by Mo Brady
Michael Horsley is used to juggling multiple musical scores simultaneously. As the musical supervisor for The Muny in St. Louis, Missouri for the last 25 years, he spends each summer juggling the seven musicals that make up each theatre season.
However, this year Horsley takes on the additional responsibility of musical supervisor for the theatre’s production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, a show that has not been produced professionally in 30 years.
Next month, The Muny in St. Louis will stage the first professional production of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in nearly 30 years. Performed as a revue, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway features dance suites from On The Town, Billion Dollar Baby, West Side Story, The King and I, Peter Pan, High Button Shoes, Call Me Madam and Fiddler On The Roof.
Delving into the scores of these eight iconic musicals is a treat for Horsley: “The show includes some of the best music ever written for the theatre: The King and I and Fiddler on the Roof, among some not so well-known pieces. But across the board, the music is incredible and fulfilling to conduct.”
As Music Supervisor for The Muny for more than two decades, Horsley has been a part of the recent creation of the stage adaptations of White Christmas, Roman Holiday and Holiday Inn. He has also music directed the theatre’s recent productions of Newsies and Mamma Mia!, as well as dozens of other shows during his tenure.
However, working on Jerome Robbins’ Broadway has provided some unique challenges, due to the show’s dormant history. “This score has never been licensed or published,” notes Horsley. “For decades, the orchestrations have only existed at the Shubert Organization archives, located in a 5th floor walk up on 45th Street in New York City.”
In order to start the process of preparing the show for production at The Muny, 35 boxes of original orchestrations and notes had to be scanned and sent to Horsley. “Originally, they rehearsed the show for six months. So the score has six months worth of notes, edits and adjustments in it.”
While Jerome Robbins’ Broadway is a showcase for dance and choreography, the production’s 49-person ensemble will also sing some of Broadway’s most memorable music. The West Side Story suite includes “Cool,” “America” and “Somewhere.” Large portions of the Fiddler on the Roof and On The Town sections are sung through, as well.
That makes casting Jerome Robbins’ Broadway a unique challenge, as the dancers’ have to be able to portray some of musical theatre’s most memorable roles as well. “There’s a quality of voice that is important to each role,” reveals Horsley. “That’s the trick of casting. We need to find a dancer who can sing with the vocal quality of each character, from the brassy, belty sound of Hildy in On The Town, to the nightmarish quality of Fruma Sarah from Fiddler on the Roof.”
Horsley has the monumental task of teaching this score in ten days. However, he is an expert at teaching music both quickly and effectively: “For the most part, it’s all about preparation. We send out parts well in advance so they can study it. When they get here, there is a certain familiarity with the score. Beyond that, it is creative scheduling. There’s an art at The Muny of getting everything on its feet knowing that down the road it will only get better.”
During The Muny’s seven performances of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, Horsley will stand on the conductor’s podium and lead the orchestra’s 29 players. He notes that the opportunity to conduct an orchestra of this size is a rare gift for music directors: “Whenever The Muny produces a show, they hire the licensed orchestrations as well. They never do reductions. We are one of the last theatres in the country with a tenured orchestra.”
Under Horsley’s direction, this epic orchestra and large cast will join together to bring the score to life. “One of the pieces I am most looking forward to conducting is the Overture,” says Horsley. “In the original production, the vocals were pre-recorded but we will be performing them live. At the Muny, there are these huge rolling walls on stage. When the show begins, they will open up and reveal the entire cast singing on stage. It is sure to be thrilling.”
Jerome Robbins’ Broadway opens The Muny’s historic centennial season June 11 - 17. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.