I am very excited to share with you this interview I had with the associate director and pianist of the show “Wicked” on Broadway. David Evans is a composer and pianist with three master’s degrees in music. He has played in numerous shows on and off Broadway.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVID EVANS
Debbie: Do you still practice?
David Evans: Very rarely. I am a composer, as well as a keyboardist, and also a conductor. My job right now on Wicked, the Broadway show, is that I’m the associate director. That means I play keyboards in the pit most nights, but once or twice a week I run the show. I also end up playing rehearsals quite often because we have a lot of replacements because it’s a long-running show. Rehearsals are more of a game liability than the show. I’m playing a synthesizer which is mostly what you play on Broadway these days.
Debbie: How many instrumentalists are in the show?
David: 24 which is a relatively large orchestra. What you have to do these days on Broadway is to become an expert in electronics. I play a keyboard that has 3 pedals and about 200 different sounds.
Debbie: And I bet they don’t teach that in graduate music school.
David: No they don’t! You have to learn that along the way. It implies another ability. You learn about articulation.
Debbie: Do you need to learn about orchestration?
David: Yes, it helps. You have to be a bit impressionistic to sound like other instruments.
Debbie: What advice do you have about effective practice?
David: Well, I have a 13-year-old son who takes piano lessons. People usually don’t learn the full concept of going over an entire section they’re having trouble with. You need to know how to break it down if you run into problems. People just want to play the whole thing. My son does this. He starts at the beginning, gets to the extent of the problem, slows down, messes it up, and moves on. And the next time it’s exactly the same. And I tell him, let’s isolate the problem, let’s work on it, let’s solve it so that it is no longer a problem.
Debbie: How much embellishment do you do?
David: On the show, I’m reading a very specific part. In rehearsals, I play an orchestral reduction that is almost impossible to play, so I have to remember what it sounds like and play the gist. I learned how to embellish by playing at a place in Boston called “The Proposition” which was an improv venue similar to Second City – improv comedy revue. I learned to improvise in various styles, different pop styles. I’m pretty fluent at it.
Debbie: Was it difficult?
David: At first it was. I would have to listen to recordings and figure out what the gist is and imitate things.
Debbie: What do you mean essential?
David: Well, the essential style, what was the rhythm and how to translate it on the piano. Basically just listening and imitating mostly.
Debbie: How do you play differently when you’re accompanying a singer versus playing with an orchestra?
David: When you play with a singer, you can bend more rhythmically. Depends on what kind of song it is. But sometimes your job is to lay the rhythmic foundation. When you play a ballad, your job is to be as flexible as possible. When you’re accompanying a solo singer, solo piano, it’s a real collaboration.
Debbie: Do you like to accompany the singers?
David: Yes, I do!
Debbie: Do you get bored sometimes? I was completely shocked to hear this, Broadway and all!
David: Well, it’s a show that’s about 3 hours long. There is quite a bit of downtime with nothing to do. People have books and magazines to read.
Debbie: Is it still fun?
David: It’s fun. The actual game itself is a bit mechanical. Enough time has passed that there is no longer any challenge. The trick is to stay focused. Your job is to try to do it the same every night. Directing is different, but you have to stay really committed to the show. You have to be alert.
Debbie: How long have you been playing on the show?
Dave: 3 years.
Debbie: How often do you direct?
David: About once a week. ever again.
Debbie: And that’s a kick?
David: Yeah, that’s really fun. The playing part is more of a job. I mean it’s fun to be there. It’s probably better than working in a factory where people also do the same thing every day, but get no applause.
Debbie: Yeah, if you’re going to do something mechanical every day, it might as well be on Broadway!
David: Yes, that’s true. But it is work. It’s a fun group of people. Also, we as musicians can take some time off. There is a pretty liberal policy in our union to get substitutes if we have other jobs or just to keep ourselves sane.
Debbie: How many nights a week?
David: I do most of the shows. 8 performances a week.
Debbie: That’s a lot! No signs of slowing down?
David: No, that show has taken off. It practically sells out every night. It’s kind of like a phenomenon. Is unusual. I’ve done a lot of shows in the past, but nothing like this.
Debbie: Thank you so much, David, for talking to me. It has really been a pleasure. I’m sure the students will love reading this.
David: Oh, it’s a pleasure.