King Kong Orchestra:

The Band Behind the Beast

An in depth look at the orchestra for the hit show King Kong. 

A show with a — quite literally— huge star needs an orchestra that makes an equally impressive impact. At 19 members strong, the King Kong orchestra delivers not only in numbers but with its huge sound as well. This band shows its versatility eight shows each week through its uncanny ability to navigate a score jumps from pop, to classical, to techno, to hard rock. Throughout the show, the band is in the hot seat from the very first downbeat.

Aside from a challenging score, this show is also defined by its many technical elements, all which enable the visually incredible spectacle that makes this show a total game-changer. One of these elements is a massive video installation that takes up the entire rear wall of the theater that provides a large portion of the production’s sets. Much of the show runs on a painstakingly crafted time code to accommodate the ever-changing video set changes that are both enormous in size and in perpetual motion. It is safe to say that the most memorable element of visual wizardry is, of course, the 20-foot King Kong puppet. This revolutionary puppet relies heavily on automation to move its massive frame not only around the stage but also into the air; it flies 100 feet up into the rafters of the theater when it is not visible to the audience during performances. In addition to that, it takes 15 people to bring Kong to life, 10 on stage and 5 in a booth in the back of the theater called the Voodoo Lounge.

 

The glue that bonds all of these large theatrical parts together is the music. Kong has a score that moves in lock-step with all of the action. To hear it from the members of the King Kong orchestra, the experience of performing King Kong is one part live theater and one part playing live to a film that’s continually rolling. This is no ordinary day in the pit and there is little room, if any at all, for error.

Music Director Michael Gacetta adeptly holds all of these moving parts together each and every performance and takes the role of “Master of Puppets” to an entirely new level at the Broadway Theater. Read his description of a particularly challenging sequence in the show:

"Towards the end of Act 1 we’re in a vamp, waiting for a line from our leading actress, which is a cue for both a sound effect and for the orchestra to continue.  There's a slight accelerando as I bring the orchestra out of the vamp, and, as I adjust the tempo to fit the dialogue to the underscore, I also take a cursory glance at all of my 6 video monitors to make sure the click track is ready to fire, my keyboard is on the correct patch, and the drummer and percussionist, who are in a different room, are in place for their next entrance. Hopefully I've timed the underscore correctly, and we land in another vamp.  Now my eyes are glued to the monitor of the stage, which has been programmed to switch to infra-red display so I can see action in the dark.  Kong is being flown in from the ceiling, and, as his feet are halfway to his landing site, I cue out of the vamp and that's when things get crazy: 

Michael Gacetta

I play keyboard with both hands (and conduct with my right hand when it's free), switch keyboard patches with my right foot, bring the volume pedal to zero with my left foot, play a single note with my left hand (in the right hand octave), hold the sustain pedal with my right foot (to free up my left hand to fire click), and slowly bring the volume pedal back to full volume with my left foot, all while conducting 18 musicians through a molto rallentando to match the new click tempo that I start with the MIDI-controller to my left.  Once I start the final click for the act, I'm busy playing with both hands so I cue the following individual string entrances with a smile and a nod of my head.  It's a lot of action to cram into a 12 bar sequence, and I always feel relieved to make it through successfully."

As you can see, not all of the choreography is on the stage.

The palette of sounds that the King Kong orchestra can deliver is practically limitless. The instrumentation is somewhat traditional for a Broadway orchestra of its size: Six piece brass section, three reed doublers, three string players, guitar, bass drums and percussion. Three keyboard players combine multiple synth patches, and other sounds created by composer Marius DeVries, with the rest of the orchestra. The King Kong orchestra sets a new standard for blending the traditional with cutting edge technology and deftly delivers the score, by Mr.DeVries, and the songs by Eddie Perfect with every performance.

 

Have a look around the pit: