It's time for musical theater patrons to tell producers the relentless downsizing of show orchestras must end.
The Broadway production of "The Phantom of the Opera" has 27 musicians. During its 2006 pass through Pittsburgh, the touring company had only 15 in the pit. The current production has a mere 13; 10, if you exclude the three synthesizer keyboards. There's something fundamentally wrong when the ensemble of the most successful musical in Broadway history is identical in size to The Tonight Show Band.
The show's score no longer soars majestically from the pit. It's now a homogenized emission from the theater's sound system. The diminutive acoustic levels of the emasculated "orchestra" must be augmented with the synthesized output, then processed, equalized, compressed and amplified. The end result is devoid of vibrance and dynamic range. It's like listening to an iPod on steroids.
Producers say they must reduce costs to keep a show going, especially one heavy with physical effects and costumes such as "Phantom." I can deal with a scaled-down chandelier, but eliminating the music from a musical? That makes about as much sense as cutting the overhead for "Romeo and Juliet" by ditching the unstable emo girl for an animatronic replacement with pre-recorded dialogue triggered by an infrared transmitter in Romeo's codpiece.
Roughly $3 of my $70 ticket goes to funding the orchestra. Once you reach those pricing levels, what's another five bucks to maintain the integrity of the work as it was originally performed?
The argument that the average theatergoer can't tell the difference is irrelevant and disingenuous. The average person also can't distinguish between fresh and reconstituted orange juice, but when I go out of my way to visit an orange grove, I don't want to be handed a can of Minute Maid and be told "it's just as good as the real thing."
It's a Broadway musical? I want to hear it the way it was performed on Broadway. The next time a show with an anemic, overly synthesized pit comes to town, I'll just stay at home and listen to the cast album.