Catch up with Noah in this edition of our Alumni Spotlight.
By Jana F. Brown
Noah Landis ’14 made his debut as an accompanist/assistant music director as a tenth grader at Berwick, playing the keyboard in the orchestra pit for the School’s production of Damn Yankees. He continued in that role for BA performances of Les Misérables and Guys and Dolls, learning the process of working with actors and singers to put together a show.
When he enrolled at Northwestern with his major undeclared, Landis never imagined that he might make a career of those formative experiences with Berwick’s Theatre Program. But a shift to the music school at the end of his first year in college — and an eventual self-designed major in music direction — has led Landis to what is shaping up as a dream livelihood.
Since November 2019 (with a COVID disruption in between), Landis has been touring North America as the music associate with a production of the hit Broadway musical Hamilton. In that role, Landis accompanies rehearsals on the keyboard, plays second keyboard for live shows, and regularly conducts the orchestra.
“We do eight shows a week,” Landis says, “of which I typically play three to five of them. It’s physically demanding, but I love it. At this point, I have played second keyboard 235 times and I have conducted the show 88 times.”
For Landis, the opportunity to use his musical talent in a professional setting has been a perfect match. A South Berwick native who grew up on Academy Street, yards away from the front gates of his alma mater, he began playing the piano at the age of five and studied both classical and jazz piano through middle and high school. As an upperclassman at Berwick, Landis was a three-time participant in the Maine All-State Jazz Festival. He credits former Director of Visual & Performing Arts Seth Hurd for helping him get his feet wet in musical theatre, particularly understanding the mechanics of putting on a show.
“It was a great way to get started,” Landis says, “but I graduated high school not necessarily expecting to pursue what I’m doing now as a profession. I didn’t imagine I could end up on Broadway.”
By the time he graduated Northwestern, Landis had served as the music director on a production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company that included student actors and singers, along with a professional director and choreographer brought in to help stage the work. He also conducted an orchestra of 28 musicians for a Northwestern performance of Ragtime and co-music directed the Waa-Mu Show (an original musical, written, performed, and presented by Northwestern students).
His major in music direction makes Landis an expert in interpreting a composer’s notes for a production, understanding how to develop and arrange a score for the stage, and teaching the music to actors. Prior to joining the Hamilton production, Landis gained experience filling in for a few weeks with the traveling cast and crew of Cinderella. He then joined the tour of A Bronx Tale as associate conductor from September 2018 to August 2019.
“It was the first national tour of A Bronx Tale, direct from Broadway,” Landis says. “I was involved right from the beginning of the rehearsal process in New York and I actually played most of the rehearsal piano. Once we started traveling, I played second keyboard in the orchestra every night and conducted the show, roughly once a week.”
That tour brought Landis to 23 cities over the course of 11 months. He began touring with Hamilton full-time in November 2019, but had been onboarded in the months prior, including learning how to accompany rehearsals. Hamilton is “a demanding show musically,” Landis notes, sharing that he was required to learn Lin Manuel Miranda’s extensive rap lyrics in addition to the sheet music. After an 18-month Covid disruption beginning in March 2020, during which time he stayed at his parents’ home in South Berwick, he returned to the show in August 2021.
Next up for Landis is a residency in Chicago that begins in March. Coming full circle, he will be conducting a production of Damn Yankees at the Marriott Theatre, while assistant teaching a musicianship class for actors and singers at Northwestern. His plan beyond that is to relocate to New York to continue his career in musical theatre. Landis looks forward to settling in one place for a bit (and having his own kitchen), though he will miss the community of the road.
“The job I enjoy most is conducting the show,” he says. “You have the best seat in the house, an uninterrupted view of the action both in the pit and on the stage. I just love being in the center of that. I also love the people I get to work with and the tight-knit community created by this strange and crazy world of touring theatre productions.”