Having played in the Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) orchestra for eight productions since 1987, Brent Hughes is no stranger to the “pit” under the Malkin Bowl stage.
Usually unseen by audiences though, hidden inside the small orchestra space beneath the boards of the Stanley Park venue, this year audiences will at least get to see the back of Hughes’ head as he takes over the reigns as musical director for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
No stranger to the world of music, Hughes has been teaching music in the Coquitlam school district for the past 28 years. Currently head of the fine arts department at that city’s Dr. Charles Best Secondary, he is responsible for the instrumental and choral ensembles at the school, as well as as the music director for the school’s musicals.
Like others in his field, Hughes also spends time in the community offering up his musical expertise. After having worked with another local musical theatre company for the past few years, he put his name forward to the TUTS board last fall.
“I feel fortunate that they were willing to take a chance on a newcomer in this role, ”he says.
Hardly a newcomer, having performed in past shows at TUTS, it has been fifteen since he was last seen at Malkin Bowl. And while Hughes has seen changes on his return, it is how much things have remained the same that brings back memories.
“The history and nostalgia of TUTS hits you when you walk into Malkin Bowl,” he says. “All of the shows and names of performers on the walls remind you that you are a part of a special summer time tradition. I think there is also a stronger sense of family within the company because of that tradition.”
Another part of the TUTS tradition includes putting together a separate orchestra for the two productions each year.
“There are two different orchestras, but there are always a few people that will do both shows,” he says. “This year there are four musicians, who have played multiple seasons with TUTS, who will be down at the park every night of the summer.”
Before the show opens though, getting both the orchestra and cast ready for opening night begins with separate rehearsals.
“The singers will usually learn all of the music at, or near, the beginning of their rehearsal process, before staging scenes and learning the choreography,” he explains. “The orchestra starts rehearsing later, after most of the big numbers have been set.”
Both sides of the musical theatre equation come together for the first time in what is called a “sitzprobe”, a seated rehearsal where the musicians and actors play and sing through the entire score, focusing on the details.
“From that point there have been a few technical run-throughs of the show with cast and orchestra before we had our first preview,” he says.
Just coming out of previews, Hughes is excited to share it all with audiences.
“There is not specifically one song to focus on the orchestra, but more of a theme,” he says. “Cinderella is a magical story and I hope our audiences will notice how the music of the orchestra helps heighten the magic within the show.”
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella and 42nd Street play on alternating nights in Stanley Park’s Malkin Bowl, through August 18. Visit tuts.ca for tickets and information.