News Column

UW-Madison alums who've made it big on Broadway return for Madison concert

September 14, 2013

YellowBrix

Sept. 14--The way that Nathaniel Stampley and Jamie Schmidt started making music together almost sounds like the subplot of a Broadway musical.

Vocalist Stampley, who soon will head up the national Broadway touring cast of "Porgy and Bess," and Schmidt, who conducted Liza Minnelli's 2010 symphony tour, met as undergrads at UW-Madison in the mid-1990s. The two had become friends in concert choir -- basketball was also a shared passion -- when one day Stampley's piano accompanist got sick. (It was Mike Ross, today the director of Madison Youth Choirs and still a great friend of Stampley and Schmidt.)

Stampley had an upcoming recital, so Schmidt stepped up to fill in for Ross at the piano.

"And we just clicked," Stampley said. "Literally any recital I performed after that, he was my right-hand man."

And so it will be on Sept. 22, when Stampley and Schmidt reunite on the stage of Mills Hall for a free public concert at 5 p.m. The vocal-piano performance will feature a "few surprises," Stampley said. But most of the program will be from the world of Broadway, where both men have made their mark.

After UW-Madison, Stampley and Schmidt eventually became roommates in Chicago. Schmidt was working as the founding music director for American Girl Place Theaters in Chicago and New York; Stampley's career in musical theater was just taking off.

Over the years, both men married, became fathers and saw their careers soar. Stampley, 39, a Milwaukee native, will play Porgy in the Broadway tour of "Porgy and Bess" opening in San Francisco in November. Schmidt, 41, a Madison native, is the long-running associate conductor of the North American tour of "The Lion King."

"I sincerely love him as a friend and a brother," Stampley said of Schmidt, whom he also describes "as a very, very smart man."

"He has such a warm spirit about him, not just on a musical level but on a personal level as well. There are phrases and things that he will hear that will help me complete a phrase, just through his playing.So a lot of times when we worked together (as students), it wouldn't take us long to speak the same language with new material.

"We've had just amazing experiences together, as young men -- and now that we're getting older we keep in touch. I can always count on him to have a great story about what's going on in his life, whether it's parenting or something he's doing professionally."

Over time, the two men had many talks that lasted late into the night.

"Nate just has this power about him as a human being," Schmidt said. "He also has the most wonderful voice. (In college) I had performed with a lot of people, but Nate was the most special one."

In high school at Lakeside Lutheran in Lake Mills, the young Schmidt had dreamed of becoming a car designer. But as college approached, "Music started whispering louder and louder," he said.

By 2010, Liza Minelli had handpicked him to conduct her six-city symphony tour. That same year, Schmidt was chosen as music director for a star-studded Drama League Gala honoring Angela Lansbury.

Yet his career highlight were the two week-long trips he took to an international cultural festival in North Korea.

"To be able to spend a week in Pyongyang two years in a row was definitely an experience unlike anything else I'll ever have, I think," said Schmidt, who served as musical director for the American delegation.

It was at a Madison gathering last spring to celebrate the birth of Schmidt's son, Ethan, when Schmidt, Stampley and their longtime mentor and friend, UW-Madison voice professor Mimmi Fuller, hatched the plan for this month's reunion concert.

It will be followed with a two hour masterclass, also open to the public, at 1:15 p.m. Sept. 23 in Music Hall.

"We'll get a chance to hear some of the wonderful students that are studying there in Madison right now, and share our experiences. It's a pretty unique thing having a musical director with (Schmidt's) experience and a performer with my experience coming back from Broadway," Stampley said.

"I just want to be as useful and helpful to the students as I can," Stampley said. "This is a great way for both of us to come back to Madison and celebrate not only our time together there as students, but our time together as friends."

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(c)2013 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

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