Amazing Grace: a photo journal

From August through October this year, I had the privilege of working on a new musical, Amazing Grace.  The show was presented by Broadway In Chicago, a producing organization dedicated to theatrical productions on their way to or from Broadway.  While all the show’s production values were superb–perhaps most of all the costuming, but all elements were of the highest quality, including the marvelous cast–this photo journal represents some of the more significant, and photographable, moments in the life of the music department of the show.

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In preproduction, the producer (Carolyn Rossi-Copeland), director (Gabriel Barre), associate director (Kim Weild), and the music team (the author (music director), orchestrator Kenny Seymour, associate conductor Julie McBride, assistant conductor Dan Pardo, and music department assistant Bob Kelly) discuss the score.

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A lighter moment in preproduction as we try out various African whistles to be played onstage by an actor.  If we can play them, anyone can!

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Cast rehearsals, adding percussionist/percussion arranger extraordinaire Grant Braddock.

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Dan Pardo proves a master at re-purposing, using a cookie box to provide pencil and cellphone holders (among other things) for his absent-minded boss.

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The whole gang on the last day of studio rehearsal.

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We’re moving to Chicago…

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…where we saw our first glimpse of the Union Jack scrim, the remarkable set by Eugene Lee and company, and the very acoustically friendly Bank Of America Theater house.  Unfortunately, the sound board had to be positioned in the back of the stalls, under a severe overhang; nonetheless the sound team did a remarkable job, and the show sounded live, clear, and above all, minimally amplified (which it was).

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Composer-author Christopher Smith stands proudly before the show poster in the lobby.

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The cast rehearses “Here’s To You” on stage.

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It was a remarkably efficient tech (thanks in large part to great production management by Aurora Productions, as well as the direction and design teams), considering the elaborate physical production, which included flying, fighting, firearms, and elaborate scene shifts and costume changes.  Still, the schedule for the music team was brutal and we were exhausted at the end of each 16-hour day.

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The local crew were tremendously helpful in building us a comfortable and useful pit, though at times we had to encourage them to think out of the box a bit.  We managed to preserve all sightlines and have ample room for everyone to play, though the strings were a bit squeezed in; this the result of an enormous percussion battery, including two tympani, concert bass drum, extra percussion for the three-percussionist African dance at the top of Act 2 (Julie and Dan doubled on percussion for this number, brilliantly arranged by Grant and West African music specialist Robert Levin), and enough toys to fill F.A.O. Schwarz.

Note that the pit is fully open (the only baffling was ear protection between the winds and brass), allowing for an almost entirely acoustic sound.  We as an orchestra balanced ourselves; that mix was then sent through the board–old school and beautiful.  Because the wonderfully dedicated and musical 12-piece orchestra (pictured) were not overly amplified, the singers did not have to be, either.  The connection of orchestra to stage was palpable, for performers and audience alike.

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Orchestra rehearsals and the Sitzprobe.  I really gotta work on my posture.

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Late in previews, director Gabe Barre gives some final notes, with the creative team and cast listening attentively.

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The cast takes a well-deserved bow.  We had standing ovations every night–something about that song… and a tribute to a wonderful show!

Feel free to ask any questions or post any comments you may have!

Joe

2 thoughts on “Amazing Grace: a photo journal

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