand maybe how people feel who skydive or bungee jump," he says. "The thrill that you get, the adrenaline rush that you get from doing what I do is really exciting. As a conductor on Broadway there's a great energy where I watch the show from. I get the energy from the stage and the energy from the pit and the energy from the audience behind me that all kind of meet right where I am. I have often said that very few people get to experience that specific place in a performance of a show and it can be just unreal and incredible."

Amendum moved to New York City the fall after he graduated, just three days before 9/11. He took a job as music director for "The Student Prince," a production staged by the Gallery Players of Brooklyn.

The Gallery Players have turned out several distinguished alumni, he says, but the theater is housed in the basement of an adult day care facility. A far cry from a Broadway gig.

"I like to say it's as Off Broadway as you can get probably and still be in New York," he says. "I did that for about a month and then sort of pounded the pavement, as you do, for what was next."

It took him two years of establishing his reputation as a music director and making contacts before he got his game-changing break with "Wicked," which he describes as "arguably the biggest Broadway hit of my generation." He was hired just as the show was preparing for a national tour, and he stayed with it through productions in Los Angeles and back on Broadway.

"Sadly," he says, "there is no classified section for people who do what I do. It sounds cliche, but it is who you know and who you have worked with and who was impressed by your work. You can draw a line and trace my employment at 'Wicked' back a few years to people who I had come into contact with professionally and personally."

Amendum's latest project is mounting the musical version of the coming-of-age story "Secondhand Lions." He is arranging and supervising the world premiere of "Lions" at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre.

Although he continues to move on to new projects, he still has a soft spot for "Wicked," the story of two conflicted, witchy sisters in Oz.

"So much of what has followed has come from people seeing my work on 'Wicked,' " he says. "It has opened a lot of doors."

Article credit: Michelle Hines, University Relations - read the original article here.

Photo credit: B&G Studios