April 30 - June 15 '14 "Playing the US tour of Lion King"

Date: August 20, 2014 Author: stevehunter Categories: Latest

I was hired to play a US tour of "Lion King" last May and June, and it was great to re-visit a show that played for 4 years when it first opened in Toronto back in 2000. The Keyboard 1 book of this show is a lot fun to play, and relatively easy for a big league show. Usually the Key 1 book in a mega musical is very hard, but this one has a lot of grooves and goes by pretty painlessly. The only drawback was that the synths had been re-programmed 6 months prior, and there were still a lot of bugs; for instance any time I was on an accordion patch, notes had a tendency to stick. A modern theater keyboard setup is not for the faint of heart; I had to boot up two Mac computers (one was a backup), watch the volume meter to the left, watch the conductor monitor above the music, make sure I was on the right patch and, oh yeah, play the right notes. There was a computer keyboard right on the keyboard, and the "L" was highlighted with an orange sticker - you pressed this to "unstick" the note. Talk about multi- tasking! The tempo would be flying by, the note would stick, and you instantly pressed it on the fly and got back to where you were before the note stuck, often a bar or two ahead of when it happened. If the note stuck on the organ patch, I learned very quickly that pressing the "L" would make the sound just disappear. Then you would have to go to the backup computer on the fly, advance to right spot and keep playing. I would routinely get a dozen stuck notes PER act. It's a good thing I didn't know who programmed it, using the "Mainstage" system, but these guys got paid a lot of money to come up with a system that NEVER worked 100% the whole time the show was in Toronto. Kind of unheard of in this level of production. 

It was great to see my old friends in the pit who did the show originally, including Brian Barlow on drums, who did a great job. Usually drums never sub out on a tour; for that matter neither does Key 1, but we've got a strong local union who made sure there were a minimum of players hired locally. But although Brian is one of Canada's best musicians, the tour was used to a different guy who played differently; for better or worse! Even though Bobby, their regular drummer is really great, everyone has got their own groove, and so the road conductor was a little flustered for the first week. No matter, everyone settled down and we had a great run.