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John McDaniel Is 'Home For The Holidays' - Literally

John McDaniel

Conductor, composer, record producer and pianist John McDaniel’s career has taken him all over the U.S. and the world, but now the Grammy and Emmy award winner is back home in St. Louis for the holidays – and two sold-out performances at the Kranzberg Arts Center.

McDaniel may be best known for being the band director of the Rosie O’Donnell Show. He was last in St. Louis in 2011, when he conducted “The Daughter of the Regiment” at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

McDaniel’s musical career began at an early age under the tutelage of his mother Jane McDaniel, a retired Webster University piano instructor.

“I was born into a home where there was music. There was Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. I started playing when I was five and she was my first teacher,” he said.

As a sophomore at Kirkwood High School, McDaniel student-produced the musical “Bells Are Ringing,” and he grew up attending the St. Louis Symphony on Sunday afternoons, an orchestra he would go on to conduct multiple times.

Friday’s concerts feature several pieces from McDaniel’s new CD, “John McDaniel at the Piano: Christmas.” We sampled a few of the songs on the CD during today’s Cityscape program, including “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Walking In The Air,” a duet performed with his mother.

Also performing in the concert are Cindy Degnan and Mary Beth Black. Degnan performed with McDaniel back when they were in high school. This weekend will be the first time they have performed together in thirty years. Black is McDaniel’s niece. She is a Kirkwood High School senior who plans to study musical theater in college.

McDaniel’s Broadway credits include” Bonnie and Clyde,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” He recently directed “Come Fly With Me” in his role as the artistic director at the O’Neill Theater. His current work includes writing the music for a Broadway version of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and producing “4 Girls 4,” a concert tour starring Donna McKechnie, Faith Prince, Andrea McCardle and Maureen McGovern.

Despite all the credits to his name, he has warned his niece against following in his footsteps because there is so much competition.

“It’s super hard being in show business,” McDaniel said. “There’s so much rejection. When I have 500 kids coming in for two parts and 80 of them are fantastic, it’s heartbreaking. You wish you could give the part to 80 people.”

But he also understands the draw of the business. When asked if he ever considered giving  it up himself, McDaniel said he never entertained the thought. “It’s all I can do, so there’s that. I can’t do anything else. It’s been a great ride and continues to be.”

Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer, hosted bySteve Potter and funded in part by the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis, the Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.