It’s all About the Music for Picketwire’s Summer Production

When Picketwire Players of La Junta, Colorado open their summer musical on July 31st, the audience will truly be blown away by the sheer power and passion of the music that is “Les Miserables”. For the third year in a row, Josh Race assumes the duties of orchestral director and for the second consecutive year, he is also the vocal director. “Having an orchestra adds a whole new dimension to the musical experience,” said the play’s director, Tracey Salzbrenner. “We are so fortunate to have musicians with professional backgrounds. The cast and I are amazed by the sound coming from the pit.”

Orchestral director Josh Race in the pit as he discusses the score with the orchestra.

Photo by Susie Sarlo

Under Josh Race’s direction are: Sandy Malouff (keyboard), Ann Lopkoff (clarinet), Jacob Dittburner (trumpet), Aubrey Krengel and Alicia Millemon (French Horn), Larry Cook (trombone), Marie Mora Menges (bass), Steven Malouff (percussion), and Torrrey Davis (flute). In addition to Josh, there are three other current or former music educators as well as award-winning musicians from his concert band. He is grateful to the extra time Sandy Malouff has put in. “She is our backbone.”
This is Sandy’s sixth Picketwire musical, and she is especially happy to be sharing the experience with her son, Steven, the orchestra’s percussionist. When she and Steven watched “Les Miserables”, they both thought it would be “awesome to play in the orchestra, and now we are.”

For Josh Race, it’s a different experience all together. He divides his time between his new job as the vocal and orchestral director for Pueblo County High School and Picketwire, but he is happy that he is a part of this wonderful production. “The cast and the musicians are working so hard,” commented Josh. “In addition to three or four hours of play practice a night, they go home and practice their parts for another few hours. These are people dedicated to making “Les Miserables” a wonderful experience for the audience.”

Director Salzbrenner agrees. “This has truly been an occasion of people coming together who are passionate about this music. And the orchestra is truly devoted. They play for nearly three hours straight every night.” Josh said they sit down before anyone comes onto the stage and play the first note. They do not stop until the last note is completed. Sandy has been practicing at home for three hours without stopping so she can train her brain to concentrate and focus for that amount of time without taking any breaks.

We did ask the musical director the difference between playing a concert and playing for musical theatre. “Musical theatre gives music a face. The audience can visually see what is going on with the music. It is more challenging, but very rewarding.” Josh said he balances his responsibility between the orchestra and the actors easily. “I feed off the vocalists. The more they sing, the more that they give emotionally, the better I want to conduct to match their emotion and passion.” The orchestra matches the passion as well.

Sandy Malouff agrees. “Since the music is right there, it helps the audience become more immersed into the story. It also allows the actors to be able to express themselves more because with live music you can change things.”

Josh and the orchestra are excited about doing this musical because it is a “once in a lifetime experience. The power of the music triggers all human senses. Nothing can touch your visual, auditory or sensory emotions like this music can.”

This summer’s musical has been a good collaboration between the musicians and the actors. It is like a family that works hard together and takes the responsibility for doing the best possible creative experience they can for the audience. Josh said he is sometimes frustrated by people outside of the Valley who do not put much stock in the talent here. “This cast and orchestra are full of talent at a level that rivals most professionals. You will not be disappointed. Come see the play. In fact, come see it twice.”