The Turkey Point Jukebox Jamboree

New Line Theatre's Cry-Baby previews tonight and opens tomorrow night. Hell Week is over.

Most theatre people call it "production week," but I've been calling it Hell Week since high school. Although, really, Hell Week is rarely hellish anymore -- our shows are almost always in awfully good shape by that point. So these days, Hell Week is really just the time to work out subtle details of staging, make sure the costumes and costume changes all work, trouble-shoot the mics, find the volume balance with the band (which will change again the minute the seats have bodies in them), that kind of stuff. Back in the early days of New Line (who ever thought New Line would have "early days"?), it really was Hell Week -- we'd move the set in on a Sunday, have three tech rehearsals and open. There was no time for a lighting cue-to-cue rehearsal or a band rehearsal or a preview. Now we have a lot more time.

Thank god.

Still, Hell Week is when I also have to take care of tons of producing details, like picking up programs, getting box office change, coordinating with Metrotix, picking up tickets, creating flyers and such for the lobby, that kind of thing. The biggest stress for me personally is that, as both producer and director, almost every question this week requires an answer from me. And there are a lot of questions. I don't know if you ever get this feeling, but my brain gets tired! Trying to answer questions and solve problems continuously for a week is exhausting. So all that doesn't leave me much time for blogging. Actually it doesn't leave me time for much at all beside my nightly chronic and sleep.

Sunday was the first time the band joined us for what's called the sitzprobe, the only rehearsal we have with the band and cast together before running the whole show. It's the number one most stressful rehearsal for me in the entire process (though significantly less stressful since the ever-awesome Justin Smolik joined us as accompanist). We have to show the band all our little idiosyncrasies with the score, things we've cut (instrumental music we don't need in our production), etc. for the whole score and run it all -- in about four hours. Add to that, this time around, that we're also dealing with all new orchestrations created just for our production by the show's original orchestrator, Chris Jahnke. And because Chris and his assistants have been writing all this new, they've been sending the band parts to us as they finish them. We got the last of them Sunday morning, the day of the sitzprobe. And though the new arrangements are extremely cool -- they've reduced the score from an 18-piece Broadway orchestra to a 6-piece rock band -- there were the inevitable typos and measures that don't match. It was quite an adventure trying to figure it all out...

Then we ran the show Monday night, with the band and full tech for the first time. And to our horror, we discovered the band parts frequently didn't match the piano score, something we only got a glimpse of Sunday. A little backstory... when we started working on Cry-Baby, the authors sent us the script and score. What we found out only very recently was that the piano score we've been rehearsing with is the version they went into rehearsal with -- but not the version they orchestrated. So they sent us a list the day before the stizprobe of "discrepancies," changes we'd have to make in the piano book and/or the band parts to make them match. Unfortunately, the orchestrators apparently didn't find all the discrepancies. So all week, as opening night creeps closer and closer, our musicians have been trying desperately to make sense of our band charts. I think they've figured it all out now.

Thank god we have smart, talented musicians. Otherwise, we'd be fucked...

Trying to lead us through this minefield is Justin Smolik, who joined us as our keyboard player and resident music director at the beginning of last season, for I Love My Wife. He's an outstanding pianist technically (way better than me), but also a really, really expressive player. And he can play rowdy jazz and pounding rock and roll like nobody's business. Few people could have handled the Passing Strange score that beautifully. He's also great at the hardest part of the job -- being a sensitive and responsive accompanist, in other words, performing with the actors, not behind them. I feel so safe leaving the actors in his care once I step away from the keyboard.

Our lead guitarist Mike Bauer first joined us in 1997 for Jacques Brel (playing both guitar and mandolin), when he was only 19, and he stayed with us for several shows before other priorities took him away. But he returned to us in 2010 for The Wild Party, and he's been part of The New Line Band since then. Mike doesn't know he's as good as he is -- but like Justin, he's a really strong, really expressive player, he brings so much to our shows, and he can play in virtually any style. It's very cool to have him back in the family.

Dave Hall first played bass for us during Cabaret in 2001, and he's been our bassist pretty much the whole time since then, as solid and dependable as can be. Back in New Line's early days, we sometimes didn't hire a bass player because our budget was so tight. Dave convinced me we should always have a bass player, and he's right. I don't know if his argument was an artistic or self-serving one, but he convinced me. Dave's in a relationship with our stage manager Trish, so he often finds himself doubling as assistant stage manager after performances, washing dishes, sweeping up rose petals, you name it...

Clancy Newell has been playing drums for us since Spelling Bee in 2009. He's one of those incredible, totally dependable drummers, who knows how to follow, who can jump measures if something goes wrong on stage, and who knows how to keep his volume at a reasonable level, even when he's playing rowdy rock and roll. Many -- most? -- drummers aren't very good at that. Most drummers like playing loud. Clancy is a real treasure and I think he plans to stick around for a while. Plus, he's one of the mellowest, most easy-going guys I think I've ever known. Totally a latter-day hippie (I don't know if he'd agree or not), just like me...

This is Robert Vinson's third show playing reeds for us. He also played Spelling Bee in 2009 and Evita in 2010. I so loved listening to his sax solo in "I'd Be Surprisingly Good for You" every night, such a warm, sexy, creamy sound. We've had good reed players before, but Robert is really amazing. He has such control of the sound, such a rich, true tone. He's played on Broadway (including one of the Grease revivals) and elsewhere, and he's really great to work with. We're lucky that someone of Robert's caliber wants to work with us -- 'cause it ain't for the money.

Rhythm guitar player Joe Isaacs is joining our New Line family for the first time with Cry-Baby. He's a student of Aaron Doerr's, the guitarist who played bare and Passing Strange for us, and who will be back for High Fidelity. But Aaron couldn't do this show so he sent us Joe, who's doing a really excellent job, despite all the crazy obstacles we keep throwing at the band... Talk about baptism by fire...

I often talk and write about how lucky we are to attract the incredible talent we get for our casts. Every show has such smart, talented, fearless actors. But we're just as grateful that these musicians choose to work with us -- for far less money than they deserve. But like the actors, the musicians don't do it for the bucks; they do it because we get to work on some of the most interesting, most artful, most exciting music you can imagine. It's a real adventure every time...

Though I'm sure they wish it had been easier this time, they're always bringing their A game, and it shows. We're very lucky to have them.

Come see Cry-Baby and hear this amazing band rock your shit!

Long Live the Musical!