“When I was a little kid I’d steal a knitting needle and walk around the house pretending I was conducting,” laughs Ben McNaboe, who grew up in Yarmouth.

Today this 28-year-old musical whiz serves as Music Supervisor for both the Maine State Music Theatre and the Fulton Theater in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He’s no longer pretending.

“Ben McNaboe is a rare breed, especially in his age group” states Curt Dale Clark, MSMT’s Artistic Director, who knows talent when he sees it.

Ben credits his success to his many mentors in the Yarmouth public schools, and he still stays in touch with all of them. These include Karen Renton, his elementary school music teacher; Brad Ciehomski who started him on saxophone; Kim Grover, who taught him general music and chorus and introduced him to musical theater in high school; and Tony-nominated educator and theatre director Betsy Puelle who got him involved in all aspects of the musical preparation for shows.

Although he fully immersed himself in music at Yarmouth, Ben decided to pursue a more stable career path after high school. He went to Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island to study nursing. That lasted a grand total of one semester when, encouraged by his mentor Kim Grover, he decided to go all in for music. He transferred to the University of Maine, where he received a B.M. in Music Education (double concentration in piano and woodwind). He went on to pursue an M.M. in Music Education/Orchestral Conducting, under Lucas Richmond, Musical Director of the Bangor Symphony.

At the University of Maine, Ben tapped his leadership skill, while honing his diverse musical talents. “I had this crazy idea that we should put on a show combining the talents of both the theater students and the music students.” Encouraged by his flute teacher to run with the idea, he convinced the two departments to back it. He oversaw the production of a totally student-run production that year and for each of the next two years.

The productions raised about $10,000 every year, and these funds were used to fund outreach initiatives for the School of Music and the University.

In 2016, he was invited by Ed Reichert, lecturer in musical theater at the University of Southern Maine, to play in the pit at the Maine State Music Theatre for the productions that summer. Ben seized on the opportunity. “I decided to make myself as valuable as I possibly could be,” he says.

Curt Dale Clark marvels at Ben’s rapid ascent. “Ben came to us young,” says Curt, “and worked himself right up to the position of music supervisor. He’s incredibly smart and he’s very talented as a musician. Most important, he really knows how to communicate with creative talented people. If he’s working with 15 different musicians, he can give each them what they need. He currently handles every aspect of the music in our productions. It’s beautiful to work with someone who loves their job as much as I love my job.”

In bringing in musicians to perform at MSMT, Ben looks for good sight readers who can play with all styles. “I want musicians who know how to react when something goes wrong. Don’t just plow forward. Get out of the way and then come back in when you’re ready.”

Ben’s success at MSMT opened the door for him to take on a similar role at the Fulton Theater in 2019. The Fulton is run by Mark Robin, Curt Dale Clark’s life partner as well as musical collaborator.

“Curt and Mark are both great leaders, although they have different styles” says Ben, “It’s a real honor to be a part of two highly respected organizations like MSMT and the Fulton.”

Ben finds it challenging to get time to stay on top of his musical game, given that he has to work on one show, while simultaneously rehearsing for another one. But the rewards more than justify the tremendous energy he devotes to everything he does. “It’s very gratifying when a musician says that he likes playing for me.” And he loves those moments at the end of a performance when everyone involved with the show — cast and crew and musicians — bask in the cheers and accolades of an appreciative audience.

The next time you attend an MSMT show, keep an eye and an ear out for the extraordinarily talented Ben McNaboe. He’s just one more reason why area musical theater fans are so eager for the shows to go on this summer.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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