Con­sult­ing mu­si­cal di­rec­tor at Tar­avella High School

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By Tonya Alanez Staff writer

Whether work­ing on Broad­way or off, whether coach­ing ac­com­plished ac­tors or stu­dents at J.P. Tar­avella High, mu­si­cal di­rec­tor Michael Larsen brought pas­sion, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and en­thu­si­asm to the stage, along with a vault of mu­si­cal the­ater knowl­edge.

After suf­fer­ing with a heart con­di­tion for many years, Larsen, of Del­ray Beach, has died. He was 57.

“He was a walk­ing en­cy­clo­pe­dia of mu­si­cal the­ater. Literally, you could men­tion any year, any show, any pro­duc­tion and he could tell you when it played, where it played, who starred in it, who the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor was and ev­ery­thing else,” said Co­ral Springs ac­tor, pro­ducer and show­man Avi Hoff­man, Larsen’s friend of 32 years.

Hoff­man was the last per­son to work with Larsen on stage. Bonded by a love for all things Yid­dish, the two men at­tended the sec­ond an­nual In­ter­na­tional Yid­dish The­ater Fes­ti­val in Bucharest, Ro­ma­nia, just weeks be­fore Larsen’s death on Oct. 26. There they per­formed a two-man show.

A mu­si­cal genius whose sights were ever set on the next pro­duc­tion, Larsen wrote ar­range­ments, di­rected, con­ducted, gave vo­cal lessons and coached stu­dents world­wide via Skype. On and off since 2002, he had worked as a con­sult­ing mu­si­cal di­rec­tor in the the­ater depart­ment at J.P. Tar­avella High, twice lead­ing stu­dents to in­vi­ta­tional per­for­mances at the Florida state Th­es­pi­ans Fes­ti­val in Tampa, the world’s largest high-school the­ater fes­ti­val.

“They very much were drawn to his pas­sion and his the­ater anec­dotes; he was a vault of mu­si­cal the­ater his­tory,” said Lori Ses­sions, the­ater di­rec­tor at J.P. Tar­avella High. “He re­ally treated them like pro­fes­sion­als.”

On his Face­book page, Larsen posted: “I live for the smile in a kid’s eyes when they step off­stage after a great per­for­mance.”

Larsen was like no other, Ses­sions said, when it came to hand-pick­ing ma­te­rial for stu­dents to per­form for com­pe­ti­tions and col­lege au­di­tions. Pair that with the en­ergy and pas­sion with which Larsen would ac­com­pany them on pi­ano and you had a recipe for con­fi­dence and suc­cess, Ses­sions said.

“I’ve had sev­eral stu­dents say their au­di­tions were so much stronger when Michael was on the pi­ano,” Ses­sions said. “They knew he was not only root­ing for them, but he played with such an en­ergy that he gave them the best au­di­tion that he could.”

Larsen, born and raised in New York, also worked with pro­fes­sional the­ater stu­dents dur­ing 24 sea­sons as di­rec­tor and mas­ter teacher at Stage­door Manor Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter in New York. There, he helped shape the likes of Natalie Port­man, Zach Braff and Robert Downey Jr.

His Broad­way and of­fBroad­way cred­its in­clude pro­duc­tions of “42nd Street,” “Lit­tle Shop of Hor­rors” and “Perez Hil­ton Saves the Uni­verse.” He was also di­rec­tor and mu­si­cal su­per­vi­sor of the show “Menopause the Mu­si­cal,” tak­ing it to 17 U.S. ci­ties, Toronto and Lon­don.

Larsen shared news of his lat­est gig on his Face­book page days be­fore he died. He had been hired to work as mu­sic di­rec­tor on a pro­duc­tion of “She Loves Me” at the Wick The­atre & Cos­tume Mu­seum in Boca Ra­ton.

Larsen is sur­vived by his mother, Phoebe Larsen, of Del­ray Beach.

A fu­neral ser­vice was held Oct. 30 at Is­rael Memo­rial Chapel. A New York city memo­rial is be­ing planned for the spring.

Larsen’s friends and ad­mir­ers have estab­lished a schol­ar­ship in Larsen’s name to send young ac­tors to the­ater camps and work­shops.

The Michael Larsen Legacy Fund has col­lected nearly $5,000 through go­ larsen­le­gacy.


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