Steve Orich on Finale, Jersey Boys, and the Theater

Steve Orich spent his formative years playing piano in the theater. From summer stock, to musical director of shows at Stony Brook University, to a national tour of Annie, an international tour of Godspell, to playing in the pits of Broadway shows. As most musicians must, Steve wore a wide variety of hats, but it was always music and always theater.

In college he began writing charts and over the years more and more opportunities arose where he’d be called upon to arrange and copy as well. He was able to hone his arranging skills by studying with Don Sebesky, where, for a wonderful example, each student would write a sax quintet, and Mel Lewis’ sax section would come in and play it live.

After years of playing eight performances a week for several shows on Broadway, Steve began to suspect he’d prefer to move away from performing. In 1985, he took an AFI seminar on film composing, and decided to move to L. A. In time, he became busy composing for sitcoms, documentaries, movies of the week, game shows, animation and more.

One day he got a call to orchestrate a little musical the La Jolla Playhouse was mounting. Even though it was on a small budget (in part because it would only run five weeks), Steve decided to “keep one finger in the theater” and do it.

The little musical told the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ rise to fame, and it eventually became Jersey Boys. Of course this “little” musical ended up running much longer than five weeks, and opened on Broadway a year later, where Steve received a Tony nomination for his orchestrations. The show eventually won four Tonys (including Best Musical), a Grammy (for Best Show Album), and many other awards. With as many as seven simultaneous companies around the world, (New York, London, Chicago, Las Vegas, Toronto, Melbourne, and a U. S. tour), there have been weeks where Jersey Boys has been seen by over 100,000 people! The Grammy-winning album recently went Platinum.

Did I mention that all the music in the show and on the album was orchestrated and copied with Finale?

I spoke to Steve about Jersey Boys and his use of Finale.

Scott Yoho: I just read a great article from the Washington Examiner about your Jersey Boys success, and was intrigued not only by the show’s history, but also how the show’s success has allowed you to re-orchestrate the music numerous times for a wide variety of instrumentations.

Steve Orich: It’s a real rarity. Normally, you write the show, record the album and you’re done. But I’ve had opportunities to write arrangements for the Emmys, the Tonys (three times), Letterman, Leno, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, even the National Symphony; all those were additional opportunities to do some of the same songs in a different way with a different ensemble.

SY: And an opportunity for us to link to the YouTube video of that National Symphony piece. Let’s talk about your use of music software. Where did you start?

SO: When I studied with Don Sebesky, I wrote by hand. You have a piece of paper and a pencil, and you have a physical relationship with them.

After that, I tried several music notation programs, including Encore and Overture. I also worked with Cakewalk from DOS 1.0 on. It wasn’t a notation program per se, but I used to print out Cakewalk’s rudimentary score, mark the articulations, phrasing and dynamics by hand, then I would send that off to a copyist along with a MIDI file.

I came upon Finale around ten or twelve years ago, and it felt like the answer to all my problems. Besides offering the ability to enter notes and make it look like a professional, complete score, I could extract the parts. In the theatre, there are a lot of orchestration jobs where you do your own copying, so to be able to orchestrate and copy by myself on my own computer was a remarkable thing. Also, using audio playback is a great proofreading tool, particularly when I’m doing larger scores.

Then things changed dramatically with the evolution of Human Playback and the Garritan sounds. Now, I can add a crescendo, accent, or articulation and hear it played back.

Creating a MIDI demo and an instrumental chart are two very different things: It has to be optimized for one or the other. With Finale, I can create a score the way I want the musicians to see it, and I can play it back. Even if it’s not a recordable representation, it’s a decent version where I can say, oh yes, that’s a good balance, or an accent here might be better, or a staccato there – I get immediate audio feedback.

When I did Jersey Boys at the La Jolla Playhouse, the very first production, I was not just the orchestrator, but also the copyist and synth programmer. To be able to orchestrate and create the copied parts simultaneously was invaluable.

Finale is really a wonderful program. I live inside there every single day.

SY: I’m curious how Linked Parts affected your workflow.

SO: Oh, my gosh. That was the second major thing in Finale that changed everything I did. Before that, I’d create the parts, then with the inevitable changes, I’d be constantly re-extracting. Today, when there’s a change in the part, that change is automatically made in the score.

You know with a lot of orchestration jobs, it’s a one-shot deal. For instance when you’re recording, the players make changes on the stand, you finish, and then you’re done. The parts get thrown in the trash.

In a theatrical performance of a show where the same music is being performed eight times a week, in multiple companies around the world as Jersey Boys has done, it needs to be refined and done exactly the same way every time. Sometimes a conductor might make a change in someone’s part, whether it’s an articulation or a voicing, changing an octave because of something that’s going on onstage, or an actual cut in the piece. We do occasionally have to change things. When that happens, I don’t need to work from a score. I make a change in the Linked Part in Finale, and the score reflects it.

SY: In the past would you have taken the time to update the score as well, or would you have just changed the parts and found the score was out-of-sync?

SO: I wouldn’t have done either, I would have paid something else to do it! It’s much too time consuming. Linked Parts have been fantastic – especially in a process that’s always in flux, that’s always changing and being modified.

SY: Earlier I mentioned an article about you in the Washington Examiner. I thought it told a great story, where you’d gotten to where you weren’t doing much theater work anymore, and then wham! It sort of suggests that great things do happen when you least suspect them.

SO: Yes, it often happens that way. Also, sometimes your first love comes back to you. When I was growing up, my only association with music was theater. The other stuff came later. It was almost like the theater always came easily to me so I wanted to work a little harder elsewhere. Then I realized that if you’re good at it, do it. It really made a huge difference in every aspect of my life to coming back to this.

You know what else is cool? When a chart is good, it works. I have been to Jersey Boys openings around the world. When I hear a brand new band of completely different musicians playing the score, and it sounds exactly as I intended, that’s a real rush. It’s clear that they know how to interpret what I wrote and they’re all hearing it the same way and creating it that way; they got it! 

SY: You know you’ve been successful at communicating.

SO: Exactly – and how often can we say that in life?

SY: Amen.

SO: And that’s what Finale is about. First of all communicating what exists in your head to the computer or the page, and then communicating that to the musicians and the audience.

I’d like to thank Steve for taking the time to share his perspective with us. Learn more about Steve’s work at and let us know what you’re up to by clicking on “Comments” below.

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