In the room where it happens

By Shelby Brooks

A young Pearcedale-born and bred drummer has landed her dream gig playing in Melbourne’s production of Hamilton: An American Musical.

Brooke Custerson was just a young girl when her father taught her how to hold drum sticks for the first time.

“Drumming is in my family. My dad, older brother and grandfather all played. Dad taught us when we were young just for fun,” Brooke said.

Back then, the Pearcedale girl, who attended the local primary school and later Elizabeth Murdoch College in Langwarrin, had no idea that she would one day be the drummer for the biggest musical to hit Australia’s shores.

She started off playing for local amateur musical productions before finding success as a professional musician.

“I enjoy musical theatre because it transports you to a magical place for a few hours. There’s something special about seeing the magic created live, in front of your eyes,“ Brooke said.

“I love playing musical theatre shows because of the challenge of playing the same music every night, and also the friendships formed from performing with the same people for an extended period of time.

“I enjoy a lot of musicals but two that I’ve enjoyed playing and watching are Mary Poppins and Hairspray. I also loved seeing Legally Blonde and would love to play it one day!“

Hamilton: An American Musical is a sung-and-rapped-through musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, telling the story of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.

The critically acclaimed musical has received numerous international awards and has a cult-like following from theatre lovers since it opened on Broadway in 2015.

Hamilton was “100 per cent” a dream gig for Brooke, which she began playing for when it opened in Melbourne at Her Majesty’s Theatre earlier this year.

“Professional theatre has been a dream of mine for about eight years and it’s such an honour to be involved in such a groundbreaking show for my first one,” she said.

“The biggest audience I’ve played to as a professional would be the Sidney Myer Music Bowl show with Em Rusciano last year which had over 3000 people in attendance- a bucket list venue. In high school, I performed at Hisense Arena for the State Schools Spectacular which had 10000 people in attendance.

“But Hamilton is definitely a career highlight.“

Sitting in the orchestra pit every night, Brooke’s role is more than just providing the backbone of the musical score for the actors on stage.

“The Hamilton score is so well written with each musician having a unique and important role to play,” Brooke explained.

“It’s a groove-based show so the challenge is to settle into the music from the first downbeat. The percussion book specifically is the first book of its kind – it’s more of a second drum book, covering all the electronic drum parts, mixed in with some keyboard parts and other more basic percussion.

“The chair is labelled the ‘hot seat’ because the percussionist is also responsible for triggering the click tracks that all departments (lighting, sound, band, etc) align with to keep the show tight and consistent show to show.”

She has to stay physically strong and mentally sharp each performance, something that can be a challenge when performing the rigorous score multiple nights a week.

“Performing the same songs has its challenges as you’ve got to be on you’re a-game every night, however I find this easier than learning new material all the time for freelance gigs,” Brooke said.

“My favourite song in the show always changes but at the moment it is Right Hand Man. The groove is just so deep in this one and it has some military snare parts which are fun to play.”

As a 25 year old woman, Brooke is aware that she is breaking the outdated stereotype that percussion instrumentalists are generally men.

“I’d absolutely love to see more young girls playing drums and percussion and if I can be an inspiration to them then that’s a bonus,” she said.