North High alumnus back in town with ‘Wicked’


North High School graduate Adam McDonald poses backstage with an intimidating “Wicked” prop. Adam is currently on tour with “Wicked,” serving as second key and as an associate conductor.

“Wicked”’s associate conductor-second key Adam McDonald (right) chats with appropriately dressed fans before the Oct. 8 show.

He may be a nice guy, but Adam McDonald has spent nearly two years being Wicked.

That’s how long the North High alum has been working with the national touring company of the Broadway hit “Wicked.” Adam has served as the tour’s orchestra as “key 1”; recently he was promoted to Associate Conductor and took over “key 2.”

The “key” positions are where sound pros coordinate prerecorded or live sounds with split-second precision to underscore the action onstage. The “key 2” sounds include “the bells, whistles and a lion roar here and there,” McDonald explains.

Early introduction

When he was younger, McDonald was active in concert chorale and the Northern Lights show choir at North High before graduating in 2001. His former instructors call him kind and outgoing and wickedly talented.

“He is very musically inclined and creative,” says North High’s choral director Peg Sorensen. “He arranged chorale music for the show choir when he was a senior. He could play by ear or read music with equal skill. That’s a rare talent.

“He has what Mozart had,” she adds. “That extra creativity that you either have or don’t have.”

In addition, McDonald made numerous theater appearances on the stage at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, appearing in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “West Side Story” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”

“He was one of the most talented young people we’ve ever had in our theater program,” says Judy Larkins, Director of Hospitality, Small Groups and Drama Ministries at St. Mark’s. “He could do anything; he could sing, he could play piano, he could act.

“He had confidence beyond his years, but never beyond his skill. He’s a delightful person.”

‘The language that is music’

After high school, McDonald originally planned to study engineering in college. However, after he saw “Aida” at the Orpheum Theatre -- coincidentally, the same theater now hosting “Wicked” -- he wanted to take music more seriously. He took his first formal piano lessons in college and graduated from the Boston Conservatory.

The details, rhythm and logical flow that contributed to McDonald’s early attraction to engineering apparently also factors into an instinctive affinity for what goes into a musical score.

“I’ve always understood the language that is music,” he says. “All the key changes and the notes and how they flow on the page, that’s always made sense to me.”

Adam headed to New York City to pursue his dream in 2009. “I followed where my instincts led me, and so far it’s turned out pretty good,” he notes.

Shortly after arriving in New York, he was already getting jobs; his past experience included stints with “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” touring company.

These days, he’s “on tour permanently.” But he has enjoyed being back home. “It’s a blessing to get paid to travel,” he says. “It’s a blessing to be, for example, in Hawaii for nine weeks. But it’s great to be home.”

When he isn’t performing at night or rehearsing during the day, Adam has been enjoying time with friends and family, visiting Minnehaha Falls and running along familiar streets. “I’m trying to fill in as many visits as I can,” he says.

“Wicked” plays through Oct. 27; after that the production moves on to Chicago.

For ticket information, go to http://www.hennepintheatretrust.org.

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