Fresh out of music college in Boston, Cork native Cian McCarthy headed to New York in the mid-2000's to play jazz full-time. New York was buzzing with jazz clubs every night of the week, Cian says, but making a living from jazz alone was tough, as he told Ryan Tubridy:
"My passion for a number of years is writing and playing jazz. But unfortunately, there’s not a huge living to be made these days in jazz, so you know, I had to pay my bills in New York City, so ended up doing theatre."
A contact helped Cian find work on a new musical, set among the immigrant communities of New York’s Washington Heights. The musical turned out to be In the Heights and its composer and lyricist was Lin-Manuel Miranda. As an immigrant musician himself, Cian says he couldn’t have found a better home, professionally and personally:
"I started working on the show when I was about 21/22 and I had just moved to New York. And being a relatively new immigrant to the US as well, the story of finding home and finding your place in the world. It’s really all about family and whoever you’re with, that’s your family. And it really spoke to me, and it was just amazing to be welcomed, as an Irishman, into that community."
Working on In the Heights and getting to know Lin-Manuel were the first steps in a professional career that has been nothing short of spectacular. Cian took part in the very first live performance of the score of Miranda’s multi-award winning musical Hamilton at New York’s Lincoln Center:
"It was through meeting Lin-Manuel and that whole team that worked on The Heights that I worked on the first performance of the score to Hamilton back in 2012 at Lincoln Center. I played the keyboards for that and helped to do some of the arranging for that as well."
In between stints working with Miranda, Cian travelled the world as musical director and conductor of The Book of Mormon. He’s currently in Sydney, Australia working on Mouilin Rouge! The Musical!, the stage adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film. As well as conducting, performing and arranging music for musicals, Cian is now often asked to help adapt and "bed-in" musicals as they travel to different locations around the world.
Cian mcCarthy comes across as matter-of-fact about his work, but Ryan wouldn’t let the moment pass without expressing just how impressed he was with Cian’s achievements at the highest level of a notoriously competitive business. That done, Ryan wanted to know what the big names behind the musicals are really like to work with. Cian says he’s impressed with Lin-Manuel Miranda in every way possible, as an artist, as a colleague and as a human being:
"Lin is every bit the genius that he seems, I mean he really is. Like lyrically; I mean, I toured with Lin actually and we’d be out after a show he’d be beat-boxing and rapping with the rest of the cast. He’s always on."
Being part of the cultural juggernaut that is the musical Hamilton hasn’t changed Miranda, Cian says:
"He’s really wonderful and even now, as huge as he is, he’s still a friend."
Taking his chance to quiz an expert about some Hamilton lore, Ryan asked Cian if the rumour was true that one line in the musical prompted such loud roars from the audience each time it was delivered, that Lin-Manuel Miranda added a few beats to the score to allow for all the shouting and clapping. Cian said that this was most likely true, certainly according to his experience of working with the composer. That famous line from the show could also have been written about the Cork man himself:
"Immigrants, we get the job done."
If you want to hear Cian McCarthy talk about his predictions for post-Covid musicals, his take on Baz Luhrmann and why he never gets fed up conducting the same musical night after night over several years, it’s all in the full interview with Ryan here.
The film version of the musical In the Heights opens in Irish cinemas on June 18th.