I had a chance to chat with Benjamin Rauhala who is currently the Music Assistant at Fiddler on the Roof, and is also an Original Programming Producer at Feinstein’s/54 Below. We discussed how he got to work with Jeremy Jordan, what it’s like to play with a Broadway orchestra, and lots more.
What was your first exposure to Broadway and musical theater, and how did that influence you and your music?
My father is a lawyer by day and a professional musician by night, so I grew up watching him play trumpet in various community theater productions – everything from Crazy For You to Man of La Mancha. Once, he was playing a sold-out run of The Sound of Music and I really wanted to go, so we dressed me in musician blacks and I sat in with the pit orchestra to get a view. I remember some of the “Von Trapp” children looking into the pit a bit from the stage because they saw a fellow kid down there – I was probably about eight years old. I loved getting to live within the music that way, and I loved seeing how it all works behind the scenes.
My mother grew up in Long Island and we used to travel there from Massachusetts to visit my grandmother every few months and, once my brother and I were old enough, we would all go see Broadway shows. My first was Beauty and the Beast when I was 7, and I was hooked. After seeing the show, I used to drape a blanket over two chairs and pretend I was playing piano with Susan Egan on the original cast recording. I was obsessed. And then I began taking piano lessons, and the big journey really got started.
You have also worked with a lot of cool people like Jeremy Jordan and other Broadway performers, how did you get them all involved, and who do you want to work with in the future?
My college roommate JT (who’s still my roomie now) grew up just outside of the city in New Jersey, so we used to travel from UMass to NYC all the time while we were in college, and I was able to make friends and network my way into the scene really slowly, and just for fun. We used to go to this open mic at the Laurie Beechman Theater called The After Party on Friday nights, and I’d hear all these brilliant singers get up there and perform – people used to come after their shows and sing, and young folk used to go and belt face, just for fun. I was super ensnared with everyone, and I started asking people if they wanted to sing with me some time, just casually, and just for fun. The first friend I made was a singing bartender there by the name of Alysha Umphress, and I used to play Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” with her every time I came. The more I performed, the more I met people, and the more I met people the more I was performing. But more importantly, and unknowingly, I was starting to build a community of friends here, that would end up carrying me through my darkest and brightest moments here.
As for Mr. Jordan specifically – Jeremy and I had met back in October of 2011 when his wife (then, girlfriend) Ashley and I became friends while working on a reading of Ever After, but Jeremy and I didn’t really become friends until December of 2013 when we worked on the Hit List concerts. We really bonded at the cast party after our closing, and we started putting his first solo concert act together a few months later. We’ve been two dysfunctional peas in a pod ever since!
As for who I want to work with in the future – my biggest dream is to be Britney Spears’ music director! I actually used to tell people ten years ago that I wanted to do her Vegas show with her when she was in her 40’s…and then she did it while she was in her 30’s before I had a chance to make a name for myself! Rude. But that’s still the dream!
What’s the best part about being the Music Assistant for Fiddler on the Roof? Can you explain your job a little more? I read you made your Broadway debut with the orchestra – congratulations! What’s that like?
The best part about being the Music Assistant at Fiddler is getting to collaborate with all of the brilliant musicians involved in our production, day in and day out – from my wonderful music director mentors Ted Sperling and John Bell, to our genius dance arranger Oran Eldor, to our meticulous music copyist Emily Grishman, to the very best orchestra on Broadway and our splendid cast of actors. It’s really a remarkable family of folks that take really beautiful care of me!
During rehearsals, my role as the Music Assistant was to help keep our music team organized and coordinated. My largest job was generating our Piano-Vocal score in Finale and keeping it updated as we added dance and transition music and crafted our new arrangements. Once we began the orchestration process, communicating with Emily Grishman’s office, our music copyist, became a large part of my job. Ted Sperling, our music director, would handwrite the orchestrations and then I’d run them over to Emily’s office as soon as the pages were ready, where her team would put the music in the computer and make it look beautiful. As always, it was a wild process getting all of the music ready for the first orchestra rehearsals – but what a joy and relief hearing our orchestra read Ted and Oran’s arrangements for the first time!
Nowadays, I help