As you probably already know, I’m preparing to embark on a nine-month tour of an all-new production of the classic Lerner and Loewe musical, CAMELOT. This is already proving to be quite an interesting project. While the story line is unchanged and all the classic songs that have delighted audiences for decades are included, this production has been totally updated and re-imagined for today’s theatre-going audience. In other words, this is most definitely NOT your parent’s Camelot! As director Michael McFadden explains,
When making the decision to produce a “classic” musical, one has the opportunity to view the material through a new lens. One can ask difficult questions – what of this musical is still “true?” Does the theme still resonate? Is there something there worth exploring? What can be done to make this piece speak to a modern, more sophisticated audience?
Camelot is a product of its time period – a study in the construction of the second-generation musical. From its inception, Camelot has been a lush and extravagant musical with with a more “fairy-tale” interpretation of a clean and friendly Middle Ages with a very 50’s stylization – a look more suited to Kiss Me, Kate than King Arthur – different than we are used to today, where dirt, sweat, masculinity and sensuality have found their way into the mix.
This Camelot focuses its lens on the characters, not the wide-angle of grandiosity. This production keeps its eyes on the story, all decisions based on the idea “does it enhance the storytelling?” This allows the setting to be more abstract in its environments and for the lighting to be dramatically bold. The orchestrations for this production open a palette of more delicate colors and textures beneath the singer, enhancing this timeless score while also driving the production with a dramatic percussive feel.”
There’s already a lot of work going on behind the scenes – cast rehearsals have begun in New York City, the sets, lighting, and costumes have been designed and are being built, and the musical score has been freshly rearranged and re-orchestrated.
So, how does my beginning begin?
I’ve spent a week or so familiarizing myself with the new musical arrangements and designing the percussion set-up on which I’ll be performing. If you’re not in the business, it may surprise you to learn that the physical placement of the various percussion instruments isn’t specified. How I choose to arrange the instruments is determined entirely by me. For instance, unlike a piano where the notes are always arranged in the same sequence and position, there is no single, established, universal way for percussion instruments to be organized for performance. And with a new production such as this one, there’s no historical reference to rely on for guidance.
A very large part of preparing for any new production is figuring out what we show drummers call the “choreography” – that is, how to best arrange the different percussion instruments relative to each other, and determining how to physically move between them in order to accurately and consistently perform the music as the composer and arranger intend. The concept of ‘economy of motion’ is critical here. It’s not at all uncommon for more than one instrument to be played simultaneously, and the interval of time I have when switching between two different instruments – say, the timpani and xylophone, for instance – can be as little as a single beat (or fraction of a beat) or even NONE! So, a tremendous amount of pre-planning is necessary, even before rehearsal can begin.
When designing the set-up, I also have to keep the dimensions of the layout small enough to fit into the physical space that I’m given, and since this is a touring production, the entire set-up must be designed in such a way that it can be disassembled and reassembled easily and consistently as the show moves from venue to venue.
Next up: Designing the set-up.