A Tale from the Orchestra Pit

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10 Tristan (Orchestra) rl 006

The nominees for the 67th annual Tony Awards were announced earlier this week and on behalf of the entire People’s Choice Awards staff, I’d like to extend a heartfelt congratulations to all the talented actors, actresses, plays and musicals that received this magnificent recognition. Unfortunately, I’m unable to go into much detail about this year’s pool of nominees as I am a terrible New Yorker and have not been frequenting the theater as much as I should. I’ve heard the buzz that Matilda and Kinky Boots are the musicals to beat and I can get excited about that, considering I loved the Roald Dahl Matilda movie starring Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, and I’m a fan of Cyndi Lauper (who wrote the music for Kinky Boots). I know that Tom Hanks (star of one of my top five favorite movies of all time, Forrest Gump) and Nathan Lane (star of one of my top five movies that can always make me laugh, The Birdcage) have been nominated so, again, good stuff. But that is where my familiarity and knowledge about this year’s nominees ends. I can, however, wax poetic about some other Tony winners of years past, all which have one, tiny link to each other: they have all featured my incomparably talented mother as flutist.

A classically trained musician with an MFA from the Manhattan School of Music, my mother definitely paid her dues, as they say, as a struggling musician in New York City, playing any gig she could get. But then, Broadway called. I remember the first time she got the call to sub at Phantom of the Opera. I was in the 6th grade and we all (mom, dad and I) started jumping up and down because, even at that age, I knew this was a big deal. This call, from the principle flutist to take over the flute book for one week in 1992 while she went on vacation, would lead to more calls and it soon became clear that my mother’s days of playing with her quartet on the streets were over. She was known. She was in demand and, 20 years later, she still gets called a couple times a month to play Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece. With my future looking up — my mom was a musician on Broadway! — I devoted myself to the score, learning “Think of Me” on the piano, playing “The Music of the Night” over and over again on my Walkman, and of course, attending the show. I still get chills thinking about the scene when Phantom takes Christine to his lair, the whole stage aglow with steam and lit candles. But, being able to run down to the pit and wave to my mother packing up her flute stand was the best part of it all.

The next show to stick out in my mind was the 1996 adaptation of The King and I when my mom was asked to sub periodically once again. I vividly remember going backstage to see her — using the stage door located to the right of the Neil Simon Theater entrance — and meeting Lou Diamond Phillips, the star of the six-time Tony winning revival. He signed my Playbill and I hung it on my wall for the next three years. I was a very big fan of La Bamba. I was really starting to enjoy the perks of having a Broadway playing mom.

Mom’s next big gig was 1997’s Titanic, an adaptation of the fabled story that was brought to the Broadway stage the same year James Cameron had a little success with his own film version. While the movie broke box office records, the Broadway show collected Tony Awards, five to be exact, and the show marked the first time my mom’s name was listed in the Broadway Playbill as she officially took over as principal flutist. But the best was yet to come.

In 2000, my mom got the call to be the principal flute/alto flute/piccolo player in the new Tim Rice / Elton John production of Aida. This is what musicians hope and pray for as it gives them the stability to lead a different kind of life. It’s the closest thing to a steady paycheck that one can get (unless you are the principal for the NYC Ballet, NY Philharmonic or the Metropolitan Opera, the most coveted positions for any NYC classical musician). That gig put my sister through college and my mother played it, night after night (and twice on matinee day) until its doors closed four years later. It was a spectacular show, led by the extraordinary Heather Headley, and it took home four Tony Awards in the spring of 2000. I remember that mom and dad got to go to the after party that year and came home very, very late.

Over the years, mom has touched many of the shows that graced the Broadway stages, and I’ve reaped the benefits by seeing every single one; The Lion King, Carousel, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables. The only one she has consistently subbed for that I have never seen is Wicked, something I hope to remedy very soon. So, while we celebrate the nominees of 2013 and you head to the theaters to see them, tell us which of these former Tony winning Broadway shows is your favorite?

Aida

The King and I

Phantom of the Opera

Titanic

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