I had the great privilege of sitting in with the band at Lion King New York (LKNY) on Saturday night, courtesy of Musical Director Karl Jurman and Assoc. Conductor Cherie Rosen. I have a great deal of time for ‘pit orchestras’, in general; who perform under conditions that would make their concert music colleagues blush with embarrassment for ever complaining about anything, but these folk at LKNY are really, really good at what they do! I have no doubt this derives from the first-class music staff on this production.
Musical theatre production show quality at this level is something to behold. The attention to detail in the orchestration and arranging of the music in this score alone is humbling. I regard myself as a good orchestrator, but I hardly recognised some of the percussion instruments used. One of the coolest instruments employed is the Balafon, a type of wooden xylophone (a very poor description) – I need to get me one of these! Not to dismiss the gankokui double bells, djembe, kpanlogo, atumpani, and brekete floor drums though, which are all utilised with incredible inventiveness.
Probably the most important thing I observed was how the orchestration and arranging is so intrinsically welded to support the delivery of the vocal lines and African-style singing techniques, without ever usurping the primacy of the voice in this show: a case of establishing a very sophisticated groove over which the ‘sound’ of the Pride Lands is carried on the narrative drama. It might sound simple, but it’s very sophisticated indeed.