Nadia DiGiallonardo PART 2: How “Waitress” Changed Musical Orchestration

Last week, “Un-Block The Music” had the good fortune to see “Waitress” on Broadway with music supervisor and arranger Nadia DiGiallonardo at the helm on the piano right on the stage The show’s current stars are Shoshana Bean and Jeremy Jordan. So fabulous!

(That cover shot is Nadia, me and my two daughters backstage.)

As written about yesterday( https://unblockthemusic.blog/2019/05/30/musical-arranger-nadia-digiallonardo-talks-career-sara-bareilles-how-waitress-changed-theater/),  “Un-Block The Music” is admittedly obsessed with understanding how pop music fits into theater.  Nadia gave a lot of insight. Among her many accomplishments, Nadia has worked on two very distinct pop/rock musicals, “Hair” and then “Waitress” for which she worked hand in hand and voice to voice with Sara Bareilles, the score’s writer and pop songstress (“Love Song”, “Brave”).

Nadia discussed some of the differences in creating this musical compared to others she has worked on. She said, “vocal arrangements are such a part of Sara’s pop songs. Much of the texture of her music are her vocals. So, when she made demos for the show, she would have all of the vocals on there.  A lot of them changed once they were worked into the show, but the concept of always having them was, at first, a challenge. We would learn the song and then we would go to stage it.” Pop songs have a lot of backup vocals, and the challenge is to fit the singers into the scenes. The show’s director, Diane Paulus would say, “why are six people singing the song? Who are these characters?” Since no one wanted to give up any of the vocals, there had to be a way to make the characters work.

After initial meetings, the team went to New York and brought in the choreographer, Lorin Latarro. And, she “cracked the code,” says Nadia, “She figured out who the ensemble singers were and how we could justify having them there singing on every song. Lorin helped make the singers into these people who can be in the number and then can slip out of the number and go back to their world of being ensemble people in the diner. The band does it too. We are up there drinking coffee, hanging out. Next thing you know we are all accompanying a person singing a song.”

However, Waitress has been even more groundbreaking than that. Nadia says, “I believe we were one of the first shows to not have an orchestrator. Our band actually orchestrated the show. That is one of the biggest reasons the show sounds the way it does; like one of Sara’s albums rather than a musical theater version of a Sara Bareilles score. It is really truly authentically her sound.”

Nadia explained further. Normally, you are in rehearsals doing everything on the piano and sending the orchestrator piano/vocal sheet music. Then, late in the process close to the first dress rehearsal, the orchestrator delivers these parts to the musician. So, you go into a room for your first orchestra rehearsal toward the end of tech process. It is very close to when you are going to start previews. It is not until then that you really have a concept of what the show is going to sound like.  With “Waitress,” a four-piece band “was playing through everything very early on. Allowing us to really develop the sound of the show that we were very happy with. We orchestrated the whole show that way. Eight long days were spent in a studio recording as if we were making the album version of the show. That is how the score came about, which was a big deal. No other musical had done that yet. Now with so many shows in this genre, people are talking about this option for orchestration.”

The “Waitress” soundtrack, produced by Neal Avron was nominated for a GRAMMY. Before the cast album came out, Sara released “What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress” https://open.spotify.com/album/1s6codM2ZAB008t9GTyaEk.  “She wanted to make sure it sounded different than our show would. It was sort of a combo of musicians. A couple of us from the show played on it with some new musicians as well.” Neal had produced Sara’s album “Kaleidoscope Heart,” so she asked him to produce this pop album too. “When it was time to work on the cast album, she started looking at the usual ‘go to’ list of musical theater album producers, but decided she wanted Neal.” Success….proof, one again, that the lines between theater and pop music are blurring.

If you liked this story, another article you may want to read is about Will Van Dyke and “Pretty Woman”: https://unblockthemusic.blog/2019/04/03/pretty-woman-musical-director-will-van-dyke-talks-pop-music-on-broadway/

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