Sixth time’s the charm for Conservatory alumna

Katie Coleman sits at a keyboard during a musical performance

Katie Coleman (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The musical comedy “SIX” snagged a bevy of awards, including two Tonys, after bursting onto the theater scene. Conservatory of Music alumna Katie Coleman ’04 has had the best seat in the house for countless performances—on stage.

Earlier this year, Coleman wrapped up a six-month tour with the musical, which tells the story of King Henry VIII’s six wives from their perspectives, performed as part of an electric pop concert. As music conductor, Coleman had a unique role that put her on-stage as part of an all-female band in full costume.

Six women dressed in costume stand together for a group photo

Coleman (center) with the Ladies in Waiting of the North American Tour of SIX (Photo: Joan Marcus)

She spent six months traveling through 14 cities with the musical earlier this year and continues to be involved by subbing when someone is on vacation.

For Coleman, a music management major at Pacific, “SIX” is her most public role, but she has performed with other powerhouse productions, including “Hamilton” and “Wicked.” She was a rehearsal pianist and rotating keyboard player when the tours were in San Francisco long-term. She also was a substitute for “The Lion King” when it came through San Francisco and is on rotation as a keyboard player for “Aladdin” on Broadway.

Her piano teacher at Pacific, Associate Professor of Practice Sonia Leong, recalls Coleman picking up new music on the piano quickly, even though her primary instrument was the trumpet.

“She’s very intuitive, a very versatile musician,” Leon said. “It’s just fantastic. She kept up her piano skills, and that ended up being where her profession headed. It’s amazing. Her education has served her well, and it’s great to see.”

Coleman spoke about how she went from community theater to a national tour, and how Pacific prepared her.

Do you typically perform? Or was “SIX” the first time you’ve been on stage as a conductor?

I loved that part, but it took me a while to get there. Most of my career, I enjoyed being more in the background. I've been music directing theater for a long time, 15 years, and the more I did it, the more comfortable I got. And then it was like ‘Okay, now the band is onstage. Okay, now the band is on stage in costume. Now the band is on stage, in costume and has lines to say.’ It just ended up happening. At first, I was terrified, but then I got more and more into it and realized that you if you just commit, it's a lot of fun. This is the most perfect job for me. It's all the things that I love.

The show has such great reviews. What was the reaction from the audience when you all performed?

It's so much fun. It's like a party. The audience, every night by the end, are on their feet, clapping along and screaming. It surprises people because this show is unique. It's not your typical musical. It’s like a pop concert, but then there's a story and a narrative happening, and you really get to know the characters.

Most people expect fun music and good singers, but they don't expect an emotional story with female empowerment. You leave being so happy and excited and feeling empowered.

How do you feel Pacific prepared you for what you’re doing now?

It was a great school for me. I loved that they had a music management program, which back then was hard to come by. It combined a serious music degree with a business management, leadership component, which worked well for me. It helped in the music directing and the conducting side of what I do.

After I graduated, I knew that I wanted to be part of big productions that were collaborative amongst a lot of different art forms, but I didn't know that what I was describing was musical theater, and that had been a passion my whole life.

Once I realized what jobs were available in theater, I started playing piano for local community theaters. That led to music directing and leading the band, which was a natural position for me to be in as well. I quit my job behind a computer and did it full time and haven't looked back since.

How did you move from community theater to bigger productions?

I got my start in the Bay Area doing theater there, and I feel lucky to have gotten that experience. A lot of people who move to New York right out of school get experience on shows, but they won't get leadership experience. Because I got started in the Bay Area, I worked my way to music director quickly and was able to do a ton of shows in that position. I came to New York after 10 years having all this experience.

I moved to New York in 2018 and started diving into the scene there, but then ironically, I got called to audition for “Hamilton” back in San Francisco. “Hamilton” played for a year until we got shut down for COVID.

I moved back to New York in 2020 and found odd jobs to get me through until theater started opening back up. I didn’t know what was going to happen with the theater scene; it was shut down for so long, but eventually, I had enough contacts there that I got called to play “Aladdin,” so I learned “Aladdin” once Broadway reopened. It was through my contacts with “Aladdin” that I got the “SIX” job.