In his current job, Sam Bagala conducts a 10-piece orchestra, plays keyboards and occasionally has to rap with the likes of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

“There’s a lot of crazy multitasking,” said Bagala, 26, who grew up in Gray and is currently on tour with “Hamilton: An American Musical.” “But that’s the cool part of my job, I get to do so many things.”

Sam Bagala built his resumé with stints as music director of several productions, including “Mama Mia” and “West Side Story,” at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.

Bagala joined the first touring company of the hip-hop musical phenomenon “Hamilton” a little more than two months ago, as the show’s music associate. He plays keyboard for most performances, conducts the orchestra for some and gets to work with actors in rehearsals, filling in for those who can’t be there by rapping their lines.

Despite his relative youth, Bagala has been a music theater professional for nearly a decade. In his teens, he worked summers at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. There he served as an assistant music director and conductor, working with Broadway pros who come to the theater for summer productions, before making his way up to music director for shows like “Mama Mia,” “Young Frankenstein” and “West Side Story.” Since graduating from the Boston Conservatory of Music in 2014 with a degree in piano performance, he has toured as music director with “Elf: The Musical” and the 20th-anniversary tour of “Rent” before landing his current gig with “Hamilton.”

Because of his experience conducting, performing and working with musicians during auditions, Bagala’s versatility is “invaluable” to the show, said Julian Reeve, music director of the “Hamilton” tour. In an email, Reeve praised Bagala’s “musicianship” and his “mild-mannered approach” to his work.

Bagala grew up in Gray and was home-schooled, mostly by his mother, Ann. His father, Marc Bagala, runs a business restoring historic windows and doors. Bagala’s mother played piano and taught him a little bit. By the age of 7, he was asking for piano lessons.

Soon after he started taking them, his older brother, Marcus, asked for lessons too. Marcus, 28, became equally passionate about music and has also a made a career of it. He lives in New York City and works a composer, creating original music for films, TV and radio, including “The Affair” on Showtime and “This American Life” on NPR.

Marcus Bagala, in red shirt, and San Bagala, on piano, rehearse with other musicians in 2016. Photo courtesy of Marcus Bagala

The two brothers competed and collaborated, pushing each other to do a little more. Marcus Bagala said that once he and Sam got interested in music, “that was it,” and it became the main thing they focused on for the rest of their childhood.

“When Sam started playing piano, that’s when I said I wanted to play piano. But then I realized he was too far ahead of me, I changed to guitar,” said Marcus. “Then Sam started playing guitar. Whenever he’d write a cool song, I’d try to come up with a cool song.”

Sam Bagala said he remembers listening to all kinds of music in his home growing up. His father had Bob Marley records; his mother was a big Bruce Springsteen fan. There was always some kind of music playing. His father brought him and his brother to their first concert – when they were maybe 11 and 13 – to see the rock band OK Go at Portland’s State Theatre. They also had their own rock band with friends called the Shams, which played local gigs, including several battle of the bands competitions.

When he was 12 or 13, Bagala was hired to play piano for a production of “Beauty and the Beast” at Lyric Music Theater in South Portland. It gave him his first taste of being paid for something he loved. When he realized that the other musicians got paid too, he came home and told his mother that he knew what he wanted to do for a living.

A few years later, he was working summers at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. At various times he was an assistant music director and keyboard player. He eventually became the music director – the person in charge of all things musical – for eight productions at the theater. One of the few sad things, for him, about being in “Hamilton” this year is that he won’t be able to come back to Brunswick this summer for a show. Bagala said that getting to work with actors and directors from New York during his time there helped prepare him for his career and learn what it’s like to work with theater professionals.

Curt Dale Clark, artistic director at Maine State Music Theatre, said he’s not surprised about Bagala’s success so far in musical theater. Bagala prepares completely, Clark said. While some music directors might show up at rehearsal still deciding who will play what,or when certain instruments come in, Bagala goes over all of that thoroughly before he ever meets a musician or an actor.

And in a business where people are known to have outsize egos, Bagala doesn’t seem to have one.

“He doesn’t pretend to know something when he doesn’t know it, which is such a gift,” said Clark.

Starting around age 13, Bagala also took music classes at the University of Southern Maine and later drove to Boston for classes the New England Conservatory.

After graduating from the Boston Conservatory in 2014, he got hired as music director, conductor and keyboard player for the East Coast tour of “Elf: The Musical,” based on the Christmas comedy film starring Will Ferrell. He spent two seasons with that show before becoming music director, conductor and keyboard player for the 20th-anniversary tour of the classic Broadway musical “Rent,” during the 2016-’17 season.

Then a friend from the Boston Conservatory, who is the associate music director for the “Hamilton” tour, asked him if he’d like to audition for the show.

He joined “Hamilton” in December as a music associate. The show is now in Denver, then travels to St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., for a three-month run at the Kennedy Center. Later this year, the show will be in Boston. Maine family and friends can see him performing with “Hamilton” at the Boston Opera House, Sept. 18 through Nov. 18.

“Hamilton” is such a cultural phenomenon that it not only won the Tony for best Broadway musical, it won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for drama. In the past 85 years or so, only nine musicals have won the prestigious prize. It’s based on the book “Alexander Hamilton,” about one of the nation’s founding fathers, by historian Ron Chernow. But the show, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also starred in the original production on Broadway, tells the story of Hamilton and the early days of the United States with a hip-hop score, making the story seem contemporary.

It also set a new standard for innovation and excitement in musical theater.

“As soon as Hamilton comes out and says, ‘My name is Alexander Hamilton,’ you can feel the buzz and excitement in the audience,” said Bagala. “It has a brilliant score, which comprises a lot of genres – hip-hop, jazz and blues – and pairs the music with American history. It’s amazing how it all works together.”

Bagala’s contract with “Hamilton” is open-ended, so he’ll be with the show indefinitely. When he’s not on tour, which isn’t often, he lives in Astoria in Queens, New York, a few blocks from his brother. The two have continued to collaborate on music and last year recorded a Christmas album, “A Very Charging Moose Christmas.” (Marcus Bagala has a production company called Charging Moose Media.) They also played together, with other friends, at Marcus’s wedding in 2016.

While on tour with “Hamilton,” staying in one city for a month or more sometimes, Bagala is also working on composing his own music. He’s inspired by jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock and Oscar Peterson, and so those influences show up in his work. If he ever writes his own musical – which he hopes to one day – it would probably have jazz, classical and rock music. And it might be with a collaborator.

“One day, I’d really like to work on a show with Marcus,” Bagala said.

 

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