A Quick Chat With Michael Tyack, Musical Director of The Detective’s Handbook

The Detective’s Handbook, a new Australian musical about to debut at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre,  is the result of when a former rapper develops an obsession with the golden age of detective novels. Coupled with a bright and lively jazz score, this new  musical is guaranteed to have you laughing out loud as it investigates a crime in a hilarious clash of the old guard and the new recruit determined to do it ‘by the book’. With a book and lyrics by Ian Ferrington and music by Olga Solar, this is an experience not to be missed.

Before the show opens on 21 April, we caught up with Musical Director Michael Tyack to ask him a bunch of questions about the role of a musical director, guilty pleasures, and (it’s basically a requirement by now) Hamilton. 

Michael Tyack
Michael Tyack

Introduce yourself!

My name is Michael Tyack and I have been a pianist and /or musical director for over 30 years.

What exactly does a Musical Director do? Can you explain your role in shows for people who might be mystified?

The role of musical director can vary depending on the size and scale of a show but it always involves teaching the music to the cast, working with the director to see that the dramatic vision of each scene is working together with the music and the performance to achieve the best possible result and to work the musicians and run each performance of the show. Other times it can include working with the writers or the orchestrator to help create the musical shape of the show.

How did you end up working a Musical Director – what drew you to the job?

I always had a love of theatre, with musicals and plays, and I had been playing the piano from the age of 5 so when I realised that studying Law at university was not for me, I approached J C Williamsons to see if there was a possible job as a musician. Being a strong pianist, having a love of theatre and working with good people and mentors enabled me to move into musical direction.

How is your approach to the work different for a brand new show (like this one, The Detective’s Handbook) than it is for a revival of a musical?

There is no reference for the music for this show other than some demos recorded by Olga, the composer, and the music hasn’t ever been performed with more than a piano. As there will be a quartet of musicians, deciding on the actual ‘feel’ of the numbers with the writers and the director and helping to create the integration of the music with the script and the physical production is one of the stimulating aspects of working on a new production.

What kind of music are you listening to at the moment? What’s the last album that you really loved?

I am really enjoying listening to Hamilton at the moment. I’ve never been a fan of rap, but the musical diversity of the music and the freshness of the orchestration has shown me another way of story-telling that shows the constant evolution of music theatre composition.

What’s your guilty pleasure – musical or otherwise?

Chocolate, good food and a long hot bath – quite simple pleasures really.

If you weren’t working in the theatre, what do you think you would be doing?

I like the notion of doing some kind of research – delving into topics that interest me particularly in relation to language.

What’s the most-used app on your phone?

I mostly use my phone for practical things – I’m not a game person – so phoning, email and catching up on the news if I’m travelling on the bus or have a little time to kill.

What would the perfect day off look like for you?

I love being at home and spending time with the family (my partner and our dog and cat). If that can involve catching up with friends away from work, all the better.

What are you reading?

I have been reading Joy Ride – a book of essays on theatre productions and directors by John Lahr.

Who’s your favourite fictional detective?

I don’t know that I have one that I’ve followed enough to qualify as a favourite.

Do you sing in the shower – and if so, what do you sing?

Absolutely not.

What makes you laugh?

Clever wit and the delightfully unexpected.

What frustrates you about Sydney musical theatre?

Probably the lack of trusting Australian creatives to create local versions of shows rather than the importation of overseas productions and their production teams. The unwillingness to finance new Australian musicals is a shame although the high risk makes this understandable. I am pleased that shows like Georgy Girl and Dream Lover are showing that maybe this is changing.

What excites you about Sydney musical theatre?

The Hayes Theatre and the work being created there is the most exciting to happen in a long time. This trend also seems to spreading as these shows are touring and creating a new audience and a cheaper alternative to main-stage musical theatre. (Melbourne also seems to have a similar exciting musical scene)

What has been your favourite show at the Hayes Theatre Co?

Sweet Charity will always be a favourite as it showed the possibility of a new alternative to large-scale musicals. It was innovative and had such a clear focus on the actors and the quality of their performances.

Whose advice do you always follow?

I think I evaluate any advice carefully before following it so I don’t think there is any one person.

How would you describe The Detective’s Handbook – using five words or less?

Witty, smart and writers worth encouraging.

When/where can we see the show?

I believe the short run starts at the Hayes on April 21 and runs to May 7. Book tickets here.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and was the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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