Lynne Shankel is currently the orchestrator for Beaches at Signature Theatre. While being a musical director, conductor and pianist for such Broadway musicals as Beauty and the Beast, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Cry-Baby, she is one of the few females I know working in the male dominated field of orchestration. Her work as an orchestrator includes Summer of ’42, Bare The Musical, Vanities The Musical, Allegiance, Alter Boyz, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular and the revised version of Once on This Island at Paper Mill Playhouse. Her arrangements have been performed by some of Broadway’s brightest stars. Names such as Chita Rivera, Lauren Kennedy, Euan Morton and many others have all been graced to have a chart written by Lynne. I’ve been following Lynne’s career for a while now and it doesn’t matter if she is on the podium or writing a chart for a singer or show because the product is the same. You can always expect a nice full sound out of Lynne’s orchestrations. Her work is always of the highest caliber.
What were your first professional jobs as musical director and orchestrator?
My first professional job as a music director was in summer stock at Theatre-By-The-Sea in Matunuck, RI. I went there my first summer out of college and had the time of my life! I started orchestrating little things soon after– tunes for cabaret shows and the like– but the first full show I ever orchestrated was an Off-Broadway show called Summer of ’42, based on the movie of the same name.
How do you best describe the musical styles in the score to Beaches the Musical?
Beaches really mixes it up as far as musical styles. We span so many decades– it’s a little bit “the music of your life.” We go from 50’s rock and roll to 60s Motown to disco and beyond. With both more traditional and more contemporary musical theatre styles thrown in along the way as well.
When deciding on the instrumentation for a musical, how much input do you have as an orchestrator as to how many players you will have in your band?
That’s a good question! It’s always a balance of art and finance. Often times I start out asking for what I would really like to have, then end up fighting just to have enough to get by. It’s a tricky negotiation. But on Beaches, our producers were really trying to meet our needs and I think we came out with a really nice complement for the show.
You mentioned earlier that you were orchestrator (musical director too) for a lovely under appreciated musical called Summer of ’42. There was a song in that show called “Losing Track of Time” which I thought was going to be the break out hit. By the time you came into off- Broadway the song had been replaced. What were the reasons for that and also why do you feel the show did not run as long as it should have in NY?
I have such a warm place in my heart for Summer of ’42. The writers (Hunter Foster and David Kirshenbaum) and I all went to college together at The University Of Michigan so there was a lot of nostalgia there. “Losing Track Of Time” is a terrific song. It was just that as the show developed, it became this really terrific song that just didn’t seem to fit in the show anymore. That happens a lot. And that’s why you’ll find so many composers with amazing “trunk songs” lying around! We all really loved the song though, and we ended up putting it on the album as a bonus track. Rachel York sings it beautifully on there. Quite honestly, I think one of the biggest reasons the show didn’t run longer was unfortunate timing. We opened in December of 2001 right after the World Trade Center attack. It was a really difficult time to open a new show. People were afraid to come to New York.
What are your next few projects?
Right now I am working on a new piece from the writers of Memphis called Chasing The Song. We are about to go work on it at La Jolla Playhouse in CA. I’m music supervisor/arranger/orchestrator, so I’m wearing a lot of hats on that one! But it’s a really fun piece. I’ve also been working on Allegiance, a show that premiered in 2012 at The Old Globe in San Diego. It stars Lea Salonga, George Takei and Telly Leung and is a beautiful story about family set during the Japanese internment in WWII. The producers are hoping to bring it to Broadway in the 2014-2015 season. My biggest ongoing project is a fun life with my husband Joe and our dog Lucy.
Here is a recording of the song we referred to in today’s column. From The York Theatre Company’s cast recording of Summer of ’42, here is Rachel York performing Losing Track of Time. Music and lyrics are by David Kirshenbaum and the song is orchestrated and conducted by Lynne Shankel.