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The Music, The Movement, The Message
Although many members of the cast were intimately familiar with the material, Columbus led them through an intensive pre-production rehearsal period in order to help them learn the new arrangements and the demands of adapting their performances to the screen. He was aided by music producer Rob Cavallo and with vocal conductor Tim Weil (who had worked closely with Jonathan Larson on the play as music supervisor).

Columbus knew from the start that he wanted the soundtrack to have a harder edge than the play's arrangements — a genuine rock and roll core. Music producer Rob Cavallo began working in this direction with five skilled rock musicians on drums, bass, two guitars and a keyboard, and recorded the new arrangements at El Dorado Studios in Los Angeles.

"They tracked the music like a rock band, not like one would do a traditional score,” comments Barnathan. "Cavallo got this band in a room and they just dug these songs out until they really rocked, which was very exciting for Chris since he wanted the music to have an authentic sound.”

"Creative people bring creativity to a process no matter where it is in the development process,” says Weil, who began working with Jonathan Larson as the audition pianist, but was asked to stay on as music director of the play. "Rob's work has always been very inspiring,” he continues. "These guys who played the music are fantastic L.A. studio musicians, real veterans who also brought their own creativity to it -- filtered through Rob's sensibility as a producer. It was like a breath of fresh air, a whole different take on the material that's unbelievably great.”

While the music was being recorded in Los Angeles, Tim Weil was working with the cast members in San Francisco, preparing them to record the vocals. "There were things Tim had always wanted to alter in the music, and others he was sure he wanted to remain exactly the same — things that Jonathan had been very adamant about,” comments Thoms. "Tim was instrumental in keeping the magic of all the music but expanding it a little bit and doing some experimentation.”

The recorded music was brought to northern California where the cast added the vocal tracks at Skywalker Sound. This process took 28 days, during which time, each actor worked diligently with Weil.

"At Skywalker, where we recorded the voices,” says Barnathan, "everyone was excited and nervous — especially the six cast members who had done the show 10 years earlier. For them it was like they were coming back to a place they never expected to return to.”

The soundtrack, which was finished prior to the commencement of principal photography (with the exception of strings and horns, which were added later), became a vital part of each scene. The actors sang and/or lip-synced to the prerecorded music as they added dance elements to their performances, which were created and designed by veteran choreographer, Keith Young.

"I began the process by going to New York and seeing the show,” says Young. "In fact, I went back several times so I could get all I could from the play and could correctly interpret what Larson had created and attempt to capture the show's essence. Working with a skeleton crew of eight dancers, I worked out each dance and showed it to Chris to use as a point of departure in our conversations. That allowed us to explore and grow from there.”

In approaching the design of each dance, Young would ask himself certain essential questions: "Is this movement telling the story? Can someone watch this with no music, no lyrics, no principals and still get the story? Until the answer was yes, I kept striving to make that happen.”

To accentuate the emotional force of the "Tango Maureen” number, for instance, Young had to design a dance that would not only be appropriate for the charact

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