Adrian Ries is the Music Director of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Greetings dear readers! I’m Adrian Ries, the music director and pianist for Gulfshore Playhouse’s currently running production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Forum. As is often the case, it behooves oneself to take stock every now and then of the work that it took to get here and what it takes to move on to that next stage.
Dwindled down to its most basic elements, a music director oversees the music components of a show to tell the story as clearly and simply as possible while helping the actors and musicians sound great. For example, we spent about the first two days of our rehearsal process teaching/learning music with the cast. As you might already know, our production has flipped the traditional casting model on its head, and we’ve got women playing male characters, men playing female characters, women playing female characters, and men playing male characters. It runs the entire gamut!
After everyone’s learned the music, we move on to staging the show. This is the phase where the conceptualization happens very quickly, ideas are shared, adapted, and edited at breakneck speeds. Logistically, the music director coordinates the action with the music with the help of the director, choreographer, and music supervisor.
I should also mention that all this time, I’ve been behind the piano, adding one extra character to the piece, patiently waiting for our two other musicians to join us. About four weeks into the rehearsal process, we added percussion and reeds (piccolo, flute, clarinet, and saxophone) to the mix. I imagine it’s like Dorothy stepping out into Oz for the first time and seeing in Technicolor. A delicate flute solo adds to the intimacy of a moment. Some Arabic tambourine playing whisks us away to the other side of the Mediterranean. Piccolo and field drums introduce us to the Captain. As much as I like to think I can do everything at a piano, Daniel Dorrance on reeds and Mell Csicsila on percussion add two entirely new and unique characters of their own.
While rehearsal is an enlightening delight, the true satisfaction and illumination comes when the last critical element of theatre is added. The audience. As I write this, we are in that last wonderful stage of finding that symbiotic sweet point amongst cast, crew, and audience where the energy of the storytelling aligns. It’s a wild form of speed dating, where we learn about an audience and ourselves in a very short amount of time. Is this joke happening too quickly for people to understand? If we pause ever so slightly before this beat, does the impact of the moment become more effective? This feedback gives us the critical information we need to continue constantly finding ever-smaller details to improve upon. The name of the game becomes finesse, and we can’t do it without you.