Sole Man: Mike Visceglia in the Pit of "Kinky Boots"

December 3, 2013
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Much like Kinky Boots’ arrival on Broadway— adapted from the 2005 film of the same name, and infused with an original score by rock queen Cyndi Lauper—Mike Visceglia didn’t travel the traditional route to the Great White Way. The 40-year New York vet, best known for his bottom with Suzanne Vega (that’s his subhook on “Luka”), John Cale, Jonatha Brooke, Marshall Crenshaw, Curtis Steigers, and the Turtles, is stepping into his first full-time pit role, courtesy of a veteran Broadway guitarist friend’s recommendation. The production’s alternative assemblage has resulted in a perfect fit with capacity crowds, leading to six 2013 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score. We slipped beneath the stage of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street to watch Visceglia navigate numerous musical styles over the course of the show’s two acts.

What was your interaction with Cyndi Lauper?

Cyndi was there for pretty much every rehearsal and preview. It was her mission that we play her music authentically, and as close to the intended styles—which include disco, soul/R&B, glam rock, ’80s rock, and moody electronica—as possible. She has a brilliant intuition and had all the right references. For the soul tunes I was trying to channel Duck Dunn; for glam rock, Queen and David Bowie. When I’m playing a style, I totally commit to it and try to immerse myself in the feel. I think about the way the great recordings of that genre sound. Restraint, bass tone, note length, phrasing, and articulation are the keys to staying true to the music.

Did you have a role in finalizing the bass book?

I was given the freedom to add my personality to the book by our conductor, Brian Usifer. With that in mind, I moved around a few of the registers and added some of my interpretations and expressions to the book, without veering far from the written notes and intent of arranger/orchestrator Stephen Oremus.

How would you describe your rhythm section approach?

We have a unique situation in the Kinky Boots pit. We’re a 13-piece orchestra, but only 12 of us are in the pit. Sammy Merendino, our drummer, is on the 5th floor at the back of the theater, in a room by himself. Neither I, nor the band has any visual contact with him, only audio. My job is to keep the groove with Sammy and help drive the band. Since I’ve known him for years, I can visualize Sammy playing as if he were in the room with me. It’s a very dynamic show, so I want to move with him—be strong and assertive when called for, and quiet and plaintive when it’s appropriate. This conveys the proper emotions in the proper places, which is what all music should do.

As a veteran touring and recording musician, what have you found to be the main challenge of a Broadway gig?

Playing eight shows a week and bringing energy and a certain degree of freshness to each and every performance. Fortunately, the quality of the music and the musicians inspires me to stay on point. Also, I can always improve my playing, so I’ll concentrate on perfecting my time and my interpretation of the nuances to better myself as the months go on. Whenever I’m feeling tired, I think of the actors onstage and what they do night after night, and I’m reinvigorated because they have the really tough job!

INFO

LISTEN

Kinky Boots: Original Broadway Cast [Masterworks, 2013]; Suzanne Vega, Close- Up, Vol’s 1-4 [Cooking Vinyl, 2010–12]; Rick Moranis, My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs [Warner Bros., 2013]; Mike Visceglia and Fiona McBain, Then There Were Two [Mood Swing, 2007]

EQUIP

Basses Carvin 5-string SB5000 and fretless BB5 5-string
Strings D’Addario EPS170-5SL XL Pro- Steels (.045–.130)
DI Radial J48 Active Direct Box
Pedalboard Boss LS-2 Line Selector, Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner, Boss CEB-3 Bass Chorus
Monitoring Aviom A-16II Personal Mixer; Audio- Technica ATH-M45 Studio Headphones
Cables Planet Waves

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