Pick a Stephen Sondheim Broadway premiere in the last three decades – say, Sweeney Todd or Sunday in the Park with George or Into the Woods. Who was at the podium on opening night? If you guessed Paul Gemignani, you got it right. In fact, Maestro Gemignani has been a distinguished and constant presence in musical theater for the last forty years. In 2001 he was honored with a Special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award®.
Significantly, for an artist so closely associated with Sondheim, Gemignani made his Broadway debut as a conductor in Sondheim’s Follies (1971), taking over the role of music director from Harold Hastings. He once again took over the reins for Sondheim’s Tony®-winning A Little Night Music (1973) and conducted on the original cast recording.
Gemignani contributed incidental music and songs to a 1974 revival of the Congreve classic Love for Love, starring Glenn Close. In 1976 he was the music director for another Sondheim musical, Pacific Overtures, which earned many a Tony® nod. Later that year he was music director for the short-lived Music Is.
The Comden-Green musical On the Twentieth Century (1978), featuring Gemignani at the podium, starred Imogen Coca, John Cullum, and Madeline Kahn; it won an impressive five Tony Awards®. But the next musical that Gemignani conducted, Sondheim’s tale of the demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd (1979), topped that feat, scooping up eight Tonys®, including Best Musical.
Gemignani’s later Broadway credits include Candide (1974); Evita (1979); Merrily We Roll Along (1981); A Doll’s Life (1982); Zorba (1983); Sunday in the Park with George (1984), which won a Pulitzer Prize; Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (1989); Crazy for You (1992); Passion (1994); Big: The Musical (1996); High Society (1998); Kiss Me, Kate (1999); Into the Woods (2002); Assassins (2004); The Frogs (2004); 110 in the Shade (2007); and Pal Joey (2008).
In addition to his work on Broadway, Gemignani has conducted on several film soundtracks, including Reds, A Little Night Music, Kramer vs. Kramer, Eyewitness, and Sweeney Todd. Among the major orchestras that he has guest-conducted are the Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, New York City Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera, and New York City Ballet. The exceptional 1991 Sony studio recording of Kismet features the sumptuous sound of the London Symphony Orchestra, with Paul Gemignani wielding the baton.
His honors include a 1989 Drama Desk Special Award and an Emmy Award for “best musical direction” for the PBS/Great Performances presentation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific at Carnegie Hall in 2006.