Jamestown Native Finds Musical Success Nationally And Abroad

Chris Babbage, a Jamestown native, has found success across the U.S. and internationally as a music director and conductor in various off-Broadway productions. Babbage is pictured conducting a pit orchestra at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Utah, and atop the Great Wall of China. Submitted photo

In the midst of his extensive travels, Chris Babbage always takes time to remember and visit his hometown on a regular basis.

During his most recent visit to Jamestown, Babbage stopped by The Post-Journal to discuss his career as a touring music director and conductor in various off-Broadway production tours across the U.S. and internationally. Babbage, a 1996 graduate of Jamestown High School and an alumnus of Jamestown Community College and SUNY Fredonia, now lives in New York City but said he makes a point of returning to his hometown at least twice a year in order to visit family and maintain his local connections.

“Currently, I’m on break for an Asian tour of ‘Sister Act’ that took me to Singapore, China and Manila in the Philippines, and I’ll be heading back next week to go to Tokyo and Seoul,” Babbage said. “It’s interesting to me that last week I was walking around a lake in China, a few days after that I was walking around New York City and today I was walking around Allen Park in Jamestown.”

“I know a lot of people who are from this area are adamant about getting out of town and never looking back, but I guess what I wanted to impart to them is that someone can follow their dreams and not sever all ties to their roots; it’s not all or nothing,” he added.

Babbage said he discovered within himself a wanderlust from a young age and, through his later involvement in theater, realized that he wanted to make a career out of music and traveling. In 1999, while pursuing his music education degree at Fredonia, he got his first taste of theater as a performer in the pit orchestra during a production at Struthers Library Theatre in Warren, Pa. It was at this point, he said, that he was “bitten by the theater bug.”

“I decided I wanted to pursue that path and went from playing keyboards into music directing and conducting,” he said. “I graduated from Fredonia in 2003, stuck around a little while and started working in regional theaters. I did my first national tour in 2004, which was ‘Smokey Joes’ Cafe,’ a Broadway musical revue. During that time, I did a lot of networking. I met people at every job, which then led me to another job. I took a little break before I got too far in to get my master’s degree, which I did for my own personal development, and then continued to work in regional theaters and touring.”

Babbage’s first stint of international touring came in a 2004 production of “Grease,” and was followed by a four-year tour of “Cats” throughout the U.S., Canada and Latin America. Also of note was his involvement with the first national tour of “Sister Act” directly following the 2012 conclusion of its original Broadway run.

Even as his journey has taken him first to the other end of the state, and then to the rest of the country and beyond, Babbage said he particularly enjoys visiting Jamestown and seeing the changes that have occurred since his initial departure. He said he has been encouraged by the various stages of downtown development that have occurred in the past decade, and wishes the best for the city that helped give him his start.