Driving to the local high school theatre at 6:58 PM (for a 7 PM show), I’m realizing I may be a few minutes late to see my students. My mom joined me for the show and just in case she missed the opening number, I was happy to give a full rendition in the car. “Oh, oh, oh woke up today, feeling the way I always do. Oh, oh, oh hungry for something that I can’t eat then I hear the beat.”
Hairspray is a high energy, contemporary musical with a score that is reminiscent of 1960’s pop music. The two stand-out vocal technique elements to the show (for me!) are stamina and vocal placement.
Stamina: practice your music while running, while jumping, while dancing around your bedroom: with fast paced lyrics and no clear rests for breath, you need the energy and muscle strength to get through the music in character. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is a prime example of this: we don’t want to skip a word just to get a breath, you have to practice going through the phrasing in that song as much as possible to do just this!
Placement: there is no doubt that this a contemporary musical theatre show with the roles all embracing a strong belt and high mix registration. I talk to my singers about seamlessly switching registers and making sure they are placing correcting during breath (not after!) all the time. There are moments when young singers may crack a note or abruptly cut off or have breathy quality simply due to not knowing how to place a particular phrase on their voice. In Mama I’m A Big Girl Now, I want a forward sound with a lifted soft palate and relaxed forward tongue; I also want to hear the difference in sound between the mothers and their teenage daughters. In I Know Where I’ve Been, I want a soulful, gospel like quality with a grounded chest voice. Knowing your character and vocal placement go hand in hand. It is important to always think about your character’s journey and the lyrics when making specific technique choices!
Hairspray is running at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria this weekend and next weekend (April 20 to 28th, 2018)! Several of my voice students are involved with the production including Aidan White (Edna) and Grace Steenstra (Prudy Pingleton). It’s an awesome opportunity to support local students that are diving into these great characters and truly making them their own!
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!
Our local middle school, George Washington Middle School, recently performed their spring musical, Hairspray Jr! I went to opening night of this show and the music transports me to a different world every time. All of a sudden, I’m bouncing in my seat to the tunes and laughing out loud. I saw Hairspray on Broadway three times during its’ almost 7 year run and I even auditioned for the national tour twice (sadly, even after a callback, no contract was offered).
Middle school is a vocally tough transition time. Students this age rarely understand their break, how to switch seamlessly between registers (what’s a register?), and how to extend certain vowels without getting too nasal, too heavy, or too bright. I always suggest a good warm-up that includes both head and chest resonation. Opening up the upper register will help with the pop mix sound that is needed throughout Hairspray.
Breath is also a huge factor in a high energy show like Hairspray. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” requires excellent breath support for singing through the phrases, catching a quick (but still full!) breath where appropriate, and dancing at the same time in this fast tempo.
PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION: Run & Sing! You might not make it through the first time without panting, but ultimately, I’ve found that physical activity while singing (running, jumping jacks, even planks) can help to improve stamina, endurance, and diaphragmatic breath support.