Morgan Parker ’20 has been preparing for her Broadway debut since fifth grade.
On Dec. 18, she realized that dream. Parker, who grew up in the Salina area, debuted as a substitute in the percussion chair in the orchestra pit for MJ the Musical at the Neil Simon Theatre, which has 1,467 seats.
That number is significant because by definition, a theater in New York City with fewer than 500 seats is considered off-Broadway. Parker had fallen just one seat shy of that debut Nov. 30, when she subbed as the lead drum and percussion chair for Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish at New World Stages in the heart of New York City’s Theater District. New World Stages seats 499 people.
“Being a sub, especially a drummer/percussionist, is probably one of the hardest jobs out there,” Parker said. “I am not involved in any of the rehearsals after the show starts performing. I am allowed to go in and watch in the pit a couple of times, and I was able to obtain a recording of the show from the pit’s perspective. Basically my job is to practice ungodly amounts of hours with that singular recording and the book that the percussionist has given me. That way I can practice as real-life as possible, because I go in and play it cold.”
Parker graduated from Kansas Wesleyan in 2020 with degrees in Percussion Performance and Music education, with a minor in Secondary Education. This past May, she earned a Master of Music in Percussion Performance at New York University.
“When I went and played it (Fiddler on Nov. 30), that was the first time I had ever performed the show, the first time I had ever played it with any of the orchestra members, with a live conductor, with the actors on stage,” Parker said.
“Everyone who was in that orchestra and onstage is so used to hearing that regular guy, every day, eight shows a week. It’s some pretty big shoes to fill,” Parker said. “The conductor came up to me at intermission and said, ‘You played really well. I’m really impressed. Thank you so much for your prep.’”
The pressure was on, having been given fewer than three weeks notice that she would be subbing for the matinee show Nov. 30. Now she’s set to sub a handful more times.
“It’s one of those, ‘It’s no big deal but you really need to nail everything,’” Parker said with a laugh. “You can’t blink. But with the amount of prep I had going in, I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t anxious. I could hear the music happening just by looking at the page. It was that ingrained in my body, in my muscles and in my ears that I knew exactly where I was going.”
A look at Parker’s performance résumé lists more than 30 shows in which she has sat either drums or percussion or both. From Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 9 in E minor with the New York Repertory Orchestra to In the Heights at Theatre Salina, her range is wide and has given her a solid baseline on which to prepare herself for when the call comes.
Playing for In the Heights during her freshman year of college was intense but convinced her to set her aim on Broadway.
“I just remember that work convincing me that I wanted to put all my effort into pursuing music, and specifically, Broadway studies,” Parker said in 2019.
In between musicals, she has gigs with individual musicians, teaches percussion and works as a stage manager for the New York Pops, among other organizations. Parker is a two-time DownBeat Student Music Award winner for Asynchronous Blues/Pop/Rock Group — Graduate College with NYU’s Pop/Rock Ensemble.
Parker began studying under Dean Kranzler, KWU’s director of percussion ensemble, in fifth grade and remained with him throughout high school and into college.
“It is a true joy to see Morgan realizing her dream to play on Broadway,” Kranzler said. “She did things the right way; now it is paying off. I’m so very proud of her and I wish her the very best!”
To keep up with Parker, follow her on instagram @morganparkernyc or at morganparkernyc.com.
To read an earlier profile of Morgan, see www.kwu.edu/about/news/feature-parker-marches-to-the-beat-of-her-own-drum/.
Story by Dan Froehlich and Jean Kozubowski