The Cello on Broadway

I have been a part of some music theater works featuring cello arrangements that might not be too well known among cellists, but deserve attention. For instance, the only show in history with a string section composed entirely of 6 cellos (with 6 different parts):

Stephen Sondheim had heard Victoria De Los Angeles’ recording of Bachianas Brasileiras no 5 and wanted that sound for his show ‘Anyone Can Whistle,’ orchestrated by Don Walker. This is from a 1995 live performance at Carnegie Hall (20+ years ago!) with Angela Lansbury (the original star, as narrator), Scott Bakula, Madeline Kahn and Bernadette Peters.

Cellos: Clay Ruede, Frederick Zlotkin, Eugene Moye, Jean Leblanc, Scott Ballantyne, and Ellen Westerman.

In 1985, I played a show called Song and Dance, by Andrew Lloyd-Webber. The first act was a one woman show featuring Bernadette Peters (for which she won her first Toni Award), and the second act was the same story portrayed the first act, only told in dance by Peter Martens, then director of the New York City Ballet. This was set to a concerto for cello and ‘rock’ band based on the 24th Caprice of Paganini (originally penned for his brother, Julian). Features 3 cellos (hard to tell from this ancient hand held video). Oh, the wonders of the youtube…

Cellos: Clay Ruede, Sara Sant’Ambrogio, and Zoe Hassman.

There aren’t any videos of the second act, but the Toni Awards broadcast that season put up a collage of the dance with an intro, on which I was joined by perennial ‘most valuable player’ recording cellists Jesse Levy and Richard Locker

Here is an excerpt from a performance of the second act


Then there is another Sondheim show, A Little Night Music that featured a male character who played the cello. This was re-conceived for Bernadette Peters’ Carnegie Hall Solo Debut as being sung by a woman who was being neglected by her cellist love interest (played by me on this occasion). This fact alone earned some laughs…

This topic brings to mind a couple of stories. The original production of the ‘King and I’ in 1951 had David Nadien, Joseph Silverstein, and Berl Senofsky in the violins (Silverstein was 19!), and cellists Shirley Trepel and Janos Starker ( Shirley was 1st!).

I worked with Nadien in the NYC studios quite a bit at one point (he was concertmaster for a time under Bernstein at the Philharmonic); his playing was always superb, and he had an elegant, dry wit. Broadus Erle once told me a story about when Nadien showed up at Curtis. In the violin class was Oscar Shumsky, Silverstein, Senofsky, Erle, etc, and it was a highly competitive environment. Apparently Senofsky wanted to put the young Nadien in his place and challenged him to a hot dog eating contest. Bear in mind, Nadien was a little guy, short and slender, and Senofsky was “big-boned.” They ate and ate until at one point Senofsky got sick and threw up. Nadien, in a manner that would define his humor for all time said of the remaining hot dog Senofsky still held, “are you gonna finish that?”

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3 Responses to The Cello on Broadway

  1. Paul Woodiel says:

    Hey Knucklehead,

    How did I not know about this site until now?! It?s on you, man, because it?s not like I live under a rock. Anyway, I thought it might be worth mentioning that West Side Story?s 31 piece orchestration includes 11 discrete string parts including 4 cello parts which were imperfectly evident, in the 2009 revival at least, because of the replacement of two cellos by a synth, thanks to a ?cut list? approved by Bernstein?s people, as well as a rogue sound man who regularly muted one cellist?s mike because he did not care for that player?s performance. So wrong. Love this site, Clay! Full of wisdom! Cheers PW

  2. admin says:

    Thanks so much, Paul, I appreciate your knowledge and sharing of same here! I’d love it if you would share the story of Bernstein and the viola for that show!

  3. Pamela Frame says:

    What a great site! Thanks Clay!

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