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Quick Q&A: Jose Simbulan, keyboardist for “Wicked” at Altria Theater

It’s that time again – Broadway’s most “popular” Broadway musical “Wicked” is headed to Richmond’s newly renovated Altria Theater. “Wicked” is the tale behind Glinda the Good and the Wicked Witch of the West, the witches of the mystical land of Oz. Apart from all of the majesty and ruby slippers on stage is the music behind the groundbreaking songs. For each stop on their tour, “Wicked” invites nine local musicians to play in their orchestra pit. Jose Simbulan, a 1992 VCU Music piano performance alumnus, is taking to the task for the musical’s stay in Richmond.

Simbulan landed his first theater job a few short months after graduating. While the experience was a low-pressure situation, he says, his career soon began to snowball into a web of networking and back-to-back productions.  He credits his start to his instruction at VCU.

Dr. [Sonia] Vlahcevic provided a very well rounded musical education. She always encouraged us to get out of the building to explore other areas,” Simbulan said.

He often returns to Richmond, where he has lived intermittently, to work and visit old friends.

“It centers me. My parents live in Glen Allen, so coming here is like a ‘staycation.’”

Breaking into the theater pit profession is often extremely difficult, especially if one is based in New York City like Simbulan. He lends one major tip for musicians looking to network: Meet the people you want to work for. Emails and social media are okay, but seeing faces and shaking hands is especially important.

“If you’re looking for work, know whom you want to work for,” Simbulan said. “Know their history and their past work.”

He says the most exciting part of being about being a regular musical director and paid musician is meeting different people and personalities along the way.

With the many personal and musical exchanges, “You learn to be a quick judge of character,” Simbulan said.

When asked whether he feels he has fulfilled his knowledge of his profession Simbulan admits that he is still learning. He regards pianists as solitary in their education and work, but credits his career to helping him break out of his shell.

“I’ve made some amazing friends,” he said. “[It’s] nice to meet people to build those relationships and learn who you want to work with in the future.”

Simbulan has served as as Musical Director and accompanist since 1993, and has played keyboards in the Broadway pits of “Lestat” and the revival of “A Chorus Line”.

Wicked opened on April 23 and will continue to show at the Altria Theatre until May 4.

-Elise Ridley