As Shakespeare would have asked, “How now?” In other words, what are four live musicians – including myself – doing 30 feet above the stage at the Public, backing up Shakespeare?
We are on the balcony of the Public’s Anspacher Theatre, sitting in semi-darkness while King Lear banishes Cordelia, his youngest daughter. Unlike her two older sisters, she will not flatter the king in public.
Over the next three hours and 20 minutes, the two older sisters will betray their father, driving him mad (“…how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.”).
But, as Shakespeare might have said to the audience: “Prithee, be not alarmed!” for the playwright sees the sisters get what they deserve.
When it came time to choose the accompaniment for this production of “King Lear” directed by James Lapine, the New York Shakespeare Festival made an excellent decision: the music – written by Stephen Sondheim and Michael Starobin – would be played by a live four-piece band.
The musicians – who coincidentally are all natives of Brooklyn – are Henry Aronson (keyboards and conductor), David Wechsler (flute, alto flute, bass flute and wind controller) and Ray Grappone and myself on percussion (including vibes, marimba, crotales, glockenspiel, chimes, maracas, triangles, wood blocks and drums).
This Off Broadway production is covered under an existing Local 802 contract.
I had a feeling this show would be special. Soon after it was announced that “Lear” would be played by Kevin Kline, the entire run was sold out.
Especially challenging was the storm scene.
When Lear turns mad, he wanders out of the castle into a fierce tempest. After many experiments it was decided that thunder would be played on a 36″ bass drum, a 31″ kettledrum, a 50-gallon oil drum, a metal thunder sheet, a tam-tam and crash cymbals.
But they still wanted something else, so I bought a hundred glass marbles and put them inside a 20″ bass drum, which is shaken violently over the head. It’s a “marbledrum.”
I find myself thinking in Shakespearean English: ‘Twas noble of the producers to enrich the theatrical experience for the audience by providing live music, but methinks it benefits the band most, for we get to hear this 402-year-old classic brought to life nightly by a splendid cast.
English is remarkable when spoken well. And when the run ends, I have a new phrase to comfort me in my freelance career: “Fortune, smile; turn thy wheel.”
Larry Spivack is a member of Local 802.
Performing live music at “King Lear” are Henry Aronson (keyboards and conductor), David Wechsler (flute, alto flute, bass flute and wind controller) and Ray Grappone and Larry Spivack on percussion (including vibes, marimba, crotales, glockenspiel, chimes, maracas, triangles, wood blocks and drums).