One had a knee replacement. The other had a kid. They both don’t sleep well. Despite that, Shannon Ford and Joshua Mark Samuels come to Beetlejuice the Musical eight shows a week to create mayhem for the titular demon.
For each poster in their drum rooms, there’s a different musical style in the show. The opener goes from two bars of Mr. Rogers to two bars of death metal. Separated by a window, these vets effortlessly handle the pressure of playing for some of Broadway’s most talented singers, and have a blast beat doing it.
FORD (Drums): During the rehearsal process there was a lot of “Can you cover that cymbal roll on this measure?” It’s a lot of tossing instruments back and forth, because it’s such a busy book that during rehearsal we had to have a little conference at least two or three times an hour.
SAMUELS (Percussion): And then being in here there’s a wonderful ability to be able to really groove and look at each other. I think in a lot of pits, the drummer and percussionist are separate or they can’t see each other. I think having this window here really allows us to blend very well.
FORD: It’s original music by Eddie Perfect and orchestrations by our musical director Kris Kukul. The music itself reminds me of old Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoons. Just playing the score paints a picture of the Beetlejuice world and the manic kind of fast comedy.
SAMUELS: It was very fun because we got to experiment with all these different sounds. We would play something and maybe I would say, “Kris, I see what you’re going for; let’s try this.” It would be wacky and kooky and we both had bags and bags of toys and cymbals and gongs, and we would try to add to the kookiness.
FORD: One way I approach it is dynamically. It’s a study in contrasts. I really lean into the death metal stuff, and then pull back for Mr. Rogers land. “Oh, now we’re in ska land. Ok.” So different dynamic levels was my main approach to the thing.
SAMUELS: I think we walk a fine line between trying to stay true to a genre that we’re playing, and then also what needs to be done onstage. Is this a comedy part? Shannon’s having to lay down a salsa groove but he’s having to do fifteen-thousand dance hits, which is very difficult. Sometimes you play on one and three if that’s what’s needed on stage.
Author’s Note: The show first ran out of town in Washington D.C., and that salsa number was originally a boy band number. They changed it for Broadway.
SAMUELS: Thanks, he’s awesome! I can’t speak complete sentences right now because I’m exhausted. My wife is very supportive. You’ll learn if you ever move to New York City or if you have a girlfriend or you’re married, you’re never gonna be able to practice in your space. But I have a studio in Midtown as well where I practice. It’s with a bunch of other musicians.
FORD: In mid-December I had a total knee replacement for my right knee. I had to slowly relearn to play the bass drum again, because after surgery my shin calf muscles and everything were completely immovable. So I had to sit in my apartment with a practice bass drum pad and a single pedal and just try to get through a three minute song playing quarter notes.
Fortunately, the rehearsal process in most shows is playing for maybe 30 seconds and waiting for 30 minutes. I mean, you play a section of a song and then they’ll choreograph it or stage it or do scene work and you’re just sitting there. And it was a good thing for me because it allowed me to ease back into playing.
SAMUELS: Shannon’s actually being very modest. He never complained once, and even with his knee surgery I’ve never heard somebody use his right foot so incredibly well. It’s perfect.
FORD: It was after the Percocet!
Almost every song is a blast to play. “The Whole Being Dead Thing” is the first full tune in the show. Here’s that whole death metal to Mr. Rogers thing. A lot of the drumming is in a ska-like style, with some swing and Klezmer thrown in. The key isn’t to just play the different sections, but to seamlessly switch between styles.
Danny Gatton (Friend and bandmate)
David Samuels (Uncle)
Vera Daehlin (Former teacher)
Jon Fishman (Phish)
Vic Firth Sticks
Sabian Cymbals (Endorsement)
Vic Firth Sticks (Endorsement)
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