I’m playing acoustic bass in the pit orchestra for Into The Woods at William Peace University this month. Although I’m not a big fan of musical theatre, it is always fascinating to be a part of such an intricate stage production.
I have so much respect for the musical director Jay Wright. He has to know the entire show inside and out in order to cue the actors on stage. He has every instrument’s part memorized, and if a musician misses a cue, he immediately notices it and corrects it. And on top of it all, he flawlessly plays the notoriously difficult keyboard part: hats off.
The 7-piece orchestra is arranged to sound like a much larger orchestra. Many instruments cover multiple parts- a cellist has violin parts included in her music, the French horn player plays trumpet cues, and the bass part is beefed up with thick sounding double stops. There is barely enough space to play. I’m always poking one of the cellists with the tip of my bow, or worse yet, hitting the bass microphone or music stand loudly!
The fluid nature of the music presents a challenge. The musicians have to follow the actors during lengthy dialogue or missed cues. It adds excitement and drama to the cramped orchestra pit.
Sometimes people wonder how Broadway musicians can play the same show night after night. I think the answer to that is that each night is an adventure, and there is always room for improvement. And with a Sondheim score, there seems to always be something new to discover.