Making Beautiful Music for "She Loves Me"

Beth Fhaner
 | Feb 13, 2020
Musicians from She Loves Me
The ensemble behind the music of She Loves Me—front row (left to right): Robert Peterson, Tim Christensen, Alby Potts, Dustin McKinney and Elizabeth Brown; back row: Jay Mason, Louis Allee and Tom Griep.

The charming, romantic Broadway hit She Loves Me features glorious music throughout the show—all performed live by eight musicians backstage. Orchestra members Tom Griep (conductor and keyboards), Alby Potts (keyboard and programming), Robert Peterson (violin), Elizabeth Brown (cello), Jay Mason (reeds), Dustin McKinney (trumpet), Louis Allee (percussion) and Tim Christensen (bass and contractor) are responsible for performing the beautiful score heard throughout She Loves Me.

To learn how the music ultimately comes together with the actors and the music ensemble in this delightful musical comedy, we talked with musical director Gregg Coffin and conductor Tom Griep about their processes and what they love about this show.

Q&A with Music Director Gregg Coffin

Coffin was last at SCR as the music director for One Man, Two Guvnors (2015).

Can you describe the work of a music director?

The music director is responsible for every musical aspect of a production including helping the director cast the show for the vocal needs of the score (vocal ranges of actors, make-up of ensemble), working with the orchestra contractor to hire the musicians needed to perform the score, teaching the score to the actors, overseeing the performance of the score by the orchestra, interfacing with the sound designer to help achieve the strongest sharing of the score in the theatre, and adding or cutting music to fit the shape of the production (for scene changes, underscores, curtain call).

Why is this show a favorite musical of yours?

She Loves Me checks so many boxes in good musical theatre: a wonderful book by Joe Masteroff, beautiful and varied music by Jerry Bock, dexterous and emotional lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and great source material—the original play, Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo and the MGM movies The Shop Around the Corner [1940] by Ernst Lubitsch and the musical movie adaptation, In The Good Old Summertime [1949].

What would you like the audience to know about the music and the music ensemble for this show?

The score for She Loves Me is one of those great examples of integrative musical-storytelling. Each of the songs brings us forward to a keener and more specific understanding of the characters. For such a confection of a musical, there is no fat to be found in the score—each song is a wonderful example of integrating music and story to form a cohesive whole. The melody of a music box becomes the underscore of a sale that earns Amalia her job at Maraczek’s Parfumerie. The “slow to hurry” idea of Hungarian czardas violin music informs Sipos’ worldview to Georg. Holiday shoppers and Christmas carolers collide in a musical number that spins faster and faster as shopping days whisk by. The lightness and dexterity of an operetta aria informs the joy Amalia discovers in the simple and unexpected gift of vanilla ice cream on a day when she is feeling low.

And as far as the music ensemble for this production, you couldn’t ask for a stronger group of actor/singers to convey the beauty, the depth and the joy of this score. And they’re supported by an amazing orchestra of ​eight players—virtuosos each and every one.

What are the challenges and opportunities that you found in working on She Loves Me?

Time is always a challenge. I will forever wish I could have one more hour to work on a song, one more call with the orchestra to go over notes or one more preview to hear how the audience is occurring with the work.

And it’s more of a challenge nowadays to deliver the truest representation of an original score with the amount of players we typically get in a pit [orchestra]. These musicals were written for pits of many, many players—sometimes multiple players on a part. And that means that each member of our pit must be a ringer. Each musician represents a certain voicing in the make-up of an orchestration—reed, brass, string, percussion. So, as the idea of the orchestration becomes more “chamber,” each member of the pit becomes more important and iconic in the role they play musically.

How do you work with the musicians?

I start working early on in the process by reaching out to a musical contractor to discuss the make-up of the pit. No two scores are alike, so it’s important to fill the pit with players who will best exemplify the voicing of the score. Some scores call for lots of brass, others need rock instruments. Then once we have the players contracted, I look at the books of the score (the parts for each musician) and begin accounting for the musical ideas of the orchestrators.

How do you work with the actors?

I work with the actors on lots of different levels. After the songs are taught for melody, breathing, diction and dynamics, I begin asking the actors about intention and looking for ways that the music will support what they want to explore actively in the scene/song. “Why does she say that?” “How does that melody echo what he feels there?” A very wise mentor of mine once said, “Singing is acting on pitch” and I always try to help actors find how the music and the lyrics work together to move us from one point to the next.

How and when does the work of both groups come together?

The musicians get about a week or two alone with the books and then one full day of rehearsals together to read through the score. The actors get a couple of concentrated days at the beginning of the rehearsal process specifically dedicated to learning the music. That work continues throughout the weeks in the rehearsal room with a pianist as accompanist (I work with two accompanists, one in the scene room and one in the choreography room). Then, at the end of that process, we put the pit and the actors together for a rehearsal called a sitzprobe (from German opera terminology, meaning “seated rehearsal”) where we sing and play the entire score as a group for the first time. After that, we move into the theatre (where a pianist accompanies us through most of the technical rehearsal process) and then the orchestra joins us again for a couple of dress rehearsals before we move on to the process of previewing the production before an audience.

Q&A with Conductor Tom Griep

Behind the set pieces, in the wings of stage right, is an area set up for the eight musicians. Their conductor is Tom Griep, who is one of two keyboardists. While never seen by the audience, the musicians are an integral part of each performance.

What is the set-up backstage, so that you're able to work seamlessly with the action on the stage?

The pit is set up in a long rectangular shape on the stage right wing. Two musicians will fit side by side in this set up. Each of the eight musicians has a small video monitor of me conducting, so they can see me and they have a small mixer/speaker, so they can adjust what they want to hear.

What can you hear and see from backstage?

I have four video monitors. One is from an infrared camera so I can see the set pieces as they move in the dark. One is from a color camera, so I can see the action on stage in the light. I also have a computer monitor, so I can see the 300+ patch changes of accordion sounds, harps, woodwind and brass sounds I am playing [keyboard] and a small video monitor of myself conducting. I also have four pedals, volume/sustain/patch change and a conductor talkback mic that allows me to talk to the musicians in their headphones or speaker.

What is special about this show for you?

I’ve known [director] David Ivers and [actor] Brian Vaughn for many years, when they were both working together at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, so I was jazzed when Ivers asked if I wanted to get involved. Small world that it is, I discovered a couple of the actors in this production contacted me during the audition process through my website, PianoTrax, to have me record some songs for their callbacks and they were cast in the show.

What’s great about this group of musicians for She Loves Me?

Our orchestra contractor, Tim Christensen did a great job assembling the best professional musicians. It’s a very challenging score that requires top-notch players.

What would you like the audience to know about the music and the music ensemble for this show?

​That having live musicians working with live actors gives the audience the best experience.

Learn more about She Loves Me and buy tickets.