Music director and musicologist Jay Dias

Q&A: Jay Dias

Lyric Stage's music director talks about reconstructing the original orchestrations for Gypsy.

published Monday, September 12, 2011

What comes into mind when you hear the word "musicologist?" Is it some dusty academic reconstructing a Monteverdi opera score? Perhaps, someone arguing about the placement of a dynamic marking in a Mozart symphony? It's all that, and more.

Musicologists are the scholars that provide a great benefit to audiences worldwide by going way back to the scraps of original materials that time has not already erased, to bring a modern audience something close to what the composer originally intended. These same efforts are also needed for the reconstruction of relatively more recent piece, like the half-century-old musical Gypsy.

Dias, in his dual roles of music director and musical researcher for Irving's Lyric Stage, is currently presenting his newly restored version of the iconic musical, which runs through Sept. 18 at the Irving Arts Center's Carpenter Hall. It features a full 39-piece orchestra. Swiss musical theater performer Sue Mathys plays Mama Rose (here's our interview with her).

The original production had an all-star team: Music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Arthur Laurents, with Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler's original orchestrations—not to mention Ethel Merman creating the role of Rose.

Enter Dias, long championed by Lyric Stage's founding producer Steven Jones. Dias has been the musical energy behind Lyric's reconstructed full-orchestra revivals of other big shows, including the premiere of the 1927 Show Boat in concert, The King and I, and others.

Theater Jones talked to Dias about the experience of revisiting the original Gypsy score.


TheaterJones: Why Gypsy?

Jay Dias: For many, it's the Holy Grail of musicals, and is often on the top of everybody's "best of the best" list. It has always been a goal of mine to see a production in all its original glory. That means with the complete original script, the original Jerome Robbins choreography, and the original orchestrations.


How are they different?

For the original production of Gypsy, the show's orchestrators Sid Ramin and Robert Ginzler decided to embrace the same string section configuration they had just used when collaborating with Bernstein on the orchestrations for West Side Story—which meant replacing a traditional orchestra's viola section with cellos.


How did the violas get back in the score?

In an era when theater house musicians were paid whether they played or not, after the initial Broadway run of Gypsy the score's orchestration was adjusted to include the previously cut violas. Orchestrators were hired to adapt the original to use a more common viola-inclusive string section.


Where did they get the notes to go to the viola?

For the most part, they took the upper cello lines to create the viola parts. But there is a difference in timbre of a cello playing in the upper register as opposed to a viola playing mid range, and the emotional associations of the original string configuration was integral to the story telling of the show. For example, the introduction to the second act reprise of the ballad "Small World" is scored for cello quartet, and adds great depth and poignancy to this sensitive moment in the story.


Photo: Robert Hart

What else did they do to the score?


They made adjustments for the doubling duties of the reeds such as offering clarinets to play a flute lines, eliminated the harp part and made other modifications and in so doing created many copying errors in all the parts.


So, where did you start to reconstruct the original?

Back at the source. Margaret Styne, composer Jule Styne's widow and head of Jule Styne Enterprises along with her colleagues were kind enough to make introductions to Sid Ramin, and through their generosity, they made available to me all the original materials including Sid's partiturs which also aided in reconstructing the harp part, pit parts from the first production, a pristine piano score presented to the composer as an opening night gift from his head copyist, an audio recording of Ethel Merman's final performance as Mama Rose, etc.


Wow. I would love to hear that sometime. What else?

To everyone's delight, I discovered a guitar part that was written for the original production but never saw the light of day. We're thrilled to add this to the restoration.


So, this performance will be an event as well as a show. It is the first time that the original orchestrations will be heard since the first Broadway production?

Yes. And Lyric Stage audiences will be the first to hear it. The estate of Jule Styne will use the materials of Lyric Stage's production to create a critical edition of the score, and this restored version is planned to eventually be offered by Tams Witmark as an option to the presently available orchestration.


What other treats await us?

In the original, the back stage burlesque house scenes were underscored at times with a pre-recorded off stage band. Joseph Weiss, General Manager of Jule Styne Enterprises, found the actual LP that was used in the original 1959 production. Lyric Stage will use this pre-recorded incidental music which contains musical motives that are heard in the raucous music of the "Overture", and in the iconic "Rose's Turn."


Another first?

Absolutely. No one has heard it since the original production closed. Thanks For Reading


Martha Stamp writes:
Monday, September 12 at 7:34PM

So nice to see you doing so well Jay. I think you not only did work at Theatre By the Sea but also at the Granite Theatre in Westerly. Am I right. I look forward to all this info from all the past and this came via Fred Barton. Keep them coming Fred. I think you will remember me Jay. Box Office Manager and staff from 1979-1988. I am on Facebook.

Christine Talbott Sutin writes:
Tuesday, September 13 at 8:50AM

This is fantastic, Jay!!! Wish I could see-or at least, hear-this production. In this world of virtual orchestras and reduced theater pit personnel,it warms my heart to see that you have been bringing back the Sound of Classic Broadway as it was always meant to be.

Robert Terrio writes:
Wednesday, September 14 at 3:41PM

Brilliant Jay! Congratulations on this achievement! Bob

Scott Livingstone writes:
Wednesday, September 14 at 11:43PM

Bravo Jay! Wish I could be there to enjoy the show, congratulations! All the best, "Scotty"

Jean Aldrich-Jones writes:
Sunday, September 18 at 2:08PM

Congratulations Jay! What a wonderful accomplishment!!

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Q&A: Jay Dias
Lyric Stage's music director talks about reconstructing the original orchestrations for Gypsy.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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