Whether you know local pianist David Geist from his days playing in his eponymous cabaret room at the old Pranzo restaurant, you’re a new convert or you’re just hearing his name for the first time—get this: Geist just won a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical for the work he did on the re-mounting of the 1998 Harold Prince show Parade. Geist had a hand in the original production back in ‘98 and jumped at the opportunity to help produce the new iteration. This time out, the show, which follows the real-life story of a Southern Jewish man falsely accused of a murder, stars Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt. That alone is a huge deal, but we wanted to know how Geist felt winning the biggest theater award around ahead of his upcoming performance this week (7 pm Thursday, July 6. Free. Osteria, 58 S Federal Place, (505) 986-5858). This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So you won a freaking Tony Award. What’s the show about and how are you involved?
It’s called Parade, and the reason this piece is so special to me, I was involved in the original production 25 years ago—I played rehearsal piano, so I was in a room with Harold Prince for three months while he was putting it together. I am in such awe of the genius of Harold Prince, because he had the foresight to know this would resonate. At the time, it didn’t hit with the public; it didn’t really land. It won Tony awards, but closed very quickly...Fast forward to 25 years later and I realized this show I was once so close to was being revived. I knew the lead producers because they were people I came up with in New York, so I called them, we got together and I said I knew what this piece was about as well as anybody else.
It’s a devastating piece about antisemitism and very much in the style of West Side Story, which Harold Prince was of course involved with, and it’s really about a hate crime—the two cultures of white supremacy and Jews trying to work it out in the South, post-Civil War, pre-World War I, a very volatile time for everybody. And it’s all true. They set a real story to music. At the time, 25 years ago, I didn’t quite understand it myself, which is partly why I’m so happy to be part of this...but also because the piece really is about what’s happening currently with hate crimes all over the country. Parade is so timely today.
What does it feel like to hear your name called for such a prestigious honor?
You know, it’s interesting. I feel like this is a full-circle moment for me. I did all this work when I was in New York years ago, then made the decision to come to Santa Fe and build this whole new life here, and a life that has supported me so beautifully. But this is really about...instead of me working for Broadway, Broadway is working for me. I’m very proud to be on the other side of the experience. I was really in the trenches and I was basically killing myself; I was basically Broadway’s bitch, so it’s nice to have the industry work for me at this point. I’m totally honored by this whole experience. There isn’t anything more important to me than supporting the arts. This is my way of investing in a show that is so meaningful and is as important to me as anything else.
Does this win signal, perhaps, a more serious or regular return to the Broadway theater world in the future?
It’s not about moving back to New York, but yes, I would like to venture out into this producing role and I can do it remotely. I don’t have to be in an orchestra pit to be involved with conversations and meetings or help artistically. I was even told that my experience of being a rehearsal pianist helped production—I was really involved in the nuts and bolts of how [Parade] worked.
My next venture is the tour of the show. I’m a baby onboard as far as the producing aspect, so I want to tread lightly. But also, I’m already somewhat bi-city—I’ve been doing a part-time residency [in New York City] every few months called The Nines. I don’t want to let people think I’m leaving Santa Fe, but...we’ll see.