May 18, 2006

JBB EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Jersey Boys’ Tony Award-Nominee Orchestrator Steve Orich

May 18th, 2006

Jersey Boys Blog had the amazing privilege to speak with Jersey Boys’ Tony-nominated Orchestrator Steve Orich, who has had an outstanding career as an orchestrator, composer, arranger, and musical director in a variety of mediums over the past 30 years.

As I listened to Steve Orich and learned more about the orchestration process, it appears that the orchestrator is similar to an artist. Just like the artist and his palate, the orchestrator mixes shades and tints of sounds and harmonies to create a musical portrait. The orchestration process uses both the right brain and left brain—from writing the notes by hand in the earlier days, to using computers for scores today–to communicate the emotions on stage.

JBB: Congratulations on your Tony nomination for Best Orchestrations for Jersey Boys! How did you find out, and what did you do right after hearing the big news?

SO: I was still in LA when I found out. The call came in at 5:50AM on Tuesday from Ron Melrose, the Musical Director of Jersey Boys and the man responsible for me getting the job. I screamed, I cried, I called everyone who was up at that hour, then got on a plane for New York.

JBB: What does this nomination mean to you?

SO: The satisfaction of doing your best work and having it recognized by the critics, the audiences and now by my peers is a gift of the highest magnitude, and truly feels like the culmination of thirty years of work.

JBB: How did you become interested in music and who were your early influences?

SO: Believe it or not, my first love was musicals. My Mom was a big fan, and she passed the torch to me. When I started studying piano I found my lessons boring, so I started picking out songs by ear, mostly pop songs from the radio and show tunes. Then I’d buy vocal selections from shows and play through those. Eventually I got more into classical and jazz, but my teeth were cut on show tunes. From the time I was about 14, I’d go into the city from my home on Long Island by myself and catch Broadway matinees every Saturday.

JBB: For nearly 30 years, you’ve had an amazing career as an orchestrator, composer, arranger, and musical director in theatre, recordings, television, and film. How did you get started?

SO: I started out Musical Directing shows in college at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, which led to summer stock, dinner theatre, regional theatre, off-Broadway and Broadway. I also studied orchestration and composition, which brought me to Los Angeles and led me to work in film, television and recordings. I really enjoy the variety of doing a lot of different things; it keeps me on my toes, and I’m never bored.

JBB: What are the responsibilities of an orchestrator? How do you begin the orchestration process and where do you become involved?

SO: In the simplest terms, an orchestrator writes the notes that the musicians play. He has to hear (in his head) the sounds and combinations of instruments that would best serve the music and the dramatic moment onstage. Oftentimes, he gets involved with structuring the material, programming synthesizers, working on dance arrangements and even reharmonizing and arranging the material in the show. He needs to coordinate with the Musical Director, the Composer, the Contractor, the Copyists and the musicians, and oftentimes with the Director, Choreographer and cast.

Usually I get involved very early, working with the composer to prepare a rehearsal score. The latest would be right around the time the actors are cast.

The first thing one does as an orchestrator is figure out the character and the scope of the music, then find out how many musicians will be in the pit so you can determine what instruments will comprise the orchestra.

JBB: How did you become involved with orchestrating Jersey Boys?

SO: I had worked with Ron Melrose, the Musical Director when I lived in New York, and we’d kept in touch over the years. When he was offered the La Jolla production of Jersey Boys he was asked to hire an orchestrator and called me. Our communication, our friendship & the fact that I lived in Los Angeles were all factors. When he offered me the job, he said it would only be a five-week run, and look where we are now!

JBB: What are the greatest single elements to successful orchestration and how are they manifested in Jersey Boys?

SO: The important elements of successful orchestration vary, depending on the project and the medium. For Jersey Boys it was important to evoke the style and period of each song: from fifties doo-wop to 60’s & 70’s pop to French disco. In the theatre, because of the economics, you want to get the most sound with the fewest number of musicians.

JBB: Jersey Boys has become such a blockbuster hit musical–What is it about the story and the music that makes the audience feel so connected?

SO: I think it’s a lot of things. Rick Elice & Marshall Brickman wrote a great book, and the audience really gets caught up in the characters and the story. And Des McAnuff takes the audience on a wonderful ride. For some of the audience members, the line between the actors, the characters and the real Four Seasons gets blurred, so they’re cheering for all three simultaneously. I’ve seen the show over 50 times, and I still get emotionally caught up in it.

JBB: What made orchestrating Jersey Boys unique from other theatre productions you’ve worked on?

SO: The first day I came to rehearsal was at La Jolla, and they had been rehearsing for a couple of weeks already. I sat down and watched the scene with the argument between Frankie & Mary that goes into “My Eyes Adored You.” From that scene I knew this was something very special. Some of the orchestrations refer back to the original versions of the songs, while some intentionally don’t, and I enjoyed making them all work for an audience with contemporary ears in a live theatre.

JBB: What’s your favorite anecdote while working on Jersey Boys?

SO: The music for the show and the music for the album are quite different. Besides having a much larger ensemble, there’s material in the show that’s not on the album and vice versa. We recorded the album in August because the label, Rhino, wanted the album available by opening night. After we finished recording, I was heading back to LA to write the orchestrations for the show. The day before I was to leave, Bob Gaudio (who was producing the album) asked me to stay and mix it with him. We spent two weeks of 14-16 hour days in the studio with Pete Karam (the engineer) mixing, and I consider it one of my greatest learning experiences.

JBB: Besides Jersey Boys, what other projects are you currently working on and what are your plans for future projects?

SO: I still do a lot of orchestration for Jersey Boys, like new charts for the Letterman Show and different benefits. I just wrote one for the New York Pops (80 piece orchestra) that was performed at Carnegie Hall. Right now I’m mixing a pop album that I arranged & produced, and later this year I’ll be Musical Director and Arranger for a new Stephen Schwartz show called Snapshots.

Jersey Boys Blog would like to thank Steve Orich once again for such an insightful interview and to congratulate him for his Tony nomination for Best Orchestrations!


  1. Long time lurker here, first time poster. Thanks for a great article and congratulations to Steve on this amazing accomplishment!

    Comment by JB Big Fan — May 18, 2006 @ 6:06 pm

  2. Congratulations on your nomination Steve – you deserve it! Great interview!

    Comment by JC — May 19, 2006 @ 11:47 am

  3. Steve is really JERSEY BOYS’ secret weapon. Very proud of his nomination!!

    Comment by John Lloyd Young — May 19, 2006 @ 11:50 am

  4. [...] For more information on Steve, check out the JB Blog interview with him from earlier this year. [...]

    Pingback by Jersey Boys Blog » Happy Birthday to Steve Orich! — October 20, 2006 @ 12:24 pm

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