Award-winning music director, arranger and orchestrator Bryan Schimmel, who has worked on Broadway, been at the musical helm of such blockbusting hits as Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Jersey Boys, and travelled the world with many music productions, will be back in Cape Town for a return season of Chicago (he was musical director in 2005 and 2008 and recently toured New Zealand and China with the show). He spoke to WeekendSpecial about the show, and what he has been up to:
WeekendSpecial: How do you feel to be coming back to Cape Town with Chicago – it’s been a while since we saw the show. And what can we expect?
Bryan Schimmel: This is my most favourite show that I have ever worked on in my thirty plus year career and I am thrilled for Cape Town audiences to be seeing it yet again after more than a decade. Expect the brilliantly witty script and dazzling Bob Fosse style choreography that has made the show so iconic delivered by a company of veterans from the original SA company, as well as a whole bunch of new and exciting fresh talent.
WS: Why do you think the musical is so popular – what makes it such a huge hit?
Bryan Schimmel: The script is one of the smartest, wittiest, most well crafted in the entire musical theatre repertoire. It is a script that remains surprisingly relevant throughout social and political shifts. The Bob Fosse-style choreography is timeless in its minimalism and it becomes a cornertone of the entire show. Because there is no scenic and visual trickery the show relies entirely on the delivery and performance of the company – which makes it all the more satisfying to perform.
WS: What are your favourite musical moments in the show?
Bryan Schimmel: I have two absolute favourite moments and they are the beginning of Act 1 and the beginning of Act 2. There is something that electrifies me when the opening trumpet solo starts, the curtain rises and we launch into the overture. It is exciting and thrilling for me every time because it sets the atmosphere, tone and sexual tension for the entire show. And it’s just a gorgeous overture to play and listen to. The beginning of Act 2 is an unsual moment in a musical. The band is situated on the stage and not in the pit, which is not unusual. But the band gets to feature front and centre and I get to do something quite outrageous which you will have to come and see in order to find out what that is.
WS: You have recently toured New Zealand and China with the show. What kind of international response has there been to our SA production?
BS: We played to near sold out performances for five months in 12 cities in New Zealand and China. Playing this show to Chinese audiences was challenging. They have subtitle screens on either side of the stage so they can follow the story. But they are not as expressive or as effusive as Western audiences. They tend to not respond at the end of numbers but they go crazy at the end of the show. It takes a bit of getting used to but it was clear from the sell out houses that they loved it.
WS: On a personal note – how do you maintain stamina when doing a long run of a show (for example, like with Priscilla Queen of the Desert)?
BS: I am a bit of fitness junkie so I keep myself in optimum condition to be able to do eight shows a week for long stretch.
WS: Tell us about the Flying Maestro – this just sounds incredible!
BS: I was doing a corporate event a few years back. In fact, it was Gary Player’s 80th birthday in the Superbowl at Sun City. I made an entrance to conduct the 60 piece orchestra by descending from the catwalk fifteen metres above the stage. During this experience I wondered if there had ever been a conductor who had actually flown over an orchestra and done aerial stunts while conducting. I was put in touch with the team of aerial instructors who now run a facility called The Cirk in Johannesburg. There I learned aerial acrobatics and have been mastering this unusual and extremely liberating act with my trainer Marco Vargas.
WS: You conduct, you arrange, you music-supervise, you’ve lectured and you even give motivational talks. Is there anything you just can not do?
BS: Floors and windows …
WS: What was the last live show you saw, and how did you find it?
BS: The Mousetrap. First time I had ever seen it was now in January. Great to see a classic play getting such wonderful audience response.
WS: Please tell us something about yourself that people don’t know, or wouldn’t guess?
BS: I have an obsession with photographing modern glass architecture. The China tour was full of opportunities to experiment with dramatic angles and refractive and reflective surfaces. The Guangzhou Opera House was my favourite building to photograph in China.
Read Karen Rutter’s Chicago review.
What: Chicago musical
Where, when: Artscape, 15 March to 14 April 2019, Teatro, Montecasino, Johannesburg, 20 April to 26 May 2019
Chicago tickets book: Computicket