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Topic: Bands in amateur theater productions

  1. #1

    Bands in amateur theater productions

    The source of this recording will remain anonymous. It's a live recording, done from the auditorium of a community theater, so it's basically what the audience heard. It could have been recorded most anywhere in the country, that's the point. Here's the opening minute of the overture to "Gypsy"--

    Amateur theater band

    I've actually heard much worse. But still, isn't it a bit Ouch on the ears?

    Well, that's about as good as it can get in the realm of amateur theater. I know from experience that it is incredibly difficult to round up musicians for a musical, and then once the band has been put together, it's supremely difficult, actually impossible, to get them to rehearse sufficiently. The musicians are Always the first to be paid - usually the Only people to be paid. A sizable chunk of a community theater's musical budget goes to paying these folks to play the music.

    Musicians have this attitude engrained in them early on that their services are rare and special, and that they should always be paid. Meanwhile, casts for these shows toil long hours for months getting a show up. They work with recordings or a rehearsal pianist, then, if they're lucky, they rehearse a couple of times with the band before opening. It's not unusual for that to come down to just one rehearsal. And it's always a Complete Nightmare. Tempi are all over the place, the band is sloppy, too loud, under-trained, and the entire production's confidence level plummets instantly. The show limps through its run, and charitable patrons still stand up to applaud at the end, because they at least admire and appreciate the effort, even though there's no way they can think of what they saw as anything but excruciatingly amateurish.

    Some more metropolitan areas will have a better pool of musicians to draw from, but the majority of community theaters have a much more limited pool to draw from. So quality does vary, of course.

    Some years ago, our local theater had given up doing musicals because they were so expensive and turned out so embarrassingly. I went to the board of directors and proposed to direct a musical using recorded tracks that I would produce. That resulted in a string of highly successful shows which came across Much better than the group's musicals had before that. I produced the soundtracks with synths and samplers, later with Garritan instruments. Casts were thrilled that they could rehearse with Exactly what they'd hear during performance. Levels could be worked out so the singers weren't drowned out, and the drummer wasn't predominating with that horrible BOOOMING sound they always create in these small performance spaces. The audiences had to make that initial adjustment to hearing recorded music instead of a live band - But it always worked. In live theatre, it's the people up on stage who are most important. Music is there to back them up, and to have a secondary role. That relationship is totally out of whack when a bad sounding band keeps taking focus - and the totally wrong kind of focus.

    Most of here are musicians, and some have played in pit bands for shows. We're also MIDI musicians. We're two headed beasts. We can totally sympathize with the ideal concept of always having live bands for these kinds of shows - but we also know that it's not always the best way to make for a polished, semi-professional show.

    It's for these factors I'm talking about that I was grateful the initial productions of my "Dorian Gray" have used my Garritan driven tracks. At least I know the show isn't suffering because of a badly played score.

    It's a bit of a dilemma, eh? And of course it's a topic that's been hot for a long time now - the debate over live versus virtual bands. I think we all know that Broadway shows and the touring equivalents now make big use of MIDI and recorded tracks. Bands of live musicians are much smaller than they used to be, and in some cases, are being totally replaced.

    Sticky subject as it is - I wanted to say that in my experience, musicians in amateur theater are often The key reason that
    community productions can suck as big time as they often do. Give me a good sounding virtual orchestra any time.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2000
    Chandler, Arizona

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    That band actually wasn't too bad sounding for a amateur production. I've played with worse! Part of the problem is the union rates which cause just a few rehearsals with the band. The musicians have a tendency to not rehearse the parts outside of the rehearsals which to me is unacceptable. The string players are usually the roughest of the bunch. I've had to use string samples to cover up some of the awful playing.

    We have a local dinner theater that puts on decent productions. They use a mix of around 5-6 live musicians with backing tracks. The music has always been top notch and retains more life with the live musicians versus being all canned music.

    BTW, I've done Gypsy!


  3. #3

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    Quote Originally Posted by Haydn View Post
    That band actually wasn't too bad sounding for a amateur production. I've played with worse! Part of the problem is the union rates which cause just a few rehearsals with the band. The musicians have a tendency to not rehearse the parts outside of the rehearsals which to me is unacceptable. The string players are usually the roughest of the bunch. I've had to use string samples to cover up some of the awful playing.

    We have a local dinner theater that puts on decent productions. They use a mix of around 5-6 live musicians with backing tracks. The music has always been top notch and retains more life with the live musicians versus being all canned music.

    BTW, I've done Gypsy!

    My experience is similar. While I don't do musical theatre, I do assemble bands/small orchestras for other purposes. I have simply STOPPED calling anyone from the major, internationally-known conservatory that is about an hour from my front door.

    The people I hired would change their parts, take them up or down octaves, spice them up (usually incorrectly), not practice the parts, bitch about the other sections, etc.

    The problem with these people is that they believe the only meaningful gig is an orchestra, and anything else is beneath them. They have been told all their life how special they are, and they believe their own "publicity."

    Truth be told, for every string opening in an orchestra there are 100 auditioners, of which 90 can do the job perfectly well. For tuba, there are typically 50 applicants for an opening, and 40 of them are perfectly competent. People spend six years at a conservatory and wind up in a per-service pickup orchestra that pays $80 per service.

    When I was a student at that large midwestern university (but NOT a major in the international-known conservatory), I played in band when my schedule permitted, as most euphonium players do. If I had 13 cents for every complaint I heard from woodwind and brass players about "having to play in wind ensemble," I could probably buy another euphonium or two. (I play a custom Miraphone and a Yamaha.)

    I got sick of the moaning and crappy playing and now get people from another small college with a fine music program. Just as good on the job, and much easier to work with, and grateful for the opportunity.

    If you are picking up that this is a sore point with me, you are correct.

    One last anecdote--I play in any number of madrigal dinner-type things every December. Fortunately, I don't put them together. One year there was an oboe player from the internationally-known conservatory who did nothing but bitch about the strings and the conductor and soak her reed. Correct entrances in correct keys were optional. The rest of the group was ready to do unspeakable things to/with her oboe by the time the show had run its course.
    A few months later, I happened to be in the town an hour from my front door that is the home to the internationally-known conservatory. I stopped in a Starbuck's and my friendly barista was the oboe player.

    I am a performer, not a composer, but I can imagine how a composer must feel when his/her work is disrespected by performers who ought to know better and can do better. Yeah, string players are probably the worst, followed closely by woodwinds. Fortunately, the low brass players I know are the mellowest and most professional of all.

    100% mellow Snorlax.
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Tom_Davis's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Ellendale, ND

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    I have produced and directed the musicals The Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot, The Sound of Music and dozens of others. Most had pit orchestras of 25 to 40 players. Camelot with a stage cast of 208 and a pit orchestra of 51 was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was amazingly successful and its run had to be expanded an additional 3 weeks to cater to the audiences. But, if I were to attempt any musical in amateur theater again I would not hesitate to use sampled music. The ability to immediately change the key of a piece to attend to the needs of a sudden cast replacement, or to control essential volume changes during performance, would be a blessing. While possible with professional musicians, it is virtually impossible with amateur musicians.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Suburban NYC

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    Hi Randy,

    Great topic ... as you know, this is a dilemma very close to my heart.

    I wish there was enough budget money in my utopian fantasy-world to hire nothing but first-call session players for every single musical that's staged in the world ... and since money was no longer an issue, we could use nothing but the full-blown, original, Broadway orchestrations ... even for community theater productions. Oh, and since it's MY utopian world, we would all have access to players of this caliber, coast-to-coast ... <sound harp glisses, up and down, w/ heavy reverb as Frank comes back to reality!>

    But therein lies one of the toughest compromises an amateur musical company must make ... do you go against that ideal <above>, and try and use something that is aurally professional-sounding, despite the fabricated, very non-musical theater aspect of doing so: The pre-recorded score.

    Your example ... the "Gypsy" overture, is arguably one of my top-five favorite overtures of all time ... just a classic in every possible way. Julie Styne's fantastic songs routined by co-orchestrators 'Red' Ginzler and Sid Ramin, this is the one overture we would play to space travelers to demo what a musical theater overture "is".

    Yes, I have heard better and worse renditions of this piece; this pit tried valiantly, but it is an extremely difficult piece to perform well ... you had better have some trumpet players with mega-chops! The beginning was rough, but I was impressed with the little trumpet flurries @0:45and 0:48; not too bad! ... but the point is, would the production have sounded better for not only the audience, the prime focus, always, but for the performers on stage as well.

    This was an example of not being able to faithfully reproduce a piece of exciting theater music due to the technical limitations of the musicians performing it. But I'll offer a similar problem that occurs even more frequently than your example: The scaled-down orchestrations used for pro-produced dinner theater, regional productions, and road tours. I can even actually use this very overture for my example ...

    A few years ago, we were fortunate enough to catch Broadway revivals of "South Pacific" and "Gypsy". Both shows used the original orchestrations: "South Pacific" was 30 pieces and "Gypsy"was 25. As an added bonus, the stage at Lincoln Center was retracted during the overture and entr'acte, exposing the entire spot-lighted pit, and for Gypsy,the pit played on-stage, behind a scrim that was opened for the overture and entr'acte. Fantastic-fantastic-fantastic!

    A few months later, we went to see a very good dinner theater production of "Gypsy" (largest Equity dinner theater in NY with nearly 200 shows over 37 yrs under their belt). The overture began and my heart sank. It was horrible. The problem? Reducing 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, horn, and the 5 reeds (with most doubling flute/picc, saxes, and clarinets) to just 1 trumpet, 1 trombone, and 1 reed chair. Yeah, these guys had good timing and intonation, but all the majesty, all the power, all the panache of Ramin/Ginzler's overture was gone.

    So, we can say, some scores simply lend themselves better to reduction than others ... My Fair Lady was excellent with the reduced orchestration at this same dinner theater: Four reed chairs were reduced to just two, a Bbclarinet/flute chair, and a Bb clarinet/bassoon chair. And it sounded wonderful.

    Getting back to Randy's point, we can also say some scores are easier for amateur pits to perform than others: jazzy scores are much more difficult for non-jazz steeped players (this is true even for the top pit guys!); classical sounding scores are much more accessible for the average pit; when you add swing and syncopations, the ante is raised.

    Last Fall, I had the pleasure of arranging, orchestrating and musical directing our church's 80th anniversary dinner theater production. This parish has staged 7-8 musicals (mostly review-types) over the past 20 years ... all of them with just a pianist; sometimes supplemented with drums and bass. I had caught the last two shows prior to my involvement. I'll be brutally honest: the shows sounded "serviceable"... w/ just a piano for a pit, they sounded less-than-professional. And this is unfortunate, because there were some excellent actors and singers performing. But the finished shows sounded more like rehearsals with just a piano (even w/ bass and/or drums) backing a stage-full of performers. Of course, small intimate shows are lovely with just a piano; a special cabaret feel. But belting "Everything's Coming Up Roses" with just a piano falls a little flat.

    We did the Fall show with all-Garritan backing tracks created in my studio. Originally, the producer, who knew I was a musician, had asked if I could put together a simple piano-only backing track for a couple of tunes in the show (about to start rehearsals), just so they could save a dollar or two on a rehearsal pianist (very expensive over the course of several months). I added bass and drums too since that's a piece of cake, and played it at the first rehearsal ... hmmmm .... that sounds good. There was a problem with the key of one of the tunes; it was corrected by the next rehearsal. Next thing you know, I did around an hour's worth of music, most cues with my full "27 instrument pit", and there never was a rehearsal pianist.

    The feedback was immediate: every performer loved singing with an entire orchestra backing them. And they got to rehearse for months with it so there were no surprises on opening night. The cast felt more important, which is another wayof saying they felt more professional and really raised their game because of it. There was no question about it: for an amateur production like ours, with no real budget and no "free" musician pool to draw from, it was a win-win situation.

    I first came upon this site right around the time Randy had generated Garritan-based Gilbert and Sullivan backing tracks for license ... before knowing Randy, I thought, what a fabulous idea. And we all know of the"Dorian" tracks he just mentioned. Given our druthers, yeah, it would be wonderful to have pro pits for every show. But the reality of it is, that's impossible. And to deprive a community theater or local parish or other amateur theater company the joy and learning experience of staging a musical simply because they can't afford or muster up a pit would be a sad thing. I'm real glad there is now a very professional and viable solution.


  6. #6
    Senior Member Frank D's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Suburban NYC

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    Quote Originally Posted by Haydn View Post
    BTW, I've done Gypsy!

    You're my hero, Jim!

  7. #7

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    A few thoughts regarding my experience with amature theater (including college productions) FWIW:

    Some of you may know that I am a professional actor. While most of my career has been spent doing films, TV, and more than anything else commercials (not by design, but by financial necessity) my background and first love is theater.

    I live in a suburb of NYC, about as far away from the city as you can get and still commute for auditions and jobs. Since a good part of this area is a bedroom community, there tends to be a lot of travel both to and from Manhattan by residents. Many "name" performers, in all the arts, live around here.

    Since both musical and acting talent abounds, most of the amature shows done here are musicals. With few exceptions, the pit orchestras always sounded great, despite the fact that more often than not the musicians, like the actors, were unpaid. I appeared in amature productions through high school and seven years of college. I was considered to be among the best actors in my day, but I had no inate musical abilty. I had no sense of rhythm and couldn't tell one pitch from another. I had been taking piano lessons since grade school, because my parents were told that it would improve my handwriting. (I was an A student in a Catholic school where my grades were routinely knocked down to Bs for poor penmenship.) The piano lessons did not improve my handwriting or my lack of musical ability. My first acting teacher told me I couldn't sing and that I shouldn't try. (Which meant that I was relgated to the small, non-singing character man in the high school musical productions.)

    In my senior year, one of the music teachers saw me in a show and asked me why I wasn't taking any music classes. I told him my story and he said "Nonsense. Anyone can sing." In less than a year, he had me singing well enough to play singing character men (and ultimately well enough to be cast in a professional production in NYC years later). Since I couldn't tell what pitch I was on, in rehearsals, I needed (and still need) someone to tell me when I reach the correct pitch for each note. I then learn the song by remembering how I placed my voice for every sylable. Dealing with my lack of rhythm has been considerably easier. I simply follow the conductor and the drummer.

    I stopped taking piano when I started college. I hated practicing and would never practice any more than my parents forced me to. But I loved music. So, once I didn't have to play, I started doing it on my own. I learned as much as I could from Broadway scores (or, more often, their Vocal Selections) and eventually started composing myself. Another big influence on me was a college music teacher. He was a decidely mediocre musician. Even I could tell that. And he was perfectly frank with me about the fact that he was merely adequate. His attitude was, if he liked music and wanted to play it, why should he give it up just because he would never play at a professional level. This was a novel concept for me. I was at or near the top of my class in most subjects, especially those that I intended to make my career (acting, writing, filmmaking). I had never occurred to me to spend a significant time on an area where I had no inate abilty, regardless of my fondness for it. Until then, music was usefull only to the extent that it enabled me to get cast in larger roles in musical.

    In college, and for many years afterward, I used to compose and play for many hours a day, whenever I wasn't working on a play (until some time after I turned 40, when I developed carpal tunnel and other repetitve stress syndromes, and ultimately arthritis). In the last few years, I have been trying to orchestrate some of my compositions (notably a score for a musical that I am writing) and using the computer to get around my inabilty to play the piano except for occasional short phrases (entering notes manually on the staff view in sonar using a stylus). But it's very slow going, because more than a couple of hours of this per week leaves me in a lot of pain and it can sometimes take days or weeks to recover if I overdo it.

    So, what I have learned from all of this is as follows. If you don't live in or near a location where you can hear or even work with professional level musicians, to some extent it is going to be harder to perfect your craft. Music, like acting, is usually a collaborative art, where the talent of your fellow performers can have a tangible effect on the quality of your own performance. If you are serious about studying, or having a career in either profession, you probably need to be in or near a big city. That said, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with performing for the sheer pleasure of it. When you get right down to it, isn't that why we all got involved in it because it was (and can be) fun? Finally, I have learned that, while not everyone can be great, anyone can be taught to make the most of whatever abilities he has. If it weren't for musicians who were a lot, or even just a little, better than me, I would never have learned to sing and it might have taken me years longer to get my Equity card. (Yes, I actually got into the union by getting a role in a musical.)

    One last thought. Many years ago, I did a favor for a friend who was then the publicity director of Pepsico Summerfare at SUNY Purchase. The director Peter Sellars was staging his world premiere of Handel's "Julius Caesar" that season. He had eliminated the chorus (the choral numbers would be sung by all the principals as an ensemble) and he wanted "real" actors to play the many non-speaking, non-singing roles he had added. It was difficult and unglamorous work. He choreographed every movement explicitly (every head turn or movement of each actor's fingers). We had to hit precise marks to be picked up by pinspots. But I did one of those roles, because my friend was having a hard time finding any decent actor who would do them, and because I wanted to work with Peter who is literally a genius. It was one of the most interesting productions I have ever been a part of because of both the music (which I loved) and Peter's direction (which was so unusual). The fact that I could read music well enough to time my movents to specific measures, like a dancer, was an immense help to me. About half the pit were moonlighting from the Radio City orchestra. While the playing was generally excellent, one section of instruments (all played by professionals with steady gigs in NYC) was not quite up to level of the rest of the orchestra. This was a continual source of frustration to the conductor and lots of extra rehearsal for those musicians (which, frankly, didn't help much). In the world tour that followed, I believe local musicans were hired.

    My point is that even in pro productions, it is possible to get subpar performance depending on the abilities and diligence of the performers. And you can get professional performances from amature groups, depending on the talent available and their dedication. But common sense tells us that it is reasonable to expect a professional performance from pros and less than that from amatures. Yet I am fine with non-pros performing to learn their craft, or just because they enjoy it. We sometimes forget they have it tougher than we do. In addition to learning a role, an amature actor has to hold down another full time job, which he has to get back to. He isn't getting paid to do what he loves to do. I tend to cut them a lot of slack.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  8. #8

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    A really good discussion - Thank you guys for your responses. The total word count on this thread is something of a record!

    Looks like we all agree on the main point that amateur theater groups face a difficult challenge when staging musicals. And that's especially true for groups in smaller towns with limited talent pools.

    Union rules aren't followed in our local productions. The musicians are mostly music students from area schools looking for gigs. The lack of commitment they sometimes exhibit, which results in minimal rehearsal, is just a reflection of how much time they're willing to put in, not because the union dictates what they can do. And as Snorlax pointed out, even though they lack experience, they do seem to think that orchestral gigs are the only meaningful ones, and that these theater scores are beneath them. It can be really awful when the band is visible during productions, because the musicians tend to look extremely bored, even exaggerating their contempt, as if it's important to let everyone know they think they're slumming to be there.

    The recording I posted isn't really horrendous, I have heard worse. Rocky start, as Frank said, then it settles in OK, but with a wimpy sound due to the small sized band with soloists playing what was scored for sections. It's passable I guess, but I sure wouldn't want that sound for a show I've written.

    Here's a story about using MIDI in amateur theatre that I told quite awhile ago on the Forum:

    --The first show I directed locally using my virtual orchestra tracks was "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." It was also the first time I'd done a "virtual orchestra" MIDI recording of this sort and size. It took, no exaggeration, ONE AND A HALF years for me to produce the tracks. I was learning as I went, and I was determined to render the score as accurately as I could. Full time, 1 1/2 years.

    Less than 2 weeks before the show opened, we got a "cease and desist" order from the publisher. The rep who called the theater's office said that if the show opened as planned, the production would be shut down, a huge fine would have to be paid, and the theater wouldn't be allowed to license any show from their catalog for 5 years.


    side note - a zealous, self-appointed "copyright cop" had alerted the publisher after reading a newspaper preview article where I talked about using synths instead of a band.

    Replacing my work with a solo piano was the only possible solution in such a short time. I auditioned 5 top pianists in the area. Without exception, they each said there was no way they could confidently play the score with such short prep time.

    We managed to get word to Rupert Holmes, the show's composer. My only hope was that with direct contact, he might consent to letting my tracks be used. "Drood" is a rare show in that the composer also orchestrated the score and wrote the lyrics. Rupert is the sole copyright owner. I knew I wouldn't have multiple parties to contact, just Mr. Holmes.

    During a phone conversation I'll never forget, Rupert wholeheartedly agreed with me that the best way his show could be presented under these circumstances was with my recordings. He told me that he was pretty proud of his orchestrations, "...you know that nice little oboe solo during that song? That's me - every note is all me..." He said knew that an accurate MIDI transcription of the score such as I'd done would represent his work best. He even wished that I could make my MIDI tracks available for anyone to use, because at that point he'd suffered through quite a few productions of "Drood" with poor, sloppy, out of tune bands. There was a Tony winning pro composer saying MIDI would serve his work better than a lot of bands he'd heard - quite an endorsement.

    He also said that his publisher was only acting in his best interest, with the legal department throwing its full weight at any group impinging on the rights of its clients, but that they would also have to respect his wishes. Rupert called off the dogs, Faxed us a simple little contract that basically said "___ theater may use the recordings produced by Randy Bowser for their production..."

    The show went on as originally planned, and was a huge success.

    Moral of the story is clear - We can say that under some circumstances, MIDI driven tracks can be the best option for amateur theaters that don't have access to qualified musicians. BUT, even though there are MIDI musicians all over the country who produce tracks for groups like I've done, what they're doing is illegal. When publishers get wind of those productions, they have to enforce their contracts which specifically forbid using any kind of mechanical means to play the music. To not enforce their contracts of course would weaken their positions as defenders of their clients' copyrights.

    Well, here's the important caveat as explained to me directly from a major publisher when this whole question came up again during the production of another musical after "Drood." He said that they're aware of how home-grown MIDI tracks of shows are being used all over the country, but they don't actively seek those productions out. They do, after all, want the shows in their catalog to be done as often as possible. It's only when they've been contacted about a MIDI production that they have to act. For someone like me, or a theater rep, to call and ask permission to use MIDI is the last thing that should be done. "Don't tell us what you're doing, because our answer will always need to be No."

    Publishers more and more often now have MIDI versions of scores that can be legally used by small theater groups. To allow for that, composers have new clauses in their contracts which allow these in-house MIDI tracks. Those officially produced tracks are the only ones allowed, the composers having agreed to grant permission for their use.

    But it remains the case that un-official MIDI versions of scores are not legal, and theaters using them are taking a risk. The vast majority of groups get away with it, but as per my story above, the consequences of being busted are catostrophic.

    And so that complicates things even more. It's not as simple as just saying, "OK, no musicians, we'll work up a MIDI version for our show."


  9. #9

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    Great story about Drood, Randy. But I must say I am of two minds (Drood reference intended) about using pre-recorded tracks of any kind. Doesn't that remove the some of the inherent indefinable spontaneity that happens in a live performance? The subtle, but nevertheless detectible variations in tempi that occur when the pit has to accompany a live singer?

    If he's a decent actor, he's going to be influenced more by the audience's responses than a predetermined pace. The conductor would, too, I imagine, if he has worked in the theater. (In the production I mentioned Peter Sellars actually had the pit "vamp" on some of Handle's figures in a couple of places where a funny bit occurred, to keep the audience's laughter and applause from drowning out the vocals!)

    My impulse is always to follow the dramatic moment and assume that the orchestra, if they are any good, will keep up. Not musically pure, I know, but I have never had a director disagree with me and I have seen enough performers who were primarily singers coached to loosen up a bit when doing musical theater.

    While it's hard to argue against the wishes of a composer, especially if he is also the orchestrator, and I probably would have done the same as you in those circumstances, I have seen many a show done with a very small orchestra (or two pianos and drums) where the audience didn't know what it was missing and didn't feel like anything was left out. In the end, I think if the cast delivers, almost anything else can be overlooked.

    Allegro Data Solutions

  10. #10

    Re: Bands in amateur theater productions

    Hi, ejr - It is a problematic issue with no clear cut answers, for sure.

    Regarding your newest post, to me, the inability to let the tempi fluctuate as per the dictates of the audience reaction and the singer's performance is something I gladly sacrifice for the sake of a reliable, decent musical performance. What I'm talking about are situations where the cast really can't deliver, because they're terrified, justifiably, that the lousy band is going to foul things up. I'm talking about situations where things are so dismal, they can't be overlooked.

    Maybe I'm overly sensitive to the sound of a band, but all I know is that too many times I've sat down to enjoy a live show, only to be groaning and wanting to run out of the theater even before the curtain goes up - the overture's been so butchered.

    A lot of small theaters stick with just having a piano for their shows. Certainly easier to find one, good and reliable musician than a whole group. Audiences accept that, the piano reduction score does enough for the singers, and at least the show gets on. Some shows sound very good that way, like Gilbert and Sullivan, maybe "The Fantasticks," others.


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