While audience members can see her steering the musicians with her hands — and with her head when her hands are on the keyboard — Grody’s creative juices touch much that the audience can’t see, but they hear and feel throughout the production. She teaches the actors their songs, guides how the songs are performed, and makes sure that the way the scenes come together musically makes sense. Her job as music director, she explains, is to “oversee how the music tells the story.”
Tootsie is Grody’s second Broadway gig. Her first was another critically acclaimed musical, The Band’s Visit, about a group of Egyptian musicians who end up in a small Israeli village by mistake. It won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2018. Grody served as the music director, music supervisor, and additional arranger, and now is supervising the show’s tour. She doesn’t travel with the tour full-time but checks in on it periodically.
“I’ve always been interested in storytelling through music ever since I was very young,” says Grody, who as a child made up songs with her brother in the car. She started college wanting to be a film composer. But during a summer spent in Los Angeles working for one, she “found it was very solitary” — “sitting alone in a room with a computer,” says Grody, who majored in music and earned a certificate in theater. “I’m more interested in being in a room with people making live acoustic music, and that is what theater is all about.”
Building new musicals like Tootsie and The Band’s Visit, she says, is a “large collaborative task where everything is being figured out.” On Tootsie, she spent a lot of time with Santino Fontana, the lead actor, working on the sound of his singing voice to play the character Dorothy Michaels, a man singing as a woman.
She also serves as incidental arranger, for which she created little pieces of music that expand the composer’s score where needed to fill time for a scene change, for example, or to accommodate new dialogue added to the script.
While Tootsie is “more of a classic, big Broadway musical comedy,” says Grody, The Band’s Visit, which she calls “quiet,” “delicate,” and “intimate,” is “more artistically unique, and my creative stamp on that show was larger because of the nature of the piece, which is very musically driven.” The composer and lyricist David Yazbek brought her on board for both shows.
Even as she is working on Tootsie and The Band’s Visit tour, Grody has three other projects on her docket in various stages, including workshops planned later this year for a show in development.
Reflecting on her career thus far, she says that some of her most exciting moments have been while conducting. “There’s that moment right before the music starts where it’s in my hands and it’s about to come out,” says Grody. “Everyone is with me ... And something spectacular is about to happen and through my hands I’m channeling it. I’m not physically making the sound but the energy in my body is going out into the world and then being magnified in this beautiful way.”