a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.
Most people think that we simply assign notes to instruments in the orchestra, from written music that already presupposes harmony and counterpoint. But we are responsible for far more than that. We become the final arbiter of how the music is written, just as the musical director is responsible for how the music is performed. It’s the orchestrator who interprets the composer’s intentions, who deals with the copyists, and usually composes the overture and entr’acte.
– Jonathan Tunick, arranger of the original Company, Sweeney Todd, Merrily, etc.
Only a category since 1997, Best Orchestrations is a bit of a sticky wicket for me, much like Sound Design. On the simplest level, an orchestrator chooses the number of musicians, the number of instruments, and which musician/instrument plays which notes. They often do much more, but if you’re not a musician, how do you analyze such a role?
Full disclosure: I’m a layman.
I built my list based on how the shows’ use of musicians/instruments (dis)engaged me, purposefully or not, with the show’s particular aesthetic. I don’t recall particulars of either The Book of Mormon or The Scottsboro Boys, which is why they are sandwiched in the middle — both are orchestrated by Larry Hochman (with Stephen Oremus on Mormon as well). The Book of Mormon won the Drama Desk for its plucky orchestrations, giving it an edge on the competition here.
On the other hand, I vividly recall that Marc Shaiman and Larry Blank’s arrangements for Catch Me If You Can sounded like the show looked: a generic ’60s tv show, with slick, big band sounds alternating with creamy-cheesy Sinatra-like standards. Add to that the LOUD sound design, and this musical was the least aurally pleasant of the bunch.
One of Broadway’s brightest scores from one of Broadway’s best composers, it any surprise that How to Succeed sounded the fullest and most vibrant when compared to its “new” musical co-nominees? Sure, maybe Doug Besterman (Tony winner for The Producers and Fosse) had the advantage of a fantastic score to work from, but that doesn’t downplay the fact that the exuberant, swinging orchestrations sounded absolutely divine and perfectly fit the ’60s satire’s playful tone.