At the end of the Lion King run, around the 2nd week of June, I was asked to play Key 1 of an upcoming US tour of "Wicked." I knew the music was very difficult, and the Key 1 book of any musical is usually the hardest, so at first I declined. But then I was offered it again, and decided to accept the challenge. Usually these big tours have "advance" books, which are copies of the various parts forwarded to the next city so that the local players that are hired have a chance to look at the parts and learn them "in advance," which is why they are called "advance" books. So I got my advance book in mid July, plenty of time to learn the music for a Sept 2 start. Later on in July we also received thumb drives containing a video of the conductor conducting the show, with audio. This is an invaluable tool to have to really learn the ins and outs of any show. I was able to mark down conducting patterns and beats, write vocal cues in and most importantly, practice playing the show with my laptop on the side of the piano. But before I could do any of that, I had to photo copy the advance book, double sided so that I could mark it up with fingerings, chord symbols, cues etc. It's considered bad manners to mark up an advance book. I did that, 3-holed punched it, and put it in a binder to play from. That way I can leave the regular tour book alone as a courtesy to the professional player I'm replacing for the Toronto run.
Aug 1, I started practicing. For the entire month of August (give or take a few days) I spent 5 to 7 hours a day at the piano, first practicing technique in the form of scales, arpeggios and broken chords in all keys, and especially the hard keys in the book. The music for "Wicked" features lots of songs and cues in F#, B and Db, all hard keys to play on the piano. Often at the end of the day, I would put an ice pack on my right hand, wrist and forearm to keep the mild soreness and inflammation down from putting that many hours in. Finally, after running the show at least once a day, by August 31 I felt ready for the first rehearsal on Tuesday Sept 2.
There were only 8 hours of "note" rehearsal on Sept 2, then what is called a "seating call" for the orchestra pit on Wed Sept 3 at 2PM. The sound man gets sounds from the various instruments, and then the conductor runs his pre set list of songs. Finally for the last hour, the principal cast members get to run their songs. We were done at 5, and then at 7:30 we did a show. This is truly trial by fire! Not much rehearsal time, and a complex score with lots of safety vamps, and ritards and rallentandos where it is essential to follow the conductor. On the synth parts, you also have to advance patches, sometimes very quickly and look at the conductor on a "conductor cam" with a little LCD video screen attached to the top of your music stand. It's all very high tech. But compared to the Lion King synth setup, the synth system for Wicked works very well, with no glitches. When I was practicing at home, I had a dummy sustain pedal set up next to the piano's sustain pedal so I could get used to advancing the patches via my right foot. Also had a dummy volume pedal so I could practice fades etc. There is one patch which activates a "lion's roar" when the volume pedal is up, but when it is down you still hear the piano sound. I practiced that at home too.
Last night's show on Sept 3 went very well, but it is always great to get the first one out of the way. It's like the difference between operating a flight simulator and then flying the plane for real! I was exhausted at the end of the day. Can't imagine doing 9 weeks of 8 shows a week.... but that's show business.