Broadway Musicians Take The Stage In Tony-Nominated Shows Musicals get Tony Awards. Scores get Tony Awards. Orchestrators get Tony Awards. But this year, a number of Broadway musicians are stepping out of the pit and onto the stage.
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Into The Spotlight: Recognizing Broadway Musicians This Tony Awards Season

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Into The Spotlight: Recognizing Broadway Musicians This Tony Awards Season

Into The Spotlight: Recognizing Broadway Musicians This Tony Awards Season

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Winners of the 2019 Tony Awards will be handed out at Radio City Music Hall tonight. It will be a night of actors and directors, playwrights and composers celebrating their wins. But there's no award for the musicians who play the music. Their work often goes unrecognized. Jeff Lunden profiles some of the unsung heroes of the stage.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: The score for the sci-fi musical "Be More Chill" is up for a Tony, but the musicians who play it aren't even eligible. Still, when the show opens, a light shines on a single instrument and its player.

(SOUNDBITE OF BE MORE CHILL ORIGINAL BROADWAY BAND'S "JEREMY'S THEME")

LUNDEN: It's an electronic box called the theremin. And the man who plays it is Danny Jonokuchi.

DANNY JONOKUCHI: The theremin has two antennas. This one determines pitch, and the one on the side here determines the volume. And so when we turn it on....

(SOUNDBITE OF THEREMIN SOUNDING)

JONOKUCHI: ...Using both hands moving through the air, not touching the instrument...

(SOUNDBITE OF THEREMIN SOUNDING)

JONOKUCHI: ...To create a lot of these sci-fi effects.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEREMIN SOUNDING)

LUNDEN: Jonokuchi is making his Broadway debut with "Be More Chill." Woodwind player Greg Thymius is a 20-year veteran on Broadway.

GREG THYMIUS: I was exclusively a substitute for 11 years before I got my first Broadway show.

LUNDEN: Usually, Broadway musicians perform in a pit in front of the stage or underneath it. The musicians can't see the actors and often have to use video monitors to connect with what's happening onstage.

THYMIUS: We're under the stage. We're recovered. You know, sometimes you have to use a click track. We like it more to a recording studio experience, where we're a little bit separated. We're in different rooms.

LUNDEN: But this year, Thymius is center stage in the revival of "Kiss Me, Kate," where he dons a tux and opens the second act with a clarinet solo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO DARN HOT")

JAMES T LANE: (As character, singing) It's too darn hot.

LUNDEN: In the song "Too Darn Hot," the choreography is frequently centered around him.

THYMIUS: People dance around me in that magnificent way that they know how, so it fools people into maybe thinking I'm doing something, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO DARN HOT")

LANE: (As character, singing) But when the thermometer goes way up and the weather is sizzling hot, Mister Adam for his madam is not because it's too, too...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Too darn hot.

LANE: (As character, singing) Hey, that's what I said.

LUNDEN: Being onstage is nothing new for Broadway first-timer Eleanor Oppenheim. She plays upright bass in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" Oppenheim's used to playing in front of audiences in contemporary classical ensembles and in a rock band.

ELEANOR OPPENHEIM: Because of my background as a performer who is not generally in a pit, it doesn't feel weird to me, somehow. It feels just sort of normal that I'm there and that the actors and the band are all making something together in the same space with the audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I CAN'T SAY NO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) I'm just a girl who can't say no. Kissing's my favorite food.

LUNDEN: Another one of this year's Tony-nominated shows to feature musicians on stage is a retelling of the Orpheus myth called "Hadestown."

BRIAN DRYE: My friends that have come see it described it as a Broadway show with trombone (laughter) or trombone with Broadway show.

LUNDEN: Brian Drye plays it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUNDEN: Drye is used to playing a couple of sets a night in jazz clubs, but Broadway musicians have to play eight shows a week - some days, a matinee and an evening performance.

DRYE: About a week ago, I started to get a little delirious from it. I haven't taken a break yet. I've done 57 shows since it opened, so tomorrow's my first time that I'm sending somebody new in.

LUNDEN: Broadway musicians have to arrange for a sub themselves. Clarinetist Greg Thymius says subs are a part of a long Broadway tradition.

THYMIUS: You are bringing new people into the community as you were brought in. That's important. You have to pay forward the kindness as your elders paid you.

LUNDEN: Still, it's a far different thing to step into the spotlight. And that's something that Danny Jonokuchi at "Be More Chill" cherishes.

JONOKUCHI: It makes it for me. Just to have a couple of moments where the band is really recognized, that the show kind of takes a moment just to acknowledge the band is a huge thing.

LUNDEN: And the audience gets to see the faces of the people who make the music.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAY DOWN HADESTOWN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) The wage is nothing, and the work is hard. It’s a graveyard in Hadestown.

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