An Interview with Frog & Toad Musical Director- Gordon Roberts!

March 18th, 2010

We here at CT like to ask questions on this here blog. Why? Because we want to know things. We have questioning natures, and are curious about how things are done. Like Musical Directing a production. We wanted to know more about this- so we asked our Musical Director for A Year with Frog and Toad– Gordon Roberts!

Gordon Roberts- this is him!

First, you need to know more about Gordon:

Gordon was last seen on the Waterfront stage last year as Merlin and the Cook in Axis Theatre’s tour of their King Arthur‟s Kitchen and before that as Drake and Greylag in Honk!; the Ugly Duckling musical. Since moving here from Los Angeles over twenty years ago Gordon has become a stalwart of the Vancouver musical theatre scene. He has performed at the Arts Club (Evita, Rocky Horror Show), the Playhouse (Music Man) and the Chemainus Theatre Festival (Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Little Women) as well as helping to establish the Royal City Musical Theatre company in New Westminster (eleven musicals). Besides being a triple threat Gordon is a sought after musical director, pianist, and percussionist with a Master‟s Degree in percussion performance who has performed with orchestras in Canada and the U.S. He has also collaborated on writing and arranging five musicals – four of which have been produced. He lives in Lynn Valley with his beautiful wife Marni and their two grey striped tabby cats Gimlet and Talisker.

(Insider scope from Jessie- Gordon and his lovely wife Marni are foodies and amazing gourmet cooks!)

So, Gordon, can you please tell us about the job of a musical director?

Well, he is responsible for all things musical in a show.  That means he has to help choose the performers through auditions and rehearse the actors in the songs, sometimes writing extra harmonies (or simplifying parts – but not with this group of fine performers).  He has to rehearse the instrumentalists in the band which consists of just me this time and I’m really strict with myself.  A musical director usually has to play the show often as pianist or keyboard player though I have directed from the drumset a couple of times and conducted pit orchestras.  Sometimes the musical director also has to hunt down strange instruments that are used as props on stage such as the Sousaphone (Seusaphone?) played by Toad.  So, a musical director’s job can overlap into the props department and also into the sound design as he sometimes has to do the sound effects live during the show.

What’s your process going into a project as an Musical Director?

I start by reading the play, playing through the music on a piano and singing the songs.  I also listen to a recorded version but I try not to start with that as I want to form my own opinions regarding sound and tempos.  Once we cast the show I start to think as to how the songs will work for each performer.  I may make adjustments as to keys or harmonies or even line assignments.

Obviously, with Carousel Theatre’s production of A Year with Frog and Toad, it is not feasible to recreate the orchestral sound that you would have heard in the original production at the Cort Theatre (1100 seats!) when the show was originally produced in 2003. What inventive ways have you found to adapt the score for The Waterfront Theatre (224 seats)?

A full Broadway pit orchestra calls for up to 23 players though today you will probably see around 16 who double (and triple) up on instruments.  In a small venue like the Waterfront Theatre that would completely overwhelm the five actors on stage as well as be extremely expensive.  Even the Arts Club and Playhouse rarely hire more than six instrumentalists for their shows.  So, you start looking for ways to sound more like a chamber music group and you use a keyboard instrument that can synthesize a wide variety of musical sounds.

Other than piano, are there any other instruments involved in this production?

Here's an example of a sousaphone.

The most interesting musical instrument you will see in this show is the Sousaphone which we call a Seusaphone in honour of Carousel’s smash hit Seussical.  This brass instrument was invented by the famous American band leader John Philip Sousa, is in the tuba family and is most often seen in marching bands.

Can you tell us what genres of music we will hear in this production?

There is a wide variety of musical genres in this show from pop ballads to ragtime as well as jazz, blues and country.

What are you most excited about with this show?

I am most excited about working with the fabulously talented performers that Carousel is able to attract.  This cast is a dream cast for a musical director as they are all accomplished singers with distinctive voices that also blend beautifully together.  I am also honoured to be included in the broader “family” of Carousel Theatre and excited to be working with a truly professional production team.

Thanks Gordon for taking the time to chat with us- we can’t wait to see the show in a few short weeks!

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