Based on the Kevin Kline movie of the same name, this new musical is having its premiere at Arena Stage in Washington, DC this summer! The contemporary musical theatre score has notes of pop, classical, and jazz. The singing in this show ranges from soulful chest voice to pop falsetto and musical theatre high mix to operatic ‘Queen of the Night’ notes in the highly comedic and memorable National Anthem scene. I’m very familiar with Tom Kitt’s shows (I think I’ve seen almost everything he’s written) and could hear his voice throughout Dave.
Things to practice when building your versatility as a vocalist:
Warm-up your whole instrument: top to bottom, head to mix to chest, and going between the different registers. Yodeling on vowels or words and Mary Saunders Barton’s Yahoo calls can be helpful. For men, work on having quick access to your falsetto (without a breath) and then seamlessly switching to a falsetto mix. For women (and men too!), focus on creating chest and mix sound that is light and effortless. I talk about this in my studio all the time; a lot of young singers associate belt with a heavy, strong, pounded out sound and that is the exact opposite of what I actually want.
Find a great art song! Even if you have zero interest in classical music, learning a classical art song can further develop your technique for musical theatre.
Listen! A part of practice in my studio is listening to other performers. This can help with hearing different sounds, understanding specific vocal stylings that are associated with the individual singer, and expanding your repertoire knowledge.
Switch up your song choices. Sing that classical art song and then immediately after sing a soulful pop song and then after that a Disney song. Can you switch between these different genres quickly and easily OR does it take you a few minutes to get into the next style?
Dave is playing at Arena Stage through August 19th. Click here for tickets!
From Signature Theatre’s (Arlington, VA) production last spring to the NBC Live Broadcast on Easter Sunday to our local high school’s production this month, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1971 hit has been popular this past year. Jesus Christ Superstar is very on point with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s material (sometimes classified as “poperetta”) with hits from the show being widely popular radio songs as well. Vocals are at the forefront as this is an entirely sung-through show and a wide vocal range and ability to sing in a plethora of styles is simply present throughout the entire score.
Rock Opera Vocal Technique
Warm-ups for this type of show are key! I work with all of my singers to make sure they have a balanced instrument so even if they’re in a hard rock with edge place for an entire show, I always incorporate light humming and lip trills into our warm-up. I think it’s a great idea to go down a scale (sol-fa-mi-re-do) on a bub or mum and allow yourself access to a vocal fry sound, work through pentatonic scales, and make some ugly sounds with your tongue all the way out (yeah or nyeah or weah) in a higher belt/mix register. With men, a falsetto warm-up that leads itself toward a falsetto mix is awesome for this show; getting this sound without strain is essential. I cannot stress enough that if it feels painful to sing, you are doing something wrong. Even if your character is physically in pain, your voice should not be.
Beware of gratuitous riffing, growling, and stereotypical rock trends. While Jesus Christ Superstar absolutely utilized rock (not Broadway) singers in the original production and we want that type of sound, it’s important to understand how to implement your own voice into the style without mimicry or what I like to say is “pretending you’re on American Idol” when you’re in fact still in a musical with a cohesive storyline. There are moments in the Jesus Chris Superstar score that are marked ad lib so knowing how to riff (especially in the characters of Jesus and Judas) and going there both dramatically and vocally is what makes it so powerful.
Vocal Health: drink lots of water, get enough sleep, don’t abuse your voice, be careful of too much singing or speaking on show days are all things we’ve heard time and again. If you feel tired after a show, that’s normal and okay; you’ve just taken us on an enormous journey and may need to rest. I just always want my students to understand the difference between feeling tired and feeling like you’ve completely blown out or demolished your vocal chords. It’s easy to push or strain when you’re working on a high rock belt sound. It’s much harder to create a nuanced performance with vocal choices that are stylistically correct and healthy.
Jesus Christ Superstar is playing at West Potomac High School in Alexandria, VA through April 28th. Special shout-out to the freshman playing Jesus, Brevan Collins, who I have been teaching for over four years and who continually puts in the work when prepping for roles, auditions, and building his technique.