I’m teaching a musical theatre workshop this week and we are exploring songs from shows that are currently running on Broadway. From the classic, legit musical theatre in the revival of She Loves Me to the pop stylings of Sara Bareilles in Waitress to rap in Hamilton, there are a wide range of vocal styles and abilities featured on Broadway right now.
We focused on three categories of Broadway musicals: new (in the last five seasons), revivals, and long-running hits. New musicals could be completely original works like Hamilton (the 2016 Best Musical Tony Award winner) and Something Rotten!, but could also include shows based on movies (School of Rock), books (Tuck Everlasting), or featuring music by a particular songwriter (On Your Feet). Even shows that flopped this season have fantastic songs so I think it’s always worth a listen to the cast recording.
Musical theatre singers are true vocal athletes that must have versatility, musicality, and strong acting chops. It is important to develop healthy vocal technique while strengthening your voice and building your endurance. Working on dynamics, range, musical style, acting the song, and challenging yourself as a performer through both repertoire and vocalises are all essential ingredients to getting yourself Broadway ready.
Here is a video that highlights two of the songs we’ve been working on this week:
Julie at my annual recital
Kendall at my annual recital
When you’re studying voice, it is important to seek out performance opportunities. This could be singing in a community or school choir, performing at your studio’s annual recital, or auditioning at a professional level. I have so many talented students that get extremely nervous when performing and I want to offer solutions for these singers that will help them to find enjoyment when singing in public, especially when they are soloists.
Preparation is key! My first piece of advice is to make sure that you are completely prepared for the performance. You should have your music memorized (go over those lyrics daily!), be entirely comfortable with the musicality of the piece from notes and rhythms to dynamics and phrasing, and fully understand the lyrics/story so that you can easily incorporate facial expression and vocal inflection. The day of the performance is not the time to be going over those lyrics in your head, scared that you will not remember what comes next. At this point, you should be focusing on storytelling through your song.
Go over those vocal warmups! Every vocalist should spend time warming up their voice whenever they have to sing for a performance or an audition. Some singers need a longer warm-up, while others are able to spend 5 to 10 minutes on vocalises and feel prepared. Use the same warmups that you do in voice lessons. In fact, feel free to record a voice lesson one day so that you have these exercises on your phone or other recording device. Humming, arpeggios, lip trills, and sirens are all helpful in feeling more secure in your voice and thus combatting nervousness. I would also suggest 2 minutes of breathing exercises simply to ground yourself, relax, and get a nice full breath.
Finally, discover the joy of performance and have a little fun! This is so much easier said than done, but singing in public should not be the equivalent of going to the dentist. Students generally choose to take singing lessons and commit to performances because they love to sing (it feels good and it makes them happy even if they’re just singing to the radio). I want my students to be able to share their love of singing with others and the way to do this is to seek out opportunities to perform. The audience is not there to critique your technique or have a watchful eye in case you make a mistake. The audience is there to enjoy the show and applaud wonderful work!
I am starting a monthly series devoted to Broadway Playbills I have collected over the years. Once a month, I will post a photo of a specific Playbill and talk about my experience at the show and memories that come to life just by looking at my Playbill.
I’m starting this series with the most recent Broadway musical that I saw on May 6, 2016: Waitress. This was my first trip back to New York City since having my twins (who are almost 18 months) and it felt good to be back. We checked into our hotel on the UWS later than expected and met up with my friend, voice student, and babysitter for the evening, Annie. We all grabbed dinner at Barley & Grain before tucking my two little boys into bed for the night. Running a little late, we grabbed a cab to midtown around 7:30 and made it the Waitress box office at 7:55 for the 8:00 show. We were lucky to snag the last two orchestra seats for this performance.
For those of you that don’t already know this, the entire theatre smells like apple pie specifically for this show! Featuring music by Sara Bareilles and starring Jessie Mueller, it was a treat to be at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre this Friday night. Waitress was the perfect show to see as a woman, a mother, and a storyteller. I laughed, I cried, I remembered what it felt like the moment I heard my baby cry for the first time and how my life changed in the best possible ways.
After the show, my husband and I walked up to 52nd Street to our favorite little wine and cheese cafe, Casellula, to cap off the evening. Walking the streets of midtown Manhattan that night was a breath of fresh air and reminded me why NYC will always hold a piece of my heart.