For many years, the Little Theatre Guild at Mineral Area College has staged some of greatest Broadway musicals to ever been performed. Their audiences have been swept away by the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and a great many more.
Spectators have been amazed by the performers who have taken the stage to sing classic hits from "Guys and Dolls" to "Rocky Horror Show." But there is one element that seems to have gone undiscovered. The beating heart of the entire show - the band.
“Without the band, there is no show,” said Regina Brown, the vocal director on many of the Little Theatre Guild’s musicals. “People out front, the actors, can not do what they do without those behind the curtain, such as the band and the stage crew.”
The process of bringing a musical to stage, however, is an arduous task that requires the union of three people just to prepare the music.
The musical journey begins at the desk of the Director of Theater Chuck Gallaher where he begins matching music to the actors who are available for the show. It's a process which may take place several months or even a year in advance of the show.
“You always have to make sure the music is not only interesting to an audience,” Gallaher said, “But you also have to make sure you have the people that can make the music an emotional experience for the audience as well.”
Although Gallaher may be the director, he understands the importance of allowing others to share their expertise in bringing a production alive. In the latest musical productions, Michael Goldsmith has served as band director and Brown as the vocal director.
“Usually, I meet with the band director and the vocal director and start talking about what characters have what range, what kind of vocal and physical qualities are we looking for,” Gallaher said. “Then with the band director, we talk about size of the band, what instruments are needed and rehearsal scheduling.”
At this point in time, Gallaher now turns his attention to the actors and set designs and Goldsmith and Brown take over the musical helm of the show.
During the audition portion, Brown will decidee who has the musical chops for the demands of the upcoming production and whether or not a certain role has to have changes made to fit those who are available.
“Sometimes we get lucky, and we hear exactly what we are looking for,” Brown said. “But other times we have to get a little creative and figure out how to make it work. During 'Putnam County Spelling Bee' the role of Mitch Mahoney ended up being played by a female instead of a male actor. In 'Little Shop of Horrors,' I had to play the role of Mushnick, another role that was originally written for a male actor. We do what we have to do to fill the roles.”
From auditions to show time, Brown works the vocal end of the play, teaching each and every performer their musical role through hours and hours of rehearsal.
“I spend a lot of time teaching the vocal parts, especially in the larger group numbers where there is more harmony,” Brown said. “I pay attention of how to break down the chords and what voices to assign to what part. I try and keep people close to their vocal comfort zone because they will be more apt to sing well if they know the note is a good place for them.”
But as Brown stated earlier, the magic of the theater would be lost if it wasn’t for those behind the curtain, and with a musical, she refers to Goldsmith and his magical musicians, who are often performing half a building away from the theater during the show.
Except for the Monday evening before opening night, which is only two days prior, the band is never again in the same room as the actors. Throughout the performance, the band plays from the music department’s band room, which is a separate room completely isolated from the theater.
“On Monday before the show begins, we will meet in the theater, so we can see everything,” Goldsmith said. “But then Tuesday, we are back in the band room. From then on, everything is piped in through CAT five cables. We use a projector, so we can watch, and speaker monitors to listen.”
Goldsmith adds he is always amazed how well this works, and how they do not experience any delays between them and the actors.
“It simply blows my mind that this works,” Goldsmith said. “We are also mic’d in the band room and there are monitors on the stage so the actors hear us, and somehow, this magical process works.”
The magical process Goldsmith refers to actually starts a couple of months before he sees any of his musician or the actors. The beginning process seems rather mundane compared to electricity of the performance, but it is an essential component of the production.
“My part of a production is separate from Chuck’s (Gallaher) or Regina’s (Brown),” Goldsmith said. “I work with getting the musicians prepared. We each have our own component that we work on, and one week before the show begins it all comes together and it really seems to work.”
According to Goldsmith, shortly after the show is decided upon, Brown and he will receive a piano score and a director’s score and the two directors will sit down and go through the entire show. Goldsmith then begins the process of designing a band.
“Once Chuck decides on a show, we will get the instrumental list, we will go through it and decide how many members we will need to do the show,” Goldsmith said. “It may be a 15-piece band, but for several reasons, we may need to make it smaller.”
Both Goldsmith and Gallaher are both committed to not watering down the musical scores and getting musicians of exceptional talent to play.
“Once we decide on what instruments we are going to use, I’ll take time to go through all of the books and look at the difficulty level and that tells me who I should contact to play,” Goldsmith said. “This last show, 'Bat Boy,' the bass part was very difficult, and my first choice was not available. The musician who stepped in was actually in high school, but he is already playing at a professional level.”
Although Goldsmith makes this process seem easy, he will be the first to say it is isn’t. In fact, he states definitively it is a very difficult and complex task.
Once the band members are chosen, Goldsmith sits down, listens to the Broadway recordings and then goes through the entire score and looks at every musician's part to ensure perfection.
“I go through the entire score and make a lot of notes” Goldsmith said. “I make a note of what is happening at this point, what are the tempos, where do I think we will need some cues or will we need to rewrite some sections.”
Eventually, Goldsmiths says, he will meet again with Brown and the two will discuss the vocals and whether or not changes will have to be made to the score because a key is too high or too low for an actor. Sometimes, the two will even have to rewrite sections based on range of the vocalist.
After four or five weeks working with his band, working with Brown and working with Gallaher, the production is ready to for opening night.
“Doing a live show you have to have a lot of trust,” Goldsmith said. “You have to have trust that Chuck is behind the scene instructing his actors and the actors are doing what they normally do. But there are times when an actor may drop a line and skip ahead, but the band can work on the fly, so we are always on our toes.”
But in the end, no matter if an actor drops a line or skips ahead, it is the band’s duty to convince the audience that is actually how it was meant to be.