I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to see the current production of Candide at the Kennedy Center Opera House. My good friend has season tickets for opening night at the opera and invited me to join her for this show. I will admit upfront that I am not very familiar with Candide except for the soprano solo, “Glitter and Be Gay”, and knowing that it is a Leonard Bernstein piece. I do know that Candide has been done at opera houses around the world as well as with musical theatre or light opera companies. The Kennedy Center’s casting reflected this with both renowned opera and Broadway performers.
The two main vocal components I want students to focus on are:
Diction: There are a lot of fast moving lyrics throughout the score for Candide and it’s of utmost importance that I can understand the storyline. The Washington National Opera uses the screen for most songs so you can read along the lyrics (as they do with all operas especially those not in English), but musical theatre companies will not have this so I believe that crisp and clear diction is paramount. We sometimes have vowel modifications based on vocal range and resonance, but these modifications should not change the word in a way that the listener cannot understand you. Practice speaking the lyric clearly and fast then sing the lyrics with special attention that you’re not getting sloppy with your diction.
Tone Quality: There is no doubt that a legit sound is used throughout Candide. I might emphasize open vowels, a relaxed throat, and low, open breath throughout the score. Sopranos will be head-dominant whereas all male roles have a classical chest-dominant sound. There are great pieces in this score that are reminiscent of classical musical theatre including Bernstein’s other works, Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Lerner & Loewe. It’s certainly advantageous for musical theatre performers to have a diverse skill set and study pieces from more classically based productions.
Think about what other shows might bridge the opera and musical theatre worlds. Perhaps The Merry Widow or Pirates of Penzance (both light operas). Find a song to sing from this genre and see how it challenges you vocally!
I finally tuned into the NBC annual live musical for 2016, Hairspray. I was teaching on the night of the actual broadcast (December 7th), but managed to DVR it and watch it on the eve of Christmas Eve. I will first say that I’ve seen Hairspray on Broadway three times as well as watched the original (non-musical) movie and the 2007 musical movie. I love the show for so many reasons: the amazing score and orchestrations, the pertinent social and historical themes, the high energy dancing! In any form, I always want to jump out of my seat to sing and dance along, which you can easily do in your living room wearing pajamas and slippers.
One notable thing about this live broadcast was their casting decision for Tracy Turnblad. Maddie Baillio was discovered at an open casting call in New York City that was attended by over 1,000 hopeful musical theatre performers.”You gotta think big to be big” is Wilbur’s line in Hairspray, but it is a testament to all Broadway hopefuls that get up at the crack of dawn, grab their audition book and heels, and head to midtown to audition for their next show. Maddie was joined by already established Broadway and film actors as well as pop stars and Disney sensations.
One huge shout out to Jennifer Hudson who was brilliant (as always) and owned the role of Motormouth Maybelle. Darren Criss served as a host for the event and I thought having this element was unnecessary and interrupted the storyline.
NBC’s live musicals are getting stronger every year and I always await the announcement of their next one (Bye Bye Birdie with Jennifer Lopez has been reported as the December 2017 show). It all started with The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood then Peter Pan then The Wiz and now Hairspray. Fox also jumped on the bandwagon with Grease last January. As a musical theatre performer and teacher, this is awesome news! I love making all of these musicals accessible to people across the globe and to have my students watch and learn from these performances (did they notice any diction issues? stamina? breath? tone quality?).
If you haven’t seen this broadcast, find it on demand or buy the DVD and watch it. It’s certainly a fun night at home and you might learn a little something to help in your own musical theatre training!
Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre’s production of The Little Mermaid is perfect for the whole family! I saw this fun-filled Disney musical on Sunday, November 13th, and thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon. Aimee Bee Inc has 11 students in the production that either take private lessons on a regular weekly basis or coach for specific auditions and performances. I am one proud voice teacher! All of my students’ hard work on strengthening their sound, their diction, and their expression was seen on that stage.
MVCCT is a special place. I started teaching in the summer camps at MVCCT my first year living in Northern Virginia and have since taught spring break camps as well as workday workshops. I’ve met amazing artists, teachers, and friends through these opportunities as well as worked with some incredible groups of students.
I am writing today about how wonderful theatre is for these young performers. MVCCT is more than a children’s theatre company; it is a family. The community that has been built within MVCCT is admirable. It is a place to sing your heart out, laugh with your cast, figure out how to move a giant set piece as a team, cry when you’re having a bad day, and share your many talents.
I wholeheartedly believe that theatre is empowering to children and teens, that it offers a means of expression that can benefit students within their everyday life. I also believe that theatre explores themes that are applicable to other subjects including history, English, and geography. Maybe some of these cast members learned about a new sea creature from singing “Under The Sea”!
If you’ve seen the movie, you’re sure to recognize many of the songs in The Little Mermaid including the classic “Part of Your World”. I will once again say that I always love the songs that are written specifically for the Broadway show and not in the movie version. Some of these are “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” (I just LOVE this piece and the staging in MVCCT’s show is perfect!), “If Only” (the quartet of this song is beautiful!), “Positoovity” (don’t forget Scuttle’s big moment!), and “The World Above” (I had tears in my eyes during this opening number because I was so proud of Nicole, our Ariel, and could really hear the growth in her voice).
The Little Mermaid is running through this upcoming Sunday, November 20th. Get your tickets now and take the whole family “Under The Sea”!
In the past month, I have seen three Stephen Sondheim musicals in the local DC community. As a singer, I absolutely adore his music and lyrics. I find them to be at once complex and beautifully simplistic. His songs (stories) always take me on journey whether I am the performer or the listener.
I started my Sondheim month by seeing Sweeney Todd at the St. Mark’s Players in SE Washington, DC. Featuring two of my amazing students, Brevan Collins (Tobias) and Carla Crawford (Ensemble), the story came to life in this church space under the direction of my good friend Christine Callsen. I have seen several productions of Sweeney Todd and, of course, the 2007 feature film with Johnny Depp. This is musical theatre at its’ finest with captivating and intriguing music. By no means an easy score to sing, all of these characters have complex harmonies, wide ranges, and overlapping melodic lines. Personal song favorites are “Johanna” (beautiful…please listen if you don’t know this song!) and “By The Sea” (just a fun character piece).
Next in my journey was Into The Woods Jr. at Aldersgate Church Community Theatre. Featuring a cast of 8 to 18 year olds, this production featured several of my students. I always enjoy this show! It has characters that we all know from childhood fairytales, imagined in a brand-new light with music that is memorable and fun to sing! An attention to diction is essential in this show as the songs have lots of detailed words, move the story forward, and bring these characters to life. When I think of this show, I immediately hear the music for “Moments in the Woods”, “On The Steps of the Palace”, and “Children will Listen”.
I closed the current winter DC Sondheim tour with Road Show at Signature Theatre. This is Stephen Sondheim’s most recent musical. It has been reimagined several times (I did not see the original incarnations) and includes actor-musicians in the ensemble. I could absolutely hear Sondheim’s voice in this show through the musical storyline. It is a one hour and 40 minute show with no intermission (a little unusual for Sondheim) and has orchestrations that are written for a small number of instruments (primarily piano and violin). Memorable songs for me are “The Best Thing That Ever Happened” (I really loved the relationship between Addison and Hollis) and “Addison’s Trip”.
It is no surprise that there seem to be a multitude of Stephen Sondheim shows playing in the DC area. Road Show is Signature’s 26th production of a Sondheim musical! If you are unfamiliar with this composer, please seek out his work on iTunes and find a production to see. Vocalists can learn so much from studying his music in terms of diction, breath support, pitch, harmonization, patter, and song interpretation (distinct character choices).