Musical Theater

It started with a text message from an old bandmate....

Rose Briones, who was the fiddle player in the Tony Corrales Band dropped me a line to see if I would be interested in playing drums for a musical theater production that she was going to take part in. I gave it a quick thought and agreed to do it as I thought it would be a nice change from the club scene. That's when I also realized how long it had been since I had been in a musical. That would be my sophomore year of high school when I played drums for Godspell. It was actually a lot of fun because my parents loved the music so I heard it quite a bit growing up. I did like the songs so I looked forward to the opportunity.  

That took me back to some pleasant memories. Once the actors were ready they brought the musicians in and we began rehearsing the play. It was a lot of work and was a big success because we worked as a team. Aside from that I also got to know a number of students that I didn't know that well and grew even closer to those I had been friends with. It was one of my favorite memories from high school. 

Now I'm sitting here resting after the first weekend run of shows with Tick, Tick, Boom feeling a number of emotions and lessons that I have learned from the last several months working in the world of musical theater. 

Bright Star 

My participation in this production officially began when I received a phone call from music director Zach Wetzel. He is a very positive person with a deep passion for music and theater and was excited to have me as a part of the production. Zach's enthusiasm was infectious so I was really excited about working with him. I then went down to the theater to get my copy of the score and then gave the music a listen on YouTube. I loved what I heard as it had a Bluegrass feel to it and being someone that performs in the country music scene meant that I was ready to do this. 

Tech rehearsals began with a bang. I arrived at the Arts Express Theatre and was immediately greeted by so many great people. It was also great to see Rose again as I was excited to perform with her for the first time in a couple of years. I then met some other great musicians that I immediately clicked with as well as the cast who were phenomenal performers. The songs sounded even better than the recordings as the performers were amazing singers. Once we ran the actual play I got a glimpse of the true talent of these performers so my excitement grew with each rehearsal.  

Honestly, it was a bit of a challenge for me. In looking at my score I realized that I would not be using a traditional drum set. I did have a bass drum, snare drum & hi-hat for those train beats as well as a crash cymbal for accents and rolls. But, I had to make use of a tambourine, djembe, woodblock, hand cymbals and many other gadgets. Meanwhile, I was playing all of these things while reading my charts during each song. It would have been good to memorize the music but the number of songs and changes in each song kept me on my toes. All of this was good for me as it stretched my abilities in a different way. In the past, I would read charts while I performed on the drum set. That was all well and good because my body knows where all of the pieces without looking. Now I am constantly changing sticks or grabbing other sound sources that were placed to my left on the percussion table, all while the flow of the play continued to move. 

Once the show started I had a blast. The story line was filled with laughs and clever lines while also taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster. The biggest thing I got from the story was that true love and forgiveness are in fact possible. The music for the show was absolutely beautiful and a lot of fun to play. The actors were solid with each performance with them locking in more and more with the musicians with each passing show. The audiences were amazing and helped provide the mood for each show. Therefore, each show was a unique experience. 

It was also exhausting at times but the results at the end of each show made it worthwhile. Again, there was a team effort to make this whole thing work so it was really a privilege to work in a such a professional atmosphere. Aside from that, I was really moved by the level of gratitude both from the actors as well as the crew.

The end of the show was a bittersweet experience. It was nice to know that the run would not last forever due to the demanding schedule but it was still hard to know that it was coming to an end. It was yet another reminder of how meaningful the arts can be when we are blessed to work with not only talented but professionally minded people. 

Always Patsy Cline 

The connections I made during Bright Star brought me back to the Arts Express Theatre a couple of months later. I was thrilled to be working again with some familiar faces that were both in the music group as well as onstage. The rehearsals and pre-show preparation was a little easier as I now knew what to expect. 

The music was all of Patsy's classics so again, my country background had prepared me for the gig. However, this time we had a new director and music director so again, the key was to be flexible and do what was needed to make sure this team effort would go well. Each show was a lot of fun with the highlight being the audience participation that was encouraged since it was a part of the show. However, you can also see how many in the audience were big Patsy Cline fans so they were ready to come and have a great time. It was great the see the people moving to the rhythms while we played their favorite songs along with the cheers that came at the end of each song. 

This production seemed to fly by with a lot of that being because of the fun we had. Aside from the show being a blast we had so many laughs offstage as everyone was just happy to be there. There was just a great vibe overall so it was more than a pleasure to be a part of this production. 

The story hit me in two ways. First, it reminded me of what it means to have a best friend. Having lost my best friend to COVID-19 yes, it gave me another chance to cherish the memories while also feeling the ways he is still with me. Also, it showed the power of music and how it can really impact the life of a fan. That was most apparent in the Louise character from the play along with the audience members who were there to not only see a play but to celebrate the music of Patsy Cline.  

There was also something I learned during this production as far as why I love working in musical theater. As one of the musicians said, musical theater features all of the arts: music, acting, visual art, fashion, get the point. It is truly a museum of art. 

Tick, Tick, Boom

When I agreed to do Bright Star Zach also took the time to recruit me to be a part of another production that he had agreed to do with another theater company. This time it would be with the Winding Road Theatre Company at the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art in downtown Tucson.  While this venue is a bit smaller than the Arts Express Theatre the professional attitude, sense of teamwork and enthusiasm was comparable to what I had experienced in previous productions.  

The music was much different this time as it was Modern Rock with some beautiful ballads that worked well with the story line. The size of the venue made it challenging at times for the musicians to play at the right volume while also having the energy needed to support the singers. I was up to the challenge and did all that I could to make sure that my playing was both dynamic as well as energetic as there were numerous up tempo numbers.

With the exception of Zach I would be working with all new musicians and actors. Again, there was a sense of adjustment but we made it work since everyone wanted to deliver the best performance possible. Once we got going I was more than excited for our performances as the story is both funny, deeply reflective on the realities of life.  

The opening of the show was amazing. The audience loved the show and were generous enough to leave their reviews for all of us to see. It also received some critical acclaim from well respected people in the business, which made all of the work worthwhile. 

The story line was very personal with it being relatable to any artist who has ever struggled to perfect their craft. Meanwhile, the creative person still needs to maintain relationships in the middle of trying to figure out who they are as a person. It really made me question everything from defining true success to finding what truly makes us happy. On top of that, there is also the sense of how life requires us to make choices and accept responsibility for the choices that we make. 

It's live theater but it's an expression of real life. 

Working with Actors 

I must admit that I was curious to see how it would be to work with actors. After all, this is not high school where I was working with my classmates and friends. This was me going into a world that I really had not worked in before. 

Sure, you can argue that my contact with the actors was minimal since I came in during tech rehearsals, which means less than a week before the show starts. The actors had already worked out the parts of the play that did not have music behind it and would be in the dressing room before the show while the musicians come to to the show already dressed for the performance. Still, there were plenty of times to interact with them. 

So is it true that so many actors are totally full of themselves (um, in fairness there are a lot of musicians who are just as guilty)? Did I have to deal with diva attitudes while working on these productions (like the diva musicians I have worked with in the past)? Any artist or person that does anything in public for that matter could suffer from center of universe complex. But to answer that question, no, not at all. They are some of the nicest performers I have ever met in my life. Maybe it's a Tucson thing but if it is, I'll take it.  

One of the first things I noticed was how focused many of them were during rehearsals and performances. Considering all of the lines and staging they have to remember...yes, I get it. I have been known to get into laser focus mode when I am about to perform but this caused me to reflect and wonder if I am just as focused when I am ready to perform. Sure, I take performing seriously as I want to be at my best while also giving the audience a performance worth their time but still, I admired the focus of these actors. 

Second, we talk all the time about an actor having to get into character. Yes, I definitely saw that with each performer but the one thing I was amazed at was how vulnerable each actor had to be in order to play their onstage. From the emotional parts of the story to playing a character that does terrible things. From acting silly to get a laugh from the audience to making silly sounds that most of us would be embarrassed to do in public; all so they could portray the real life experiences that we have all dealt public in front of strangers. All I can say is: respect! 

I have always enjoyed art that I don't do myself. I can't draw but love visual art. I love different types of music that is played on instruments that I don't play. I love hearing great poems but haven't written a poem in years. I can't paint but love going to museums and art galleries. You get the point. While I do perform I am not a stage actor. But I will admit that I had fun delivering some lines that were given to the band members so I guess I can say that I now have professional acting experience. 😂 

However, in this case, while I am not an actor I get to work with them in this setting so it has given me a great appreciation for what they do. And it is truly an honor to add to their performance by providing the music that they need to express themselves and the emotions of the story for an audience. 

Lessons Learned  

For the past year I have worked on my craft and studied whatever I could in order to be a better drummer and to deepen my understanding of music in order to be a better songwriter. The musical theater world has also given me a lot to work with as well as more to work on. 

First, it reminded me how important it is to be a good reader. It's not enough to know what you're reading but to be able to follow charts written by someone else with an understanding of what is going on not only in the song but in the story being told. I have always been a good reader but I could see that I had to spend more time maintaining this skill. Therefore, not only did I pull out some books I have used in the past to practice reading but have also taken the time to start writing out more of my own music and drumming exercises in order to focus on what my ideas look like on paper. Yes, it does broaden the view of my own music the same way transcribing drum parts gave me a deeper understanding of another drummer's performance (maybe I should do those again).  

Second, it has caused me to be more aware of what goes on during a performance. As simple as that sounds it's more than say following the story. Yes, songs will pop up quicker than you think so I have to make sure that I am ready when it comes to what I am playing to making any equipment adjustments quickly and efficiently. That and I also have to be aware of the way the actors are performing during each performance while also reading the mood of the audience.

Third, I must do my part to convey the emotion of the story to the audience, regardless of how simple my part is. Some musicians talk about boring music, as if playing a lot of notes somehow makes the music better. No! Good music is good music. So, whether it is a cymbal roll during a powerful ballad or playing a hard groove while the cast dances onstage, I will do my part just as I do when I perform in a local band. The world of musical theater gave me a different take on this idea and I am grateful for this now wider view. 

Finally, when speaking of how vulnerable an actor is onstage it caused me to take a hard look at myself: do I perform with that same level of honesty? As far as I know, I do but this is certainly a worthy reminder. As a musician I know that it is wise for me to try and improve every day. However, there is a lot more than just how good you play your instrument. How do you express yourself with your instrument? That is another way to also improve as a performer. 


I have made a lot of connections, which I know will lead to more performances in the future. This little discovery has inspired me in so many ways, even when it comes to attending a musical or a traditional play as a member of the audience. Any type of art inspires me so this is only going to expand my horizons. 

It's nice to work in a professional atmosphere that has some hard deadlines. Everyone shows up ready to go and accepts their role on the team. That is the key to success from seeing how well we perform to handling the stress from all of the obstacles and challenges that come from being a part of such a production. 

These performances are time consuming and exhausting because there is always a need to be very meticulous. I have never made so many notes on my charts as I do in the world of musical theater. But, as we continue with our run of shows to the eventual end there is a sense of exhilaration that I have never felt before. Along with that, I am blessed to have met so many great actors and musicians who have welcomed me into their amazing world that I look forward to working in for many years to come. 

Now, I'm going to enjoy these few days off and then it's back to Tick, Tick, Boom as we prepare to finish off our last weekend. 

Desert Thunder at the Cabaret Theatre in Tucson, AZ

Carlos Solorzano 


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