LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE ORCHESTRATORS By Peter Filichia
This must be unprecedented.
Visit the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on West 46th Street, and you may be equally astonished.
The signage is up for the upcoming revival of SWEENEY TODD, the show’s third Broadway revival in the last third-of-a-century. Not bad for a musical that deals with corruption, blackmail, serial killing, cannibalism, profiteering and mentally unbalanced people.
Over the doors of the theater are panels that proclaim the names of some who are working on the show. As you’d expect, one says, “Directed by Thomas Kail,” and another states, “Choreography by Steven Hoggett.”
But the first panel says, in letters just as large, “Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick.”
Has an orchestrator ever been so prominently commemorated in a front-of-house display? Does the management expect that the theatergoing public actually knows his name?
Here’s hoping they do. Tunick is easily one of the all-time great orchestrators.
How well I remember that night of January 13, 1967, in Providence, Rhode Island, when the Overture to THE GRASS HARP began. The sound emanating from the pit was so extraordinary that I actually said aloud, “Who did these orchestrations?!?!” I opened the program and, for the first time, saw the name “Jonathan Tunick.”
How thrilled I was more than a year later when I saw his name attached to PROMISES, PROMISES. Here was Burt Bacharach, the most successful and innovative composer of the 1960s, entrusting his Broadway debut to Tunick. This, despite Tunick’s not-so-impressive track record: FROM A TO Z, a 1960 revue that lasted three weeks for which Tunick orchestrated some (but not all) of the songs, and HERE’S WHERE I BELONG, a one-performance flop earlier in 1968.
If there had been a Tony for Best Score that year – the category was in abeyance – Bacharach and lyricist Hal David would have won. And while the songs are terrific, what Tunick did with them, especially stressing the brass, complemented them excitingly.
Tunick might well have won a Tony, too, had the category existed then. At an Oscar party at Hilary Knight’s apartment in 1978, we saw Tunick accept his Academy Award for A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC in the category with a most cumbersome name: Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score.
I said aloud, “To think he has an award from Hollywood, where he rarely works, and doesn’t have one from Broadway, where he regularly does.” That got me an approving grunt and pat on the back from Harry Rigby (the brains, if not the money, behind the wildly successful 1971 NO, NO, NANETTE revival for which Knight did the logo).
Tunick would finally get a Tony in 1997, via TITANIC, when the awards finally got around to giving a prize for orchestrations. Was it for a job well done on Maury Yeston’s score, or was it a Lifetime Achievement Award? Let’s guess both.
That was 27 years after Tunick got himself noticed for his work with Stephen Sondheim on COMPANY. Of the 11 subsequent Sondheim musicals that reached Broadway, Tunick orchestrated nine, missing only SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and ASSASSINS.
Listening to the cast albums, we hear some marvelous Tunick touches. My favorite is “In Buddy’s Eyes” from FOLLIES. Tunick stressed the woodwinds when Sally is chatty, but when she wants to lay it on thick about her happy life with husband (to Ben, the only man she’s really loved, no less), strings come in.
There are so many other orchestrators who have added distinctive embellishments to their composers’ work. In A CLASS ACT, when one of Lehman Engel’s students in the BMI Workshop asks what approach would be best for a musical biography of the Flying Wallendas, Engel answers, “I’d do it in swing time”; Larry Hochman puts a slide whistle to use in order to let us know that Engel was making a joke. At the end of Act One, when Edward Kleban is fired from IRENE, Hochman adds the vamp of A CHORUS LINE’s “One” to let us know that our lyricist has a success in store.
Hans Spialek, when orchestrating “Zip!” in PAL JOEY, took advantage of Lorenz Hart’s mention of Stravinsky, by having the band collaborate on a dissonant note that was worthy of that maverick composer. Twenty years later, when Robert “Red” Ginzler was orchestrating BYE BYE BIRDIE, the six notes that followed Mr. McAfee’s damnation of “rock ‘n’ roll” in “Kids!” show how comparatively innocent that new form of music was back then.
In BELLS ARE RINGING’s “It’s a Perfect Relationship,” Ella Peterson (Judy Holliday) ruminates on her would-be beau and blithely decides “I’ll never meet him, and he’ll never meet me.” After that, we hear two measures of pleasantly placid music until Robert Russell Bennett has a drummer’s brush crash down hard on a cymbal as if to say. “Get real” – which Ella does, blaring out, “What does he look like?”
Philip J. Lang, when orchestrating “Things to Remember” in THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT – THE SMELL OF THE CROWD, added a nice touch after Sir (Cyril Ritchard) instructed, “Don’t ever drink soup with a knife.” He had the brass brashly comment with a sound that said, “And wouldn’t that be a crass as well as stupid thing to do?”
When The Serpent (read: The Devil) arrives in the first act of CHILDREN OF EDEN, orchestrator Bruce Coughlin goes heavy on the bass. Well, Lucifer is base, isn’t he?
Orchestrators are often responsible for a song’s “ride-out.” It comes at a song’s end; while the singers are finishing up by holding notes, while the orchestra takes on a life of its own by playing a flourish that leads to a Big Finish. Here, too, Tunick has shone, especially in FOLLIES’ “I’m Still Here” and FOLLIES IN CONCERT’S “Broadway Baby.”
On the new revival cast album of FUNNY GIRL, orchestrator Chris Walker retained the marvelous ride-out that original orchestrator Ralph Burns gave “I Want to Be Seen with You.” It’s just as delicious as the ride-out that Don Walker gave “Miracle Song” in ANYONE CAN WHISTLE.
(And while Walker’s orchestrations for that atypical score are excellent, one must wonder what Jonathan Tunick would have brought to that score had he been brought in to do it.)
However, just as we have to wonder if a director or an actor came up with a funny or brilliant piece of business, we must also wonder if the composer or the orchestrator initially had the idea for the ride-out.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a recording is worth even more when compared to a description. So instead of trying to describe some of the best ride-outs, let’s just provide a list of the bests. Have a listen, to see if you agree:
“Ambition” and “It’s Legitimate” (DO RE MI; Luther Henderson)
“Ballad of Czolgosz” (ASSASSINS; Michael Starobin)
“The Beast in You” (GOLDILOCKS; Robert Noeltner)
“Come Follow the Band” (BARNUM; Hershy Kay)
“Double Talk” (CITY OF ANGELS; Ralph Burns)
“Good Morning, Starshine” (HAIR; Galt MacDermot)
“Honey Bun” (SOUTH PACIFIC; Robert Russell Bennett)
“Hurry! It’s Lovely up Here” (ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER; Robert Russell Bennett)
“I Don’t Know Where She Got It” (Hallelujah, Baby!; PETER MATZ)
“If You Could See Her,” “Money Song” and “Sitting Pretty” (CABARET; Don Walker)
“I’m Goin’ Back” (BELLS ARE RINGING; Robert Russell Bennett)
“I’ve Got What You Want” (THE APPLE TREE; Eddie Sauter)
“Life Is Happiness Indeed” (CANDIDE; Hershy Kay)
“On the Other Side of the Tracks (reprise)” (LITTLE ME; Ralph Burns)
“Our Little Secret” (PROMISES, PROMISES; Jonathan Tunick)
“Shakespeare Lied” (HOW NOW, DOW JONES; Philip J. Lang)
“Some People” (GYPSY; Sid Ramin)
“The Woman for the Man” (IT’S A BIRD … IT’S A PLANE … IT’S SUPERMAN; (Eddie Sauter)
The next time there’s a revival of any musical for which they provided orchestrations, let’s hope the management puts them on a bill all over Times Square.
Peter Filichia can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com. His new book – THE BOOK OF BROADWAY MUSICAL DEBATES, DISPUTES, AND DISAGREEMENTS – is now available on Amazon. See him do his one-man show PETE’s THEATRICAL ADVENTURES for free on Feb. 19 and 26 at 4 p.m. at Theatre 555 at 555 West 42nd Street; make a reservation at [email protected]