The Best Seats in the House

In the orchestra pit at the Fox Theatre

At the end of the first week, how are the St. Louis musicians faring? "This whole orchestra is really solid," Billig replies. "From city to city, some players are stronger than others. In Houston I had to fire the bass player. The St. Louis bass player [Jay Hungerford] is terrific. In the last three cities I had terrible trumpet players. But Andy [Tichenor] is incredible. This group is really good."

Will their sound change between opening night and the final performance on December 4? "It'll be tighter," Billig says. "Everybody will be more familiar with what they're playing." As that occurs, sound designer Graves will be the first to know. "As the players get more familiar with the score," he says, "they become more comfortable, so they start playing a little bit louder. Then I'll be making constant adjustments to turn down their microphones. The way you mix a show like this is one microphone up at only one time. It's a constant turn on-turn off of microphones for dialogue and singing, and orchestra pushes and pulls. I've told my parents, 'You thought I wasted all that time playing video games. This soundboard is one giant video game that I play night after night after night."

For Billig the nightly task is to get the most he can out of proficient musicians who nevertheless are still learning the intricacies of the score. "Wicked is not a rhythm show where you get it started and basically the band can play itself," he says. "This is contemporary pop music, and it's tough. For instance, we work the percussionist really hard. Jerry [Bolen] is not a young kid. But he has great spirit and energy. He apologizes when he makes mistakes. 'But I'll get it, I'll work it out.' I love the fact that he's up for the challenge."

Bob Ceccarini loves the challenge Wicked's score provides.
Bob Ceccarini loves the challenge Wicked's score provides.


Wicked's local musicians

Adrian Walker, Violin
Natasha Rubinstein, Cello
Jay Hungerford, Bass
Nancy Schick, French Horn
Andrew Tichenor, Trumpet
Bob Ceccarini, Trumpet
Jim Martin, Trombone
Michael Buerk, Reeds
Jan Parkes, Reeds
Elsie Parker, Reeds
Diane Ceccarini, Synthesizer
Henry Palkes, Synthesizer
CarolBeth True, Synthesizer Substitute
Jerry Bolen, Percussion

All the musicians seem to relish the challenge. "I've been looking forward to Wicked as much as any show I've ever played," says Ceccarini, who in addition to contracting the orchestra also plays second trumpet. "Now that it's here, every single sold-out performance has been exciting. Even though it can get a little loud down there in the pit, I often feel we have the best seats in the house."

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