Tom Kitt: “Always write what’s in your heart and it will serve you well”

I am working with a number of wonderful and important organizations fighting for social equity that are committed to being a force for representation and change in our world. One organization for which I am a founding member is MUSE, which stands for Musicians United for Social Equity. MUSE was formed by an extraordinary group […]

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I am working with a number of wonderful and important organizations fighting for social equity that are committed to being a force for representation and change in our world. One organization for which I am a founding member is MUSE, which stands for Musicians United for Social Equity. MUSE was formed by an extraordinary group of artists with the mission of cultivating more racial equity in the music departments of the theater industry. We launched in the fall of 2020, and the organization is steadily growing and already making an impact.

Another phenomenal organization I am proud to be a part of is NYCNext, which was formed in the summer of 2020 in response to the negative press saying that NYC was over and not likely to come back. Not only is NYCNext committed to creating energy that will help bring our city back, especially for artists, but also like MUSE, NYCNext is dedicated to creating a more equitable New York City that will champion diversity and inclusivity and help us come back to a better city for all.


As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tom Kitt, a Pulitzer Prize, Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award-winning composer, orchestrator, arranger, and producer. Broadway credits include: Next to Normal; Jagged Little Pill; American Idiot; If/Then; The SpongeBob Musical; Bring it On, The Musical, High Fidelity; Head Over Heels; and Everyday Rapture. Television and Film credits include The Pitch Perfect Films; Grease Live!; Rise; Penny Dreadful; and Royal Pains. He is also a founding member of MUSE (Musicians United for Social Equity) and a dedicated volunteer for the NYC non-profit organization NYCNext, which aims to build a better and more equitable place for all. @tomkittmusichttps://content.thriveglobal.com/media/6da392d937d8e9535e6fc5e1b9b65e76


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series Tom! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I grew up first on Long Island in the town of Port Washington, and then in Westchester County in the town of Bedford. I attended Columbia College at Columbia University which was where I began writing for the musical theater.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been studying piano since the age of 4, and when I reached the age of 11, I began composing music. During my teenage years, I began to dream of becoming a singer/songwriter like my heroes, Billy Joel and Elton John. So I began writing songs and performing them in school concerts. One of the things that excited me about attending Columbia was its location in New York City, which I figured would give me ample opportunity to grow as a musician and be seen as a performer. But it was Rita Pietropinto whom I was dating at the time (and is now, happily, my wife) who suggested I compose a score for The Varsity Show, the annual original book musical written and performed by Columbia students. It was Rita’s idea to match me with another student, book writer and lyricist, Brian Yorkey, with whom I would go on to create the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Next to Normal. I don’t know if I would be writing for the musical theater if I hadn’t met Rita and Brian when I did, but just like the character Elizabeth learns in If/Then (another original musical Brian and I wrote together), being present in one specific moment can change the trajectory of your entire life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

I often think of the young teenager who approached Brian and me in previews for Next to Normal and thanked us for writing the piece because he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He felt like he now had something that he could share with his friends and family that could illustrate what he was experiencing. I became a writer to shine a light on our human experience and to create art that speaks to all our emotions and I hope, can provide healing and bring us closer together. At that moment, I felt I had created something that had spoken directly to someone who needed it, and that meant the world to me. After hearing this boy’s story, Brian and I felt that no matter what happened with our piece, we had already achieved something incredibly significant.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Always strive to grow and learn. Never settle for being where you are. There is always a new challenge to take on, a new skill to master, a new influence who can help you realize the thing you want to create. Go in search of inspiration, especially to places you haven’t been before. Try to absorb as much as you can and do your best to keep the noise away. Your creative space is so important, and it needs to be protected. And lastly, for me, art has always been about telling the stories that need to be told. Always try to find those stories and do everything you can to put your unique voice into that story.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

There are many, but one that I treasure and try to live by comes from Hal Prince, who told me to (and this is paraphrasing) “always schedule a meeting on your next project the morning after your current project opens.” It’s the ultimate advice about making sure that you are always moving forward, and not leaving it up to reception to give you the courage and determination to find the next project. So good or bad, you have to have the same unwavering belief in yourself and be ready to jump into that next new adventure. I know it’s something Hal has told many of my fellow writers as well, and we are always quoting it to each other!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have had many wonderful people in my life who have played an important role in who I am today. Growing up my family definitely helped foster my interest and love for music. My parents are the ones who helped me to find my way to the piano and nurtured and supported my musical aspirations. As kids, my sister Kathryn and I performed together so she helped introduce me to musical theater and opera repertoire and my brother Jeff introduced me to the music he loved which definitely helped broaden my taste for classic rock. But my wife Rita has been my rock and my support and is the reason I became a professional musician and composer writing for musical theater, film and TV. In my daily life, I draw such inspiration from our life together and our three children, Michael, Julia, and Charlie. But I would also like to acknowledge my first piano teacher, Gloria Huke, who initially looked at the four-year-old boy before her and said, “I think he might be too young to take on as a student.” But then she heard me play a little bit, and quickly changed her mind. And that started everything for me. Thank you, Mrs. Huke, (and for teaching me “Can You Read My Mind” from Superman).

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

I am working with a number of wonderful and important organizations fighting for social equity that are committed to being a force for representation and change in our world. One organization for which I am a founding member is MUSE, which stands for Musicians United for Social Equity. MUSE was formed by an extraordinary group of artists with the mission of cultivating more racial equity in the music departments of the theater industry. We launched in the fall of 2020, and the organization is steadily growing and already making an impact.

Another phenomenal organization I am proud to be a part of is NYCNext, which was formed in the summer of 2020 in response to the negative press saying that NYC was over and not likely to come back. Not only is NYCNext committed to creating energy that will help bring our city back, especially for artists, but also like MUSE, NYCNext is dedicated to creating a more equitable New York City that will champion diversity and inclusivity and help us come back to a better city for all.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

As an artist, I feel the sadness and despair in this world in very intense and visceral ways. So, it was the difficult emotions coming from all that I was seeing and feeling that made me want to raise my voice and join my fellow artists in being a force for change. And as a father, this is the greatest way I can teach my children to fight for the things that you believe in.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

My “Aha” moment was when the frustration and anger I felt couldn’t be contained anymore and I knew that I had to channel all those feelings into something positive. At first, it was hard not to give in to that feeling of powerlessness because we were all mourning the loss of all that this pandemic took away from us, literally in an instant. But once I realized that I still had a voice that could make a difference, I felt empowered and determined to use it in the best way I know-how which is through my art and my activism.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Working with NYCNext, I collaborated with my good friend Michael McElroy and his extraordinary ensemble, Broadway Inspirational Voices for which he is founder and artistic director, to create a Broadway Pop-Up Event in Times Square. Coming together for the first time in the pandemic, we formed a powerful chorus which included Bernadette Peters to perform the iconic and beloved Broadway anthem, “Sunday” written by Stephen Sondheim with a glorious new arrangement by Michael, Billy Porter, and James Sampliner. It was a powerful moment where we could collectively speak to all the issues that matter to us and to shine a light on the struggles of the arts community and the need for support. So instead of helping one individual, I’d like to think that we brought hope, joy, and comfort to many on that day.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Get involved, educate yourself, reach out to those who need support, and do all you can to move minds and hearts. We need legislation and awareness that supports those in need and seeks to end injustice and inequality. And it’s going to be on every individual to assess how they can join the movement and be a force for positive change in this world.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

The five things I wish someone had told me are:

  1. The road will be bumpy. Through success and failure, you are in for the long haul and always commit to that.
  2. You will learn as much and maybe even more from your failures than you will from your successes.
  3. Appreciate and live in those special moments. You will be so grateful that you did.
  4. Always write what’s in your heart and it will serve you well.
  5. Always believe in yourself, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t know if others do.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Since the arts is such an important source of inspiration and empathy, I would love to help promote programs that make arts education more available and accessible to all students, in all parts of the world, regardless of their socioeconomic resources. So many young people have stories to tell and voices to share. It’s very sad that arts education is underfunded, and that so many schools do not have the ability to provide this very necessary and life-giving part of education to their students. We know that children and young adults need access to teachers and resources to help them discover and cultivate their own artistic voices. We know that arts education helps promote success in other areas of education — especially reading and math — and we know that it is a tool for social-emotional wellness. I would love to help lend my skills and energy toward promoting arts education in ways that are sustainable and accessible to all our youth. This is how we can empower the artistic spirits of younger generations and assure we are supporting and nurturing them as artists. We need to open doors, break ceilings and build bridges together.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

It would be an absolute thrill and a privilege to be able to meet with the Obamas. They have been so inspirational to me, and their passion for the arts has been so moving and galvanizing. It would not only be an honor to meet them, but I would love to see if there is any way that I could collaborate with them on a new project.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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