Day 228: Another Musical Production, Another Fine Experience

This week the musical I am doing at the high school, “The Pajama Game,” is opening up, so we are getting ready starting tonight with what is called “Tech Week.” “Tech Week” is what they call the final days before opening. It’s when all the elements of the production come together: singing, acting, dancing, the band, costumes, lights, sound, and sets. These are the final runs before the thing truly launches on opening night. It is generally an exciting time because everyone involved finally sees all the elements put together. Suddenly the actors are all in costume, the band is playing along with them, the sets are all up (if there are sets), etc. This is what is meant by “dress rehearsal,” namely that the actors are rehearsing “in dress.”

Depending on the quality of the production, tech week can be a wonderful experience of finally synergizing all elements…. or it can be cram time, where a challenging or beleagured production is finally forced to come together, in whatever state it is in. The current production is in very good shape. I’ve also had other experiences with other theater productions that were not so well-organized, where the show literally did not come together until opening night, or perhaps the last night of tech.

One way or another, tech week is where the rubber meets the road. In fact, all roads lead to opening night, which is typically a Thursday or Friday night for a school production. Our production opens this Friday night. This play is quite a complex play from a production standpoint: in addition to lots of acting requirements, and many songs, there are a lot of dancing numbers (not always the case with musical theater). This play is also quite long: we estimate our production will be about 2 hours and 30 minutes (not including intermission, I believe). I think we are in great shape, yet this play is certainly formidable!

Even for me as a pianist with years of years of experience doing plays, the score for this play is one of the most difficult. This is partly because my piano part is basically an orchestral reduction of a highly-improvised style of big band jazz. In my opinion, it hasn’t been truly adapted for a pianist to play with ease. Each song, even multiple reprises of songs, has its own quirks and oddities that make reading it a constant puzzling-out process. Also, songs tend to be in a distant key such as Gb or B Major (even if you don’t know music theory, just get that this means there are a lot of black notes being used). Furthermore, the harmonies are quite complex and jazzy, unlike any other score I have worked on.

Bottom line: I have loved working on this production and have learned a lot, yet it certainly has kept me on my toes. In addition to the journey of getting the music together on my end (I am also working with another keyboardist and a drumer), I have also taught the cast their music, a hugely-rewarding undertaking.

All in all, another musical production, another fine experience!

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