MY FAIR LADY has one of the most iconic scores in musical theatre. When it comes to bringing that score to life, John Bell the musical director for the national tour is the man in charge of making sure that lush, gorgeous music sounds vibrant and expressive in every city they perform in. John Bell talks about what exactly his job entails, the magic of an orchestra, and his favorite musical moments of the show. MY FAIR LADY is playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre from November 30 -December 5th.
John Bell is a man that everyone in the audience can see, well, at least from his shoulders up. As the music director and the conductor, Bell helps make the music the audience enjoys. Before we dive into the show and its music, it seems like a good time for John to explain the many facets of his job, both behind the scenes and in front of the audience.
“The music director’s leadership is both artistic and managerial. On the managerial side, you’re running the day-to-day operations of the music department; working with the cast and musicians, rehearsals, administrative duties, ensuring understudies are prepared and rehearsed, and things like that.
Artistically, you are conducting the show and responsible for the musical value of the production and implementing the choices about how the score is going to be rendered. I do that with the fabulous music supervisor for this show, Ted Sperling. So there are artistic decisions to be made and implemented and continually refreshed.”
In every city the show uses local musicians to fill the orchestra, to go along with the three musicians that travel with the tour. So the first day of performances in each city is always a long one as Bell rehearses with everyone to make sure they’re all ready for the first performance that evening.
“I conduct the performances nightly, and we use local musicians which is awesome and we always have wonderful orchestras. So we have an extensive rehearsal day to bring the orchestra together and work on the score and talk about style and pacing and all that fun stuff. This is all listening and breathing together and moving through the score in this very live human way to create the sound for this show.“
This score is a Broadway classic, and John says growing up and loving golden age musicals became his passion when he was a child. So he takes the responsibility of presenting this music very seriously in every show and making sure it honors the past and the time period of the show as well as being alive as it is being performed in the present.
“Our show is a grand old musical. Those of us who are fortunate enough to work on these classic musicals have a responsibility to bring them to life while being respectful of the piece and the writers, and of the time.
These songs are woven into the fabric of the American experience and I feel a deep pride in that and a deep responsibility to present it with integrity but also as alive and vital for this moment now, and not as a museum piece.”
Bell says that sometimes the audience is already applauding the song melodies in the overture as they are played, before any performers even step on stage. When asked about his favorite song moments he was able to narrow them down to three that come immediately to mind.
” I think that you can feel when we start ‘The Rain In Spain’ when Eliza finally gets it right after working on it so hard, I can feel the audience rooting for Eliza. When that song starts I can feel the intense joy and relief for her accomplishing that from the audience and it’s a really cool moment.
I could do ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ every day for the rest of my life. I think it’s one of the great songs and moments ever written. The marriage of where it falls in the plot, and the lyrics, and the melody and orchestrations; it’s like a bottle of prosecco bubbling over -it’s just joyful and magical. I think the way Shereen Ahmed plays Eliza is magnificent and I love going on that journey with her.
‘The Ascot Gavot (Going to the Races)’ I think is a brilliant musicalization of that scene and I’m really proud of the way this ensemble sings this song – it’s very evocative of those people and I think everyone in the ensemble at that moment absolutely nails it. I am so proud of them and audiences just love it.”
How to get Tickets
MY FAIR LADY is playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre through December 5th. For ticket and showtime information go to www.broadwaysd.com
All patrons will be required to wear masks and show proof of full vaccination, or a negative Covid-19 PCR within 72 hours or a rapid antigen test performed by a medical professional within 12 hours of showtime to attend all events through December 31, 2021
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