Steve Orich had moved from New York to California to focus on scoring films and television when Music Director Ron Melrose called to alert him about a little musical La Jolla Playhouse was mounting and suggested that he might be interested.
“Even though he warned me that it had a very small budget because the show would run only five weeks, I wanted to keep one finger in theater and decided to do it,” he says.
Not only did Orich become involved, but his efforts were rewarded when the “little musical” moved to Broadway and he received a Tony nomination for his orchestrations. “Jersey Boys,” the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, took the street by storm, walking off with multiple Tony Awards, along with the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Musical.
Although the teen-age blue-collar drop-outs from Belleville, New Jersey were unlikely candidates to become one of the best-selling rock and roll groups of all times, Frankie Valli’s signature falsetto and Bob Gaudio’s clever compositions dominated dozens of Billboard hit singles during the 1960s. “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll” and “December 1963” (Oh, What a Night) all hit # 1 on the charts. Gaudio had written most of the songs for a previous generation; now it was Orich’s job to orchestrate the music for today’s audiences.
“We didn’t use the original Four Seasons charts,” he says. “I listened to their recordings and decided to present the pops feel in a theater setting. The originals from the 60s and 70s were very slow, sparse and rough around the edges. The pit orchestras that used to be very large have shrunk for economic reasons, so we gave the songs body by using synthesizers and about twelve instrumentalists, some of them in the cast and on the stage.
“The music is plugged into a real story about the four singers that is powerful and emotional throughout. One of the most touching moments comes when Frankie and his wife are splitting up and they stand on opposite sides of the stage singing ‘My Eyes Adored You.’
“I hadn’t met Bob Gaudio until opening night at La Jolla, although he and Frankie had read and approved the script. Once the show was set for Broadway, I spent five days at Bob’s house in Nashville to prepare for the album. It was recorded with the original cast even before it opened on Broadway in order to have the album in stores by opening night.”
An Orchestrator’s work normally ends on opening night, but five years later, Orich has fun writing new charts for fresh venues, such as the “Tonight Show,” Letterman and three appearances at the Tony Awards. For the 2009 Fourth of July concert on the Mall, he gave the National Symphony Orchestra a lush feel with fresh emphasis on the horns and pizzicato strings.
During his versatile career, Orich has composed, orchestrated and arranged music for many stage shows, television series, specials, and albums and has worked with such major artists as Helen Reddy, Judy Kaye, Petula Clark, Angela Lansbury, and Tommy Tune. No project, however, began so modestly and exploded into the kind of international phenomenon that “Jersey Boys” has become with permanent companies on three continents.
“When I played in the orchestra pits on Broadway early in my career, the best you could be was as good as you were the previous day,” he says. “Now I get a tune in my head, can’t shake it, and wake up in the morning humming. I feel blessed to be working on projects that are so rewarding.”