You purchased the tickets months ago and have been excited for weeks. You arrived early to enjoy the lobby experience and read the program. Then, the lights dim. The first note rises from the orchestra, setting the scene, inviting you to immerse yourself in the world of the performance.
Music plays a key role when touring Broadway shows hit the stage and for some touring productions, that music is created in partnership with local musicians from the cities they visit, including right here in the Fox Cities.
Melissa Gurholt, the local coordinator for the hiring of musicians when touring Broadway shows request them, said that musicians are selected for their talent, professionalism and sometimes their unique ability to fill multiple roles that are needed. Most of them live within 50 miles of the Center.
“Local musicians chosen are people who are principal players in the Fox Valley Symphony, professors at area colleges such as Lawrence University, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Green Bay, St. Norbert College, or UW-Stevens Point, as well as those musicians who are excellent ‘doublers’, usually the wind players, that can play multiple instruments for a show,” Gurholt explained. “For example, there could be a wonderful flutist, but unless that person can also play clarinet, sax, etc., they may not fit the part.”
While some shows are completely self-contained, others hire local musicians to keep touring costs down, said Jim Sheeley, president of Broadway Across America, North.
“Mostly, it depends on whether the score is so unique that it would take more local rehearsal time than could be allotted in any given week for a touring production. Sometimes it’s economics. It might be less expensive to pay salaries and per diems for the touring musicians than to hire locally,” Sheeley said. “In every case where locals are hired there will always be some lead musicians that tour with each show and they would combine with locals to make the pit orchestra.”
That rehearsal time Sheeley speaks of can sometimes be tricky. Gurholt explained the normal process for musicians involves receiving digital and then hard copies of the music, practicing on their own and attending just one dress rehearsal before the curtain goes up.
“To play these shows, musicians have to be highly-trained and have the ability to be consistent for each performance. It is very exciting, but also somewhat stressful. We spend a lot of time preparing our music so that we can be our best for each show,” Gurholt said.
And sometimes, being their best also means being on stage. During Chicago’s last stop, the group took their seats, which happen to be on stage front and center.
“It is a thrill! We are used to being onstage for symphonic performances, but it's really thrilling to be a part of the action (with Broadway),” Gurholt said.
In addition to the thrill of playing, Gurholt said the musicians take pride in sharing their talents with their community, especially their friends, family and students who often appear in the audience.
Anastasia, visiting the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center January 8 through the 13, travels with a conductor, assistant conductor and a keyboard player. The show will hire ten local musicians to round out their sound. So, when the lights go up and the last note plays, remember you are cheering for the outstanding touring cast, and for talented local musicians from your community.