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A Little Fame Every Day

By Stephen R. Latham

Someone asked Mike Schubert in his junior year of high school whether he thought he'd grow up to be famous. "I am famous," he replied, and he mcant it. He had just produced his first musical--one based on the comedy play "Arsenic and Old Lace"--and was just about as famous as anyone could be without leaving Highland Park, Illinois.

Success for Michael R. Schubert '82 is a series of plateaus. For the composer of this year's Hasty Pudding Theatricals' score, every new song, every new orchestration, every new musical is another level of success and carries with it another kind of fame. There is, of course, an ultimate fame in Schubert's mind--"I want to compose good musical theater, probably in New York"--but in the meantime he seems satisfied, passing patiently through stages of accomplishment leading to that end.

Schubert is slight, talkative, almost theatrical in manner; self-possessed, self-confident, but not self-centered or egotistical. He knows the limits of his talents, and knows them to be expanding. He is a sharp critic, quick to dismiss music he considers "difficult to listen to," or "dentist office material;" but he is equally critical of his own work, and equally quick to acknowledge debts and praise heroes.

The greatest hero, unquestionably, is Broadway musical composer Stephen Sondheim. "He is the best living composer of musical theater," Schubert says, "He knows musically what to do with every lyric, and lyrically what to do with every bar of music." Ironically, Schubert's first Harvard-performed musical score was for the Hasty Pudding production, "A Little Knife Music," which parodied several of Sondheim's shows. Sondheim bought tickets to see the show, but was prevented by bad weather from seeing it. "At the time I was disappointed. But looking back at it, I'm very relieved," Schubert says. "I'm not as proud of that score as I was then. It was not very professional. It was not something I would have liked Sondheim to see."

This year's Hasty Pudding score is another story. Schubert feels that his composing and orchestration have improved markedly over the past year. "I think I've reached the stage where I might look back someday and think of a piece as young, but never as bad. I won't write anything I'll really regret anymore," he says. He sees in this year's Pudding score a new maturity, a new sophistication.

That new sophistication is the result of increased experience, full days spent on piano practice, a summer spent writing dozens of songs from which he formed his musical, "Leaders of Tomorrow," (performed at K-House this fall), and a great deal of study under music arranger and Pudding musical director Peter L. Mansfield '76. "I am greatly indebted to Peter. He has taught me a tremendous amount about harmonics and voicing."

Schubert, a Philosophy and Math major because "that was the one I had landed in when it became too late to change again," undoubtedly spends more time on the Pudding show than he spends on anything else. And when he is not working on that show, he is probably working on another. He has music-directed several shows, arranged two, written and directed one, and done miscellaneous work on several others. He is president of the K-House Drama society and has been since before he entered the House--"But you have to remember that there's not much competition for that slot here." He also plays piano for parties. "That's something I really enjoy. The other night, I was doing a party, and all of a sudden I started playing all these things that I don't know how to play. I mean, jazz--I don't know how to play jazz! But there I was. And I loved the control I had over the party. You can make people dance if you want to, or if you change the music you can get people to make out on the couch. It was really fun."

Mike Schubert would like to write another show soon; "Leaders of Tomorrow," he feels, resembled a revue more than it did a unified show. "It had some good moments, but I was more concerned with the music than with the show as a whole." He would like also to write Broadway musicals one day. But he is taking it slowly, one plateau at a time, satisfied at each level. "Of course I'm going to make it," he smiles, "I already have! So what if they never heard of me in New York? I don't live in New York!"

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