Take Five with Tom Kitt ’96



Tom Kitt ’96 is a composer, arranger, orchestrator and music supervisor for stage, film and television. He received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and two Tony Awards for the Broadway musical Next to Normal. He is the composer of If/Then, High Fidelity (Broadway), Bring it On, The Musical (Broadway), Disney’s Freaky Friday, The Winter’s Tale, All’s Well That Ends Well and Cymbeline (The Public’s New York Shakespeare Festival), From Up Here and The Madrid (Manhattan Theater Club), Orphans (Broadway), The Retributionists (Playwrights Horizons) and As You Like It (Toho Co., Ltd., Japan). Kitt is the music supervisor, arranger, orchestrator and composer of additional music for SpongeBob Squarepants, The Musical, which is scheduled to open on Broadway this fall. In addition, he is the music supervisor for the new NBC drama Rise. Kitt was responsible for the music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations for Grease Live! and Green Day’s American Idiot on Broadway. He received an Emmy Award as co-writer for the 2013 Tony Award opening number, Bigger.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was quite nervous. Even though my brother, Jeffrey ’88, GSAPP’93, was living a few blocks away (he was finishing up his graduate degree in urban planning), I was homesick and frightened to be living in New York City on my own. But I was determined to make it work because I had come to Columbia with a dream of making it as a musician and I knew that New York was the best place for me to pursue that dream. I also came to Columbia as a huge sports fan and had actually been recruited to play soccer. However I quickly discovered that my passions lay elsewhere and, as sad as it was to give up the sport I had played since age 5, I auditioned for the Kingsmen and never looked back.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I was assigned a suite on the mezzanine floor of Carman. There were only 10 of us living on the floor and the RA’s room was one floor up so we would have small parties in the hopes we could stay below the radar. My windows opened onto Fraternity Row, so I would often hear a lot of raucous activity. I do remember that I was obsessed with R.E.M.’s new album, Automatic for the People and so most nights I would fall asleep listening to it with the only variation being how far into the album I would get. To this day it remains one of my favorites and I often think back to my Carman experience when I hear it.

What class do you most remember and why?

One of my favorite classes was Elaine Sisman’s Mozart class. I was a classically trained pianist from age 4, but by the time I arrived at Columbia, I had fallen out of love with classical and was focused primarily on being a singer/songwriter. Billy Joel and Elton John had replaced Mozart and Beethoven as the great inspirations of my life. But on that first day, Professor Sisman blasted the Requiem for us to take in, and from those opening strains of the music, I was blown away and hooked once again. Looking back, it was a pivotal moment because my newfound love and appreciation for classical music led me to composers I hadn’t studied yet, such as Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Ravel and Gershwin, all of whom have had a great influence on my theatrical writing.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I loved to go to Ferris Booth Hall. Aside from being a place to hang out with friends (and the best sandwiches on campus!) it was also where the Kingsmen and the Varsity Show would rehearse. It also housed Wollman Auditorium, which was where I met my wife, Rita Pietropinto ’93, SOA’96, who addressed my entire class on that first nerve-racking night at Orientation. Wollman was also where, in 1994, I got up the courage to ask Billy Joel if I could play a duet with him, and thanks to his great kindness, the two of us shared the stage performing “New York State of Mind.” There was something about that building that provided great comfort and warmth. You could always feel the creative energy, which for an artist is everything.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I do wish I got around the city a bit more and didn’t always end up at the West End Gate. But at the same time, those nights on 113th and Broadway were always memorable. There were some courses I wish I had taken, like contemporary fiction. But to quote my friends Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, who wrote the score for Avenue Q, I wish I had taken more pictures.