Countdown to Curtain:
Talking with BRUCE COUGHLIN, Orchestrator
You'd think that with two weeks to go before the show opens, an orchestrator would be pretty much done with his job. Think again.
Triumph Of Love may be hitting Broadway tonight, but as of Oct. 9, orchestrator Bruce Coughlin was still making changes -- and not just cutting a bar here and there.
"I'm in the middle of a new overture," Coughlin told Playbill On-Line. "It goes in Friday night (Oct. 10). I think this one will be wackier. It's less a traditional `here are some of the tunes,' kind of piece and jumps quicker from one tune to the other. Our arranger, Michael Kosarin wrote it."
Coughlin has worked both on and Off-Broadway, from the earthy American sounds of Floyd Collins to the re-orchestrated bigness of The King And I and Once Upon A Mattress. Here, in Triumph, he has an 11-piece orchestra at his disposal -- a significantly smaller group than Broadway musicals typically used to enjoy. Asked about the downsizing of pit orchestras, Coughlin said, "Well, there aren't any good things about it, really; it's much harder to orchestrate for a small group. Definitely a bigger challenge. The days of 27 players is long gone. It does take less time to score things, and the slow parts come only when you can hear something in your head and then wonder how to do that with only 11 instruments. You have a sound in your mind but have to make it work with what you've got. Still, that can be fun, too. And you do get a specific sound, an intimate sound, and I think, highly colorful."
As for the sound of Triumph, the show will have one electric keyboard player (who's also the conductor), but the other musicians all work on acoustic instruments: three strings, bass, percussion, three reeds, a trumpet and a horn. "With this little group, it's kind of a boon for the non-singers, because there's no chance we'll drown them out. On the other hand, I'm sure we can't get as "big" for Betty Buckley as she'd probably like."
Asked about the differences between working on a new show and a revival, Coughlin noted that the current Broadway King And I is "80 percent adaptation of the original orchestrations for a smaller group; 20 percent new material (for some of the dances, the White Elephant sequence). By and large they wanted the original sound. So sometimes decisions are budgetary, or sometimes they're creative and require something different from the original. I recently did On The Town in Central Park, where George Wolfe wanted it different."
"Always approach the job by listening to the music," Coughlin said of the orchestrator's art. "Basically, it takes a day to do a song; a day and a half for a long song. A big dance number could take quite awhile. For me, orchestrations are intuitive; I don't think anybody studies it. It's more like, `how would I like this to sound?' I have a classical background and did modern classical music in college, which gives me a pretty wide range of styles."
"With Triumph," continued Coughlin, "the story is partially 18th Century, but the music is more modern and uses a lot of different styles, since the play itself jumps around a lot. There's no sacred time in the show. I think people will be most surprised by the variety of the types of music in the show. Theatre songs, jazzier numbers, French opera, etc. It's highly anachronistic, but intentionally so."
If anachronisms come easily to Coughlin, superstitions don't. He has no particular opening night rituals, though he does generally buy little gifts for the orchestra. "Usually it's alcoholic," Coughlin said, laughing. "Champagne or something like that."