[Please note the disclaimer at the end of this post. Thank you.]
The current Broadway revival of A Little Night Music, currently in previews at the Walter Kerr theatre, has a band of seven players.
The original Broadway production, sumptuously scored by Tony-winner Jonathan Tunick, featured an orchestra at least three times that size.
The 2008 revival of Sunday in the Park With George had five pieces in the pit.
The original 1984 production had over twice that many.
And before all that, there were the lackluster revivals of Company (in 1995), Follies (in 2001) and Pacific Overtures (in 2004) — all produced by the Roundabout Theatre — that also represented Sondheim’s scores with pathetically pared down orchestrations.
The more recent Company and Sweeney Todd revivals/revisals, as directed by John Doyle, required actors to play their own instruments, reducing the orchestrations, at times, to a triangle and and a flute — depending on the number of musician/actors at a given time who were otherwise preoccupied with, well, acting.
Both original productions of these two seminal shows were scored for a 25-30 piece orchestra.
Noticing a trend?
Which leads to this question for Mr. Sondheim:
Why do you treat the original orchestrations to your shows with such apathy?
I’m aware that Broadway pit orchestras are being reduced in general — with the rare exception of current revivals featuring full orchestras including Ragtime, Finian’s Rainbow and the recent revival of Gypsy. And yes, John Doyle’s uniquely conceptual productions required innovative restructuring of the scores.
But, don’t you think it’s high time that Broadway is deserving of a Sondheim musical revival that uses the original charts? Orchestrations by master artists such as Tunick and Michael Starobin should be preserved and presented, not brushed aside for penny-saving reductions and conceptual productions. Especially when representing a score by a master like you.
For me, the final straw was learning that the current revival of Night Music uses reduced orchestrations (including the omission of French Horns — an instrument I played for 13 years) as well.
I simply can’t imagine “A Weekend in the Country” without those iconic Horn runs culminated by that final thrilling call (Listen now — specifically from 6:40 to the end — to hear what I’m talking about.)
This is BROADWAY, right? One expects a certain caliber of a production, especially at these ticket prices. At the very least, one expects the music in the highly anticipated production of A Little Night Music to not be whittled down to a clarinet and a piano.
(In comparison, a production of Night Music was done in Evanston a few months ago that utilized the original orchestrations for a 30+ sized orchestra — and tickets were only around $30.)
I also want to note that I’m sure this current production of Night Music uses reduced orchestrations as it fits the “chamber piece” tone of the show (I haven’t seen this production; I’m just assuming from what I’ve read.) My point is: why does “small” seem to be the default for reviving your shows? Can’t we get a full-bodied glorious orchestra playing your scores in a legitimate Broadway production? Are producers that fearful in making such an investment? Are we heading towards a future of revivals featuring kazoos and triangles?
So, Mr. Sondheim. You obviously have some clout. You’re the most celebrated theatre composer of our time — perhaps of all time. I’m sure you can put your foot down, shake your fist in the air, raise on eyebrow, roll on the floor and scream — what have you — and demand your score is represented adequately. Especially this being the seventh recent Sondheim revival (that I can recall) presented without the original orchestrations. However, you not doing so time and time again indicates to me that you really don’t value** the original orchestrations for your shows.
Which is a damn shame.
My French Horn hates you a little bit.
(*A joke. But not too far off base, as far as I’m concerned.)
(**I edited the originally posted term here as discussions on other sites were more focused on my colorful language than the topic at hand. And please note that I’ve used the word “indicated.” I’ve no proof that Sondheim cares one way or the other — I’m only making an observation.)
[Disclaimer: The above posting is strictly my opinion, obviously. I’ve based my reasoning on years of being a rabid fan of Sondheim’s work, countless listenings to various cast recordings, reading up on productions through books, reviews, articles, etc., and on the rare occasion, I’ve seen the production mentioned above as a tour or some version thereof (i.e. video broadcast). Of course, since I live in Chicago on a limited budget and am 30 years old, I’ve never seen the original productions of Company, Follies or the current revival of A Little Night Music. My argument here is about preserving original orchestrations, which are well-documented in cast recordings.]