In the opening song to the Kander and Ebb musical “Cabaret”, the Emcee remarks, “Here life is beautiful…The girls are beautiful… Even the orchestra, is beautiful.” It certainly is a wonderful moment when you go to the theater and sense the excitement growing as the orchestra is tuning their instruments to prepare for a show. We love to have an orchestra play for our shows at Connecticut Theatre Company. The sound from live musicians echoes through the building and certainly makes for a wonderful show. However, there are times when it’s not always possible to have live musicians play. How does the group decide which shows will have live bands and which will use pre-recorded orchestral accompaniment? The decision isn’t easy as the group needs to discuss the artistic goals for each production and how best to achieve them. Here’s a glimpse of what goes into it…
The biggest misconception with live vs. pre-recorded music for musicals is that it’s just done because of budget. While it is true that there is a cost savings by going with pre-recorded tracks, it is not as much as many assume. Our productions that use tracks are sourced from a reputable licensing firm, that only provides production quality, full orchestral tracks to theaters who have secured performance rights for the shows in question. To rent the musical tracks, ranges from only 10-20% savings off of the cost of having an orchestra.
The main reason CTC uses pre-recorded tracks for some of our musicals is for spacing concerns. Without an orchestra pit, if the musical requires more than a few orchestra members, they would need to be put on stage. For some shows, this is perfectly acceptable and doesn’t distract the audience from the show and in many cases actually enhances it. Shows like Chicago, RENT and Hairspray from our 2014 and 2015 seasons took advantage of this type of staging to build the orchestra into the show. We also plan on using this type of solution to have live music for this years productions of Once On This Island and The Christmas Schooner. Other productions, like Young Frankenstein and this seasons highly anticipated Sweeney Todd require large orchestras to get the type of sound that we want for the shows. They are also very immersive pieces and having an orchestra on stage would limit our options for staging and could prevent our audiences from feeling fully transported to the world of the show.
All of our actors and actresses are local to Connecticut. They, like the directors, board and all volunteers at CTC do not get paid for their time and contributions. That means that everyone involved with Connecticut Theatre Company is working one or more jobs to pay the bills on top of the dedication to producing live theater. In such busy lives, the pre-recorded tracks give our actors and actresses a chance to review the rehearsal track versions of what will be used in the show, while outside of the theater. This is a wonderful tool that helps ensure when the audience gets to opening night, that the group will have had plenty of time to learn the tight harmonies and timing for the show!
Connecticut Theatre Company is happy to be able to bring so many musicals to the Central Connecticut communities over the course of our season. We’re dedicated to providing opportunities for the arts community to be involved in all of our productions, and will continue to use live musicians when it fits into our artistic plan for the productions. We hope to continue to get the wonderful feedback from our patrons and actors that help usher us into 2016 and many years to come.