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Friday, June 12, 2015

Award-wining SPFHS Senior Musically Directs ‘Babes in Arms’ in Scotch Plains

Alex Karakis studio front

Alex Karakis, a senior at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, will musically direct Stage Craft Studio’s very first summer musical, the Rodgers and Hart classic, Babes in Arms. Alex was recently awarded “Outstanding Jazz Soloist” when the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Music Department participated in the annual “Festivals of Music” competition in Washington D.C. He will begin his undergraduate studies in the fall at the Manhattan School of Music.

Stage Craft Studio, a performing arts educational studio in downtown Scotch Plains, opened its doors on February 1st at 1735 E. Second Street.

10 QUESTIONS with ALEX KARAKIS --- Musical Director of Babes in Arms

Alex, you are about to wrap up your senior year of at Scotch Plains Fanwood High School; at what age did you begin your journey in music?

“I began playing piano at the age of 6, after tinkering around on the old green piano that had been in our home all my life. Finally, I was allowed to take lessons and studied classically for 8 years, before switching gears and studying improvisation and jazz styles at the age of 14.”

Is there music in your family or are you the only musician?

“There is definitely music in my family! My mom is a skilled clarinetist who has performed in orchestras in her adult life and continues to play whenever she can. My grandmother is a very skilled classical pianist who took classes at Juilliard during her life. Although nobody else has gone to college to study music, I have always had the support of my family who understands why I want to pursue it in my life. I always had people around me that understood music and introduced me to styles that helped me grow.”

So, you’re heading to Manhattan School of Music in the fall. How does that feel and could you share with us some of your future ambitions?

“I couldn’t be more excited to attend MsM in the fall. It had been a dream of mine to attend for years, and I was very excited to be accepted this year.  In the future I intend to continue to practice and study in order to keep growing and will hopefully perform, record, and potentially teach at a Conservatory or University in the future. That is pretty far down the line though, but ultimately that is what I see myself doing.”

You will be conducting the orchestra for the performances of Babes in Arms and you are also a very accomplished pianist. Do you play any other instruments?

“I played trumpet for 5 years before stopping at the beginning of my sophomore year. I liked the instrument but I wanted to focus on other things that were more important to me. I learned a lot about elements of group playing that I would not have learned otherwise (being a pianist) so I’m definitely glad I played at some point in my life.”

The Babes in Arms orchestra is a talented group of students that you have personally assembled. Can you tell us about that process?

“The process of assembling the pit was pretty extensive, but once it all came together it became a lot more fluid. At first I had to find who was interested in participating and select the highest level out of those who showed interest. Once I was able to satisfy this, I had to schedule rehearsals, make sure everyone got their parts, copied what was necessary, and we began! It was a lot of work at first but now it’s definitely starting to come together.”

The score for Babes in Arms features the music of Rodgers and Hart; two icons in the world of musical theater. The musical features such legendary numbers as “Johnny One-Note”, “The Lady is a Tramp” and “I Wish I were in Love Again”. Pretty impressive stuff! How are you and the pit feeling about the score at this point in the rehearsal process?

“The music is tough, there’s no denying that. It is the official, professional score that is not simplified at all, and I’m putting it in front of kids ages 16-18. Even with these elements working against us, I am incredibly impressed with not only the commitment but the dedication every student has put in in such a short time. It is obvious to me that they are practicing their music and that just makes the whole process much easier and much more fun to work with.”

You recently played the role of Kenickie in Scotch Plains Fanwood High School’s production of Grease. How would you compare the “onstage” experience as an actor in a musical production to the “offstage” experience as a musical director?

“It is very different, almost like a culture shock of sorts. It’s weird being involved and not being called for staging rehearsals or dance, and it’s very strange being on the “inside;” knowing what the director thinks and wants and teaching it to the cast. It’s opened my eyes to how many elements go in to a production and it’s been very helpful to learn. I’ve definitely grown since I’ve taken this position.”

Could you tell us your favorite three musicals and tell us why?

“My favorite three musicals (not counting Babes in Arms) would definitely be Anything Goes because of the score. Cole Porter was a genius and a lot of the songs he wrote for the musical are tunes I commonly play in performances and auditions. After that, I would have to put Next to Normal, because of the emotion. It’s a very powerful concept that’s easy to connect to. After that, How to Succeed in Business would be my next favorite because of the music. It is also a feel-good show, a definite pick-me-up whenever one’s feeling down.”

Who are some of your influences, musically speaking?

“A great deal of my influences include Jazz musicians. I was heavily influenced by the styles of Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans, Sonny Clark, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Taylor Eigsti, and Aaron Goldberg. I could go on for a while longer but this is the abbreviated list. Outside of Jazz, I am a big fan of Chopin’s music, and I can’t leave out Billy Joel – he was the one that made me enjoy playing the piano to the point of continual practice and study, although I don’t listen to much Billy Joel anymore.”

The top 5 songs you are currently listening to?

“Naming a top 5 songs would be difficult, but I could list artists instead? I have been very into Eric Harland, Gretchen Parlato, Kendrick Scott, Brad Mehldau and Chick Corea as of late. There are many more but these 5 make up a strong core of the material I’m trying to learn from at this moment. This changes very frequently though as I try to listen to as much as possible.”

Stage Craft Studio Presents Rodgers and Hart’s Babes in Arms (Union Catholic High School,1600 Martine Avenue, Scotch Plains, NJ 07076) June 26th and 27th at 8pm and June 28th at 3pm. Tickets are $15 Adults/$12 Students and Seniors. Tickets available at showtix4u.com or 866.967.8167

(direct link to show is https://www.showtix4u.com/boxoffice.php?submit=Search+for+Events&begin=1542968&current_client=0936231505212471 )

For more information, visit www.stagecraftstudio.com.

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