Who slips into a big role on Broadway? trombonists

Broadway, which is looking to regain its pre-pandemic audience, is relying on bold names such as Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig, Sarah Jessica Parker… and Mike Boschen.

Mr. Boschen is part of the current cover of “The Music Man”. He’s a trombonist, and they’re having a moment.

In “Hadestown”, trombonist Brian Drye appears on stage and interacts with the cast. (As one theater watcher noted on Twitter: “Phenomenal cast and all, but the trombone is the real star.”) In “Chicago,” trombonists Bruce Bonvissuto and James Burton III coveted spots on stage with the rest of the orchestra. “We can feel the energy coming from the audience very viscerally,” says Bonvissuto.

Then there’s Mr. Boschen in “The Music Man.” “It’s probably the coolest trombone part I’ve ever played” on Broadway, says the 48-year-old companion, who has performed with about 40 productions in a career that includes shows both familiar (“Cats “) and forgotten. (a musical adaptation of “The Frogs” by Aristophanes).

“The Music Man,” featuring Mr. Jackman, a beloved take on midwestern life circa the early 1900s, is all about the band. Its key numbers include a tribute to all things brass, namely “Seventy-Six Trombones”.

The production actually includes two trombonists – Mr. Boschen, who plays the common tenor version, often simply referred to as trombone, and Jack Schatz, who plays the bass version. Mr. Boschen jokes: “We are 74 paperclips short, but we are doing our best to make up for that.

Other tracks let him play in a jazzy or more romantic vein. He remains in the pit, but his presence is constantly felt.

Typically, trombonists played supporting roles “like an offensive lineman,” says Mike Davis, a trombonist at the “Moulin Rouge!” Musical comedy.

Producers reduced the size of Broadway orchestras as a cost-saving measure. The days of the Golden Age are long gone, when 25-piece ensembles were the norm, anchored by sizable string sections. Now, some shows can have 10 or fewer musicians, with instruments and digital tools often used to replicate reality.

Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in “The Music Man”, along with other cast members. (The real musicians are in the pit.)


Photo:

Juliette Cervantes

But it’s hard to replicate a trombone, or “bone” as it’s known in industry parlance, with its characteristic slippery sound. Also, the trombone is an instrument that adapts particularly well to many genres. “It’s good for so many things,” says veteran Broadway orchestrator Jonathan Tunick.

Mr. Boschen, a Philadelphia-area native, has been married to his trombone since he learned the instrument in third grade — it was either that or the cello, since both suited his height. He then studied with trombonists of the Philadelphia Orchestra, then trained at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, and the Juilliard School in New York.

He could have sought a full-time job in a symphony orchestra, but decided he liked the varied life of a New York freelancer, where gigs can range from playing jazz standards at a cocktail party to produce with classic sets, sometimes within the space of a day. A job on Broadway is a coveted base, especially if it’s a show that has potential for a decent run.

Mike Boschen acted in about 40 productions.


Photo:

Avery Brunkus

Mr. Boschen got his first shot as a substitute on “Cats” in 1997 and his first full-time job on “The Full Monty” in 2000.

Last July, while teaching one of his trombone students at his home near Peekskill, New York, he received a text message telling him to call about “The Music Man.” . He phoned and was told he had the job.

“He knows how to turn something into a comic moment or turn it into a jazz moment. It’s an art of what he does,” says Patrick Vaccariello, musical director and conductor of “The Music Man,” who has worked with Mr. Boschen on previous shows.

Like many Broadway musicians, Mr. Boschen is willing to play other instruments, if needed. Over the years he has doubled bass trombone and euphonium in shows, although he claims to have a strict “no tuba” policy. “I’d rather be really good with less than decent with more,” he says.

At “The Music Man,” Mr. Boschen shares an area the size of a modest suburban living room with a dozen other brass and woodwind players (the string players are in a separate location). He is always aware of where he is aiming his slide. At another show, he feared to knock over the conductor’s podium.

“It would have been a showstopper in a different sense,” he says.

Mr. Jackman calls Mr. Boschen a “spectacular trombonist.” The actor, best known for his role as Wolverine in the X-Men film franchise, said that despite studying the violin in high school, he couldn’t understand the skills required to perform in the pit. Mr. Jackman buys scratch-off lottery tickets from musicians every week in recognition of the valuable role they play. Mr. Boschen says he has earned a few dollars so far.

‘I have nothing to do there but deliver lottery tickets,’ says Mr Jackman, although he adds: ‘If there’s a role for a triangle player, I’m leaving.”

Pit musicians have to deal with long periods of performance where there is nothing to do. Some are texting their phones or doing crossword puzzles during downtime.

On a recent Saturday morning, Boschen got busy reading a book on stock trading. He says he became interested in investing during the pandemic, when Broadway theaters were closed for months.

Trombonists are aware of their playing space.


Photo:

Avery Brunkus

There is always the risk of missing a cue to start playing again. Boschen says he internalizes the score, which rarely happens. The only time he did it on “The Music Man,” he says, was when he was caught off guard when he heard Sutton Foster, who plays Mr. Jackman’s romantic interest in the show, snuggle up. work your way through “Goodnight My Someone”.

“I got lost in the beauty of singing,” he says.

Mr. Boschen has never seen this production of “The Music Man” from the public – and he has no intention of doing so. This is almost common practice among Broadway musicians, who view their work as strictly score-oriented, not production-oriented in general.

“I have my own version of the story that plays like a movie in my head. I see it by hearing it,” he says.

Write to Charles Passy at [email protected]

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