Charlie Rosen and Bryan Carter (‘Some Like it Hot’ orchestrators) played ‘with a lot of different colors’ to achieve a brassy big band sound [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I think it makes for a more fruitful and varied and rich orchestration when you have people with different skill sets and musical backgrounds and vocabularies collaborating on the same thing,” explains “Some Like it Hot” orchestrator Charlie Rosen, “It keeps it really exciting.” In order to bring the big band sound of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s new musical to life, Rosen collaborated with Bryan Carter to complete the “mammoth” job. “Brian has such an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and big band, he’s an educator on the subject,” notes Rosen. “And so when they asked me to bring out another orchestrator to help out, I mean, he was the obvious choice.” Watch the exclusive video interview above.

The tuner is set in the prohibition era, and the sonic quality of the orchestra evokes jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, brassy big band sounds, and the lush quality of a classic MGM musical. “We really got the opportunity to play with a lot of different colors and a lot of different sounds,” describes Carter, “and we also got to know the musicians on a personal level and really tailor the charts to them.”

SEE NaTasha Yvette Williams interview: ‘Some Like it Hot’

That level of detail is important when orchestrating songs for specific roles. “Each character has their own sound and motivation,” says Rosen. The sound created for a character moment might run parallel to the overall tone of the musical, but sometimes the duo played against the grain in order for the music to build at the right pace for a character’s journey. Carter employed this technique for Daphne’s (J. Harrison Ghee) eleven o’clock number “You Coulda Knocked Me Over With a Feather.” The style is rooted in a classic brassy sound, but the orchestrator gave it a contemporary edge which allowed the instruments to soaring alongside Ghee’s vocals for an emotional release at the song’s climax. “I feel like there are times where we’re trying to write with a lot of intention and fit within a certain idiomatic style, and then there are times where we’re intentionally writing against said idiom,” Carter elaborates. “We’re like, wouldn’t it be fun to, instead of digging deep into the conventional MGM thing here, kind of write against it and make it our own? I think it’s a balancing act.”

SEE Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman interview: ‘Some Like it Hot’ composers

The pair utilize a 17-piece orchestra to achieve the desired sound for “Some Like it Hot,” but they have also worked with much smaller bands. They both worked on Best Musical winner “A Strange Loop” for instance, which featured about seven musicians. The genre of music often dictates the size of the orchestra, according to Rosen and Carter, with the duo comparing each instrument to a different color paint on an artist’s palette. “In a big show, this means you have to have enough colors on your palette to be able to paint the full landscape of the melody, the backgrounds, the string lines, the inner moving French horn,” reveals Carter, “all these things that make up the genre of orchestral movies and big bands in the mid-century.” For a musical like “Some Like it Hot,” managing the way these colors flow and combine is no easy feat, as there is no room for a breather during the entire run time. “It kind of feels like your air traffic control,” jokes Carter, “and you’re making sure that everyone is taking off and landing at the appropriate time without causing any accident.”

“Some Like it Hot” marks Rosen’s third Tony nomination. He won a Tony Award for his work on “Moulin Rouge!” and picked up an additional nomination for “A Strange Loop.” This is Carter’s first Tony nomination. The pair recently won a Drama Desk Award for “Some Like it Hot.”

PREDICT the 2023 Tony Awards through June 11

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