In December 2012, I wrote an article about the role of the pit musician in musical theatre. That article was written from a musician’s point of view and focused on the physical environment; equipment; training; mindset of performers who worked in the shadows; versatility that was required of pit musicians; and only mentioned compensation as a cursory aside. This article takes a closer look at the differences between pit musicians who live to play as opposed to those who play to live and discusses the challenges community theaters face with respect to pit musicians. Continue reading
West Valley Light Opera (affectionately known as WVLO) is presenting a spectacle chronicling the life and times of Will Rogers in its production of The Will Rogers Follies. The show opens on 22 June 2019 and runs through 20 July 2019 at the Saratoga Civic Theater. Will Rogers’ personality comes through in this stage adaptation highlighting the more memorable aspects of his life. Rogers was known for offering his observations from his many travels, and while he poked fun at various controversial topics along the way, he did so gently, offending no one and appealing to people from all walks of life. This production is full of folksy charm, the color and glitz of The Ziegfeld Follies, and of course a smattering of rope tricks. Continue reading
Sunnyvale Community Players (SCP) opened The Wiz on Saturday, 27 April and continues Thursdays – Sundays through 19 May 2019. This closing production of its 50th season has become a quick crowd favorite for many reasons such as its stellar cast, impressive technology incorporated into the show, and of course the orchestra. With many musicals, the orchestra, while certainly not incidental, is often unnoticed. This time, music director and co-producer Kevin Surace has recreated the power of the Broadway arrangement with a 23-piece instrumental ensemble. Due to the cozy performance space and the equally cozy pit, his orchestra is spread across multiple locations in the theater as the pit cannot contain it. As a result, the music wafting through the facility is noticed in a very good way. Great care has been taken to individually mic each player and balance the entire ensemble to achieve a smooth, powerful sound. This article discusses how we got there, and what it’s like in the pit for The Wiz. Continue reading
Shrek the Musical is one of those shows that people seem to either love or hate. The story started as a book by William Steig in 1990, became a DreamWorks Animation film in 2001, and finally in December 2008 opened on Broadway as the aforementioned musical. A video of the Broadway production was later released in 2013 on DVD, Blu-ray, and as a digital download. It’s also one of those shows that keeps popping up around the country and around the world in various productions at all levels. Because it features a large cast and is very family friendly, it is a frequent favorite among youth theaters. It also continues to attract adult community theaters and even regional professional companies. Given its ubiquity, one would expect this show to be a perennial crowd favorite, and yet, within the theater community, it evokes strong reactions, both positive and negative. Continue reading
As time marches forward, so too does a society’s use of language. Often, texts and artistic works from an earlier time can provide an interesting look into that past’s lexicon. In many ways, they can also provide a view of the social fabric of the societies in which the works originated. Over time, various words either fall out of favor, or take on new or different meanings. Additionally, the sensibilities of cultures also change. When a theater company chooses to mount a production of a work either from the past directly, or one that is based on a work from the past, should they modify the language, and/or characterizations, to conform to the cultural sensitivities of current time? Continue reading
This run just keeps surpassing itself. The Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof continues to receive not one, but two standing ovations every performance, and as of 29 September 2017 (one quarter of the way through its penultimate weekend), the run completely sold out. As written in the background pieces – promising cheers and tears, tech week chronicles from the pit, and why his run – this production means a great deal to everyone involved with the show. Rather than rehashing the background already discussed at length, this article attempts to provide some more video insights into this heartfelt journey. Continue reading
Half-way through, this Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof continues to receive not one, but two standing ovations every performance. Not only that, each and every performance of the first two weekends has drawn sold-out houses. Beyond those inside the theatre, many times lines of hopeful patrons formed hoping to take the seats for any no-shows. Tickets for the remaining two weekends (eight performances) are selling quickly.
There is a lot to love about this production for both performers and audience members alike. The story is as applicable now as it was in the period depicted talking about traditions, and dealing with the challenges of a changing world. As I wrote in my background pieces promising cheers and tears and tech week chronicles from the pit, this production means a great deal to all of us involved with the show, and for one of our dearest, it is the fulfillment of a life’s dream. This is also the biggest production SCP has ever mounted in several respects including its 38-member cast and its full 25-piece orchestra with every instrument on its own mic. And those spontaneous standing ovations at two separate times every show are unprecedented for a SCP production.
The story contains several vivacious moments, as well as some somber reflection as shown in the following tech week video samples.
As for the life’s dream, the special video below is from early in tech week. The pictures in the video are still shots of the stage action from scenes throughout the show, and the audio is from a recording session of the John Williams mini-symphony on the second night of tech. The recording session was part of an interview for a major national magazine. This Williams piece was originally written for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof and was broken up to cover the opening credits, the Entr’acte, and the end credits. We perform this work in its entirety each show as intermission entertainment featuring Eric Sun as he achieves a major life goal playing the iconic Isaac Stern solo violin part. Eric’s virtuosity is impressive, but the thing that makes this production so emotionally charged is that he won’t be around much longer than the show as he is suffering from terminal brain cancer. This run is Eric’s farewell tour. As his final musical act, he will be putting his vintage 1855 Vuillaume violin down after this run to share it with promising young artists through the Eric Sun – Karen Law Vuillaume Fellowship for community-building projects.
Like many others in this production, Eric is also an accomplished engineer and worked his way from intern to engineering manager at Facebook picking up several patents along the way. This feature story with NBC Bay Area was filmed the first Sunday of the run, and the piece aired two days later telling how Eric reenergized his music to connect so many others in the community while he still could.
Many of the people involved with this production have done the show before in various capacities, but for all of us, this run is by far the most memorable and poignant, and audiences seem to agree.
The show continues Thursdays – Sundays through 8 October 2017. Don’t miss this extraordinary production, and get your tickets soon before it’s too late.
Tickets are available online through the Sunnyvale Community Players website or by phone at 408-733-6611.
Performances are at the Sunnyvale Community Center Theater located at: 550 E. Remington Dr., Sunnyvale CA 94087.
Fiddler on the Roof (Special Edition) by MGM (Video & DVD)
Fiddler on the Roof: Based on Sholom Aleichem’s Stories
Fiddler on the Roof (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Fiddler on the Roof: Vocal Selections
Tevye’s Daughters: Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem
Tevye the Dairyman and the Railroad Stories (Library of Yiddish classics) by Sholom Aleichem
Collected Stories of Sholom Aleichem
(Photos and videos courtesy of Sunnyvale Community Players)
Starting at the end of this story, on opening night, this Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof received not one, but two standing ovations! Needless to say, all the hard work over the many months, and especially this final week, Tech Week, paid off. This last week was a doozy, but we not only survived, we thrived, and the show runs at the Sunnyvale Theater Thursdays – Sundays through 8 October 2017. Now on to the focus of this article, the path through our final week of rehearsals from the pit.
Tech Week, or more colloquially, Hell Week, is always an adventure in the theatre, particularly for musical theatre. Tech Week is that last week leading up to opening night when all the elements are combined, both technical and artistic, which in the case of a musical also includes the music itself. Everything that can go wrong often does, but somehow, magically, it all works by the time the last element is added – the audience. Fiddler on the Roof is a big show, and this Sunnyvale Community Players production includes a cast of 38 (with around 20 of them wearing individual mics) and a full 25-piece orchestra (with every instrument on its own mic) covering every part in the licensed orchestration. By the time we arrived at the first day of tech, the cast had been rehearsing for two months, and two sitzprobes with cast and orchestra together had been conducted.
The video below is a sample from early in the week. The pictures in the video are still shots of the stage action from scenes throughout the show, and the audio is from our recording session of the John Williams mini-symphony on the second night of tech. Note that this Williams piece was originally written for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof covering the opening credits, the Entr’acte, and the end credits. We will be performing this work in its entirety each show as intermission entertainment, featuring Eric Sun playing the iconic Isaac Stern solo violin part:
There is no question that music touches us deeply. There are also myriad studies showing the cognitive benefits of listening, but there are even more benefits when actively participating in making music. For the purposes of this discussion, the assumption is that the reader, for whatever reason, is now intent on learning to play a musical instrument. Whether their goal is personal or professional, an initial instrument must be chosen, i.e., they have to start somewhere. This commentary proposes that the piano be that starting point.
There can be many goals such as:
- Mastering the piano and all of its intricacies;
- Composing music;
- Playing the guitar, or bass, or drums in a rock band;
- Playing the violin, or cello, or bassoon in a symphony orchestra;
- Playing the clarinet or trumpet in a wind band;
- Playing the saxophone or trombone in a jazz band;
- Conducting a band or an orchestra;
- Teaching music;
- Becoming a music therapist;
- Developing more tools for connecting with family and friends;
- Mastering one’s voice for the theater, the opera, or that rock combo.
No matter the goal, the piano is still the best prelude for all of it. It can take a lifetime to master the piano (if one ever truly does). Even when one studies it as a stepping stone to any other musical endeavor, the foundation that piano study helps to build makes everything else much easier to learn. Continue reading
Many years ago when I was still married, my husband asked me if I would have become a musician if my parents hadn’t played instruments. I told him that there was no way to know for sure if my study and lifelong affinity for music would have happened had I not had my early childhood exposure. That answer surprised him a bit. He knew that I grew up with music as a very important part of our family life, a subject I wrote about in my book, Remembering Mom and Dad, in the story entitled Music in the House. He also frequently had to put up with my practicing various instruments for my numerous musical endeavors.
After taking a music appreciation college course and dabbling with the piano for the first time, he decided that wasn’t for him. Still, he wanted to learn to play an instrument in self-defense, although he was careful to select something I didn’t play (I play the woodwinds shown above for public consumption along with piano and trumpet for my ears only). He didn’t have any musical training other than that very brief introduction in his music appreciation course, so he found a teacher and started from scratch learning classical guitar. Continue reading