Witnessing "Wicked" From a New Point of View

I had the opportunity to see the musical "Wicked" from the pit orchestra and learned about more than the music, but also how hard life on the road can be.

Seeing Wicked from the skewed view of the pit orchestra was like losing one of my five senses. While some senses were hindered, others were enhanced, making the experience one of heightened awareness and appreciation.

From my seat behind the guitarist, I stared up to my right through a flimsy net only to see the most outer edge of the stage. This meant that anything beyond just a few feet upstage was outside of my view and even then, it was only with a craned neck - like when you sit at the front row of a movie theater - that I could catch a glimpse of the action above.

I couldn’t see many of the facial expressions of the actors and I missed many of the lighting and visual effects, set and staging.

But of what I did see and hear, I could better than anyone else in the house.

What struck me before the musical even began was the instrumentation of the pit. Beside traditional orchestral instruments like French horn and trumpet, there were three keyboards, a drummer in a padded black box with a window to see the other musicians, an additional percussionist with bells, chimes and various dangling objects, and a bassist and guitarist surrounded by at least three versions of their instrument. Wires tangled through the feet of the musicians and instrument cases piled high, leading to various mixing boards of phenomenal complexity. Each member of the pit wore headphones and could adjust the volume of their own instrument within the mix they were hearing. Every music stand had a small television-like black and white screen projecting an image of the conductor in real time. Occasionally, the conductor could also communicate with the pit using a small microphone hanging from the side of his music stand.

I knew this orchestra would be different from those I had seen and played with before, but the technology, instrumentation and totally relaxed, yet impeccable group of musicians amazed me. It was even more interesting to learn that all except the conductor, 3 keyboard players, guitarist and drummer were local musicians hired temporarily for the production.

Though between numbers, the musicians slumped back and poked on their iPhones, their focus immediately sharpened at the start of every song. Their precision matched the obvious excitement of their passionate conductor as he bounced, swayed and mouthed every word that the cast above was delivering.

            I experimented listening with and without the headphones finding that the music was much clearer with them, but more engaging without. Without the headphones blocking the sounds most directly around me, I could clearly hear and pick out voices from the chorus as they approached the edge of the stage reaching out above me to the audience. I could see the intricacy of the costumes, all of which were complimentary to the characters they outfitted, especially those of the two leading ladies.

            Though Glinda (understudy Marissa Lupp) began the show with a severely warbling voice, she improved slightly as the show continued. However, she fit the personality of the role to sparkling perfection. Even without seeing many of her mannerisms, from those that I could observe and from the precision of her speaking voice to the emotions she portrayed, the bubbly blonde nailed the character. Her simultaneous goodness and manipulation came through clearly.

            Elphaba (Donna Vivino) never had a moment of apprehension. She fit into the fiery and intelligent role of the “Wicked Witch” flawlessly. Her voice was clear and powerful especially in songs like “Defying Gravity” sung at the end of the first act. With the culminating rise of her voice and body (she literally floated above the stage) and dramatic addition of the spotlighting among an ominous dry-ice fog, her command of the stage, music and audience was palpable.

            The production was excellent. The actors and voices were primarily strong; the music was delivered well and the effects and stage set (that I could see) were impressive.

            However, I also gained access to another side of the production, beyond the back hallways and dressing rooms.

            The actors, musicians and stagehands who work cohesively to make this production happen successfully have a simultaneously fantastic and terrible job. Moving every three to four weeks, the cast and crew scramble to settle into cities just in time to move out of them. By the time they begin to know the city they’re in, it’s time to fly or drive away again with little break in between.

            While in Syracuse, the production ran six days a week, some days with matinees as well. Employees were given weekly stipends to survive on and given the opportunity to explore their new environment. However, they were also constrained, knowing they would be off to Florida soon enough.

            So far, this tour has seen Cleveland, OH, and Providence, RI, and just relocated to Tampa, FL. The tour will run indefinitely and employees will adjust according to their own contract negotiations.

            When they travel, employees are expected to relocate to the new city quickly. After performing their final matinee in Syracuse at 2:00pm on Sunday, they had only Monday to travel to Florida, Tuesday to rehearse and by Wednesday after the dress rehearsal, they will be back to the routine run of performances.

            Like every job, there are great advantages and disadvantages. For every benefit there is a sacrifice and likewise, the impressive cast and crew that made Wicked come to life so successfully in Syracuse, have now moved on to new audiences to captivate and a new city to understand.

            It’s a hard life. Constantly uprooting each time your base has been established is trying and then to deliver a performance of conviction even after the 200th run is even more difficult. But Syracuse was lucky enough to have Wicked at the Mulroy Civic Center for three weeks and was given a great show.

            Watching Wicked from the unusual view of the pit orchestra was enlightening, not only because of the show I saw, but also because of the people I came to know.

Nice post! I had the

Nice post! I had the opportunity to sit in on the Broadway production last year. Amazing experience!!

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