Orchestrators Are Seen, and Not Only Heard, in New Book "The Sound of Broadway Music"

News   Orchestrators Are Seen, and Not Only Heard, in New Book "The Sound of Broadway Music"
Steven Suskin, the DVD and CD columnist for Playbill.com and author of the musical theatre reference called "Show Tunes," has a new book on the shelves this spring: "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations."

The 672-page tome from Oxford University Press explores the nature of the job of orchestrators by looking at the careers of many of Broadway's greats — Robert Russell Bennett, Don Walker, Philip J. Lang, Red Ginzler, Sid Ramin and more.

"The Sound of Broadway Music" is billed as "the first book ever written about these unsung stars of the Broadway musical whose work is so vital to each show's success."

Suskin "follows the song as it travels from the composer's piano to the orchestra pit."

Suskin, a free-lance theatre writer and critic whose byline is often seen on Variety reviews, told Playbill.com in an email, "There are hundreds of Broadway books out there, but nobody has ever really concentrated on orchestrations. We all know the names: Russell Bennett, Don Walker, Phil Lang. But what did they do, actually? And who were these guys?"

Suskin continued, "I began considering the idea ten years ago, but it seemed like an unwieldy project with too many questions and no clear place to start. Then Ralph Burns — the orchestrator of Funny Girl, Sweet Charity and Chicago — died in 2001, and I thought: I never got to interview him. If anyone is ever going to write a book about theatre orchestrations, they better start interviewing people now. "So I spent seven years researching and writing. I talked to just about every orchestrator, arranger, conductor and major composer I could find who was working on Broadway prior to 1975. They were all enthusiastic and helpful; and most of them, the composers especially, raised more and more questions. I tracked down thousands of orchestrations in libraries, warehouses, and attics.

"Along the way, I also found other items — letters, interviews, receipts — that all provided the pieces of an enormous puzzle. The heart of the book is a listing of more than 700 musicals, describing who did what."

Steven Suskin
photo by Ben Strothmann

Suskin said he also "uncovered all sorts of never-before-heard stories, anecdotes, gossip and curiosities. And I figured I might as well include them in the book, otherwise they would remain unheard. So there are plenty of surprises along the way." "The Sound of Broadway Music" is separated into three main parts: a biographical section giving a sense of the life and world of 12 major theatre orchestrators, plus briefer sections on another 30 arrangers and conductors; a discussion of the art of orchestration, written for musical theatre enthusiasts (including those who do not read music); and a show-by-show listing of more than 700 musicals, often including a song-by-song listing of precisely who orchestrated what along with relevant comments from people involved with the productions.

Suskin is author of the books "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes" and "Opening Night on Broadway." On Playbill.com, his On the Record column (which often includes lively commentary about orchestrations and arrangements) appears twice monthly, and his DVD Shelf column (looking a home video releases of theatre-related films) runs monthly. These columns are archived and available at Playbill.com.

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