I recently spent some time at the Winter Garden Theatre with “The Music Man” orchestra, conducted by Patrick Vaccariello. Everyone is vaccinated, employee testing is in place and audiences are masked. It was a long road to opening night, but the orchestra feels the industry is turning a corner. Despite a hiatus and forced absences (including the two star leads), “The Music Man” persevered thanks partially to talented actors and Local 802 musicians able to perform on little or no advance notice. The show opened triumphantly on February 10, 2022 and is currently enjoying a sold-out box office. Audiences are loving it and so are the performers. At the Winter Garden, Broadway is definitely back! These musicians seem both optimistic and grateful. Here’s what a few of them told me about their journey, as we begin to put the pandemic behind us.
Shelagh Abate (French horn): “Since Covid, musicians seem to give more consideration to their health than the freelance culture has traditionally allowed. We normally tend to show up, even when under the weather, wearing this sort of kamikaze approach to performing as a badge of honor. Not so, anymore…at least for now. My own experience included 10 days out of the show with my second bout of Covid followed immediately by a major emergency surgical procedure. I was astonished at the support and unconditional trust I received from everyone at the show. I was told to take my time, be safe, get well, and come back whenever it felt right, despite it being a preview lock-in period and an important moment for Broadway, as it returns from our long Covid-imposed hiatus. At no point did I feel any pressure or anxiety from anyone. It definitely helped me heal faster and return more comfortably.”
Charles duChateau (cello, assistant conductor): “Like many musicians, when a show I’m doing closes, I often think, “Was that the last show I will ever play?” This time (during Covid ) really felt like I might not play another show. So, returning to an orchestra pit full of wonderfully talented colleagues feels especially good. I am also aware how lucky we all are to be part of such a great production.”
Jack Schatz (bass trombone): “When Red Press called me to do “The Music Man,” beginning the first week of March 2020, I was excited for many reasons. Having worked with Patrick Vaccariello and Hugh Jackman before, I knew the show would be great. Then suddenly Covid hit and the entire industry was shut down. Fortunately with teaching and remote recording, I was able to manage until live music slowly, but surely, returned. I am thrilled to be a part of this production with an incredible orchestra of the finest players in NYC and an incredible cast. Covid protocols are still necessary and I feel we should do everything we can to protect ourselves, others and the entertainment industry.”
Robin Zeh (violin): “I was hired about ten days before everything closed in March 2020. As traumatic as the shutdown was, having this show on the horizon (at that point, slated for September 2020) was a huge source of comfort. As the spring rolled on and the opening was clearly going to be pushed back, the show itself started to become an abstraction, a hazy dream. Now, nearly two years later, I’m especially grateful we made it to where we are today.”