I’ve come to hear new music…
On the 17th of October, the company of Ragtime reported to the studios at Carroll Music for our sitzprobe. For those not conversant in the language of musical theatre, a sitzprobe is a German term for a rehearsal in which the singers, seated, sing with the orchestra, focusing attention on integrating the two groups. I apologize in advance for the quality of these photos; I didn’t use a flash as I didn’t want to be obtrusive, so they’re a little blurry. You may also notice that the cast looks very tired; this was because the sitz took place at the end of our first week of tech, and we had been working some very long hours.
Even though we were all so tired, there’s an excitement when a cast and orchestra come together for the first time. In the rehearsal studio our only accompaniment was a piano, played either by Associate Conductor Jamie Schmidt or Assistant Conductor Sue Anschutz (you can see Jamie in the background of the first photo above). But when you get to hear the full orchestra for the first time, it’s always a thrill. For Ragtime, we were fortunate to have an orchestra of 28, and when you add in a cast of 40 – well, that’s a LOT of sound. Here’s the cast as we were getting started, and you can see how excited everyone looks:
(Back row, from the background forward: Michael X. Martin, Michael McGowan, Mamie Parris, Bryonha Parham, Valisia Lekae, Carly Hughes, Carey Rebecca Brown, Wallace Smith, Arbender J. Robinson, Terrence Archie. That’s Dan Manning and Robert Petkoff in the front row, with the noble profile of Eric Jordan Young just peeking into the left hand side of the photo. Standing in the background, also at extreme left in the blue sweater, Asst. Stage Manager extraordinaire Jim Woolley.)
Music Director, Conductor and Maestro James Moore was running the rehearsal. Can I just say a word about Jim? I don’t think I’ve ever worked on a show with a more loving and encouraging person at the musical helm. I don’t think I ever heard Jim say a cross word, or be in a bad mood – and he’s a veritable font of funny stories. Sometimes in the middle of a music rehearsal, he’d stop conducting us and say, “I just have to tell you what happened to me last night,” and in moments we’d be in hysterics. Can I also just tell you that he conducted the show, performance after performance, WITHOUT THE SCORE IN FRONT OF HIM? He knew the score absolutely stone cold. I used to love to watch him conduct the show; he clearly loves the music and would look absolutely transported as he guided the orchestra through the score.
Here’s the orchestra tuning up:
One of the unfortunate things about the Ragtime experience was that it was difficult for the orchestra and cast to mingle. Generally speaking, the only times the orchestra members were out of the pit, the cast members were in their dressing rooms either getting ready for the curtain or changing clothes during intermission. We didn’t get the chance to learn each other’s names, much less socialize. So I can’t tell you who all the talented people are in this photo. That’s Concert Master Rick Dolan in the pink shirt; Maxine Roach in the red jacket was one of our viola players. James Moore is the plaid-clad blur, and that’s Jamie Schmidt again, standing in the background. The gentleman at extreme right in the blue sweatshirt and jeans is Peter Lawrence, Production Supervisor and Master of All He Surveys.
We had a round of introductions, then got down to work, starting at the very top of the show. Jim Moore gave the downbeat, Jamie played the piano solo which begins the show, and then the Little Boy speaks: “In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York, and it seemed for some years thereafter that all the family’s days would be warm and fair.” However, if memory serves, Christopher Cox (here in the striped shirt) bobbled his first entrance, and we had to back up and start again. That would account for his somewhat abashed look, and for the grin on the face of Sarah Rosenthal (Little Girl) in the background of this photo. That’s Director and Choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge looking over the top of Sarah’s head.
As the company moved into the vocal section of the opening number, and as more instruments came in, I began to realize just how amazing this show was going to sound. The surging voices blended beautifully; the thrum of the swelling sound from the orchestra made my heart race. It was simply thrilling. Orchestra and cast finished the title number with a bang; everyone cheered and applauded, and I wept a few tears from the sheer joy of it.
We worked our way through the score, stopping and backing up when we needed to, orchestra and cast feeding off each other’s energy. I shed a few more tears when we got to “New Music,” one of my favorite numbers in the show. The song’s wistful quality has always been lump-in-the-throat inducing for me, but when Maxine played the viola solo that occurs under the lyric “Why? Why can’t you hear the song?” I’m afraid I just dissolved. It was poignant and pensive and simply wonderful.
We only had three hours to rehearse with the orchestra, so every moment had to count and consequently, there wasn’t a lot of time to joke around. We had some moments of glee occasionally – this photo is extra blurry, but it captures the intensity as well as the fun of “What A Game”:
Most of the time, though, everyone was pretty focused and serious. I’ll close with few more photos. This is Sumayya Ali, clearly moved…
Eric Jordan Young really laying into one of Booker T. Washington’s moments…
Ron Bohmer, Robert Petkoff and Bobby Steggert listening intently…
Op’ning a door
Changing the world
I’ll hear it forevermore!