NEW YORK (AP) — Cinderella wasn’t sure where her prince was. She could hear her stepmother, but they couldn’t see each other. And her fairy godmother? Waiting in a hallway in jeans.
Such was the scene one day in March when the cast and orchestra of the lush Broadway musical “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” were packed into a Times Square recording studio in a one-day bid to record their cast album.
The 29-member cast — the lead singers in one studio and the ensemble in another — plus a 20-piece orchestra that was split up over half a dozen rooms and booths, made it like a logistical Rubik’s Cube.
“I equate it to landing a Boeing 747 on an aircraft carrier,” said David Lai, one of the record’s producers. “There are so many moving parts and there’s not much space to work in or very much time. Everything has to line up properly.”
Fueled by platters of bagels and fruit, the cast, musicians and creative teams spent the one day off they share — it was a Monday — alternating between the thrill of recording live and moments of tedium while equipment was adjusted.
“You get two or three takes at everything and so you really have to give it your all every time and trust that they’ll edit you to make it sound as good as it does at night,” said Laura Osnes, the Tony Award-nominated Cinderella, who has recorded five cast albums.
It all took place March 18 in MSR Studios, a nondescript building where albums such as Kanye West’s “Graduation,” Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” and Beyonce’s “4” were worked on.
Recording the “Cinderella” album actually began Sunday night when the orchestra came in for three hours to prerecord the overture and some instrumental pieces and to get a feel for the space. The ensemble showed up the next morning at 9:30 a.m. to kick off the long day by recording “Ten Minutes Ago.”
The show’s stars — Osnes, Santino Fontana as the prince, Victoria Clark as the fairy godmother and Harriet Harris as the evil stepmother — filtered in at different times depending on when they were needed. All wore street clothes, trading in their onstage ball gowns and formal coats for jeans and T-shirts.
Thirteen hours later, the singers and orchestra had run through some classic Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II songs, including “In My Own Little Corner,” ”Impossible/It’s Possible” and “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” The last piece of the puzzle was Osnes and Fontana adding their voices to “Ten Minutes Ago.” The carefully planned recording session took two weeks just to map out.
“A lot of the job is what happens ahead of time, setting it up so that everyone can anticipate everything that’s coming,” said David Chase, the musical’s musical adapter and arranger who is another producer on the CD. “Cinderella” is his 28th Broadway show.
The mood was surprisingly loose in the control room, with the producers quick to make decisions without testiness and often with humor. The professionalism seemed to filter down to the musicians and singers.
“The art is to understand that you’re under an extraordinary amount of pressure but within the extraordinary amount of pressure you have to sort of relax,” said Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, who attended the recording session.
Years ago, such an album would have been recorded on the cast’s first free day in a big studio or hall that could accommodate the entire orchestra. “That’s why so many of those albums feel larger,” says Chase.
Those big rooms are gone — victims of an economic squeeze — and there are only two studios in Manhattan large enough to accommodate a big Broadway orchestra, albeit broken up into parts. On the upside, software and digital tricks mean reverb can be added and errors can be fixed.
At the “Cinderella” recording session, the strings couldn’t see the horns and winds and the percussion team was behind a wall in the back of one studio, while the harp and bass were in their own room. TV monitors helped conductor Andy Einhorn keep track of all the far-flung musicians, but interaction was sometimes awkward.
“It’s like doing a conference call on a cellphone,” said Chase. “Yes, you get the information and it comes to you, but it’s a little fuzzy, sometimes it’s a little late.”
Principal singers, too, are broken up and put in isolation booths even when singing duets. It can be disconcerting. At one point, Osnes could hear Santino in her headphones but had no idea where he was. It turned out he was in his own booth 40 feet away.
“For those of us who love live theater, who love the experience of the live interaction, that’s the hardest thing to recreate in a recording studio: The two actors singing an intimate love song can’t gaze into each other’s eyes,” Chase said.
Clark, a veteran of six cast albums, said the performers compensate because they’ve done the show onstage enough that it becomes second nature. “We know each other so well and we’re all such good friends so even if we can’t make eye contact, we know each other’s voices so well,” she said.
In the end, 26 pieces of music were picked for the album and the session ended at 10:25 p.m. — with five minutes to spare until they were kicked out of the studio.
Chase said it “ran like clockwork,” while Lai called it a “joyous experience.” The album’s digital download is available Tuesday; the CD will come out June 4. Then it joins the ranks of all the other cast albums that have tried to record a fleeting theatrical moment.
“Live theater is an ephemeral experience,” Chase said. “What we’re capturing is just the tiniest moment in that ephemeral experience as it passes by. You hope that you get every aspect of it.”
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