Consulting musical director at Taravella High School
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 gofundme.com/michael larsenlegacy.