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!
On Friday, November 4th, I saw the opening night performance and the youth production regional premiere of School of Rock at West Potomac High School. I had several students in the production that I coached for their auditions, which consisted of singing from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score. We worked on extending our range into a balanced effortless high mix, eliminating vibrato, releasing notes (without cracking or pulling back or falling off), and switching between registers seamlessly.
Four things I learned from watching this production:
A. The role of Dewey is exhausting. The sheer amount of energy required for this role is astounding.
B. Singing strong and high (in both mix rock and legit) is difficult to master. I knew this one already, but seeing this show definitely reiterated it.
C. Becoming more than a triple threat and being able to also play an instrument is a huge component of this show for multiple characters! Doing this at the high school level is another awesome opportunity to hone skills that will benefit young performers in the professional theatre world.
D. The ensemble in School of Rock is great and there were some memorable moments within the ensemble! Kudos to Director Clark for utilizing the ensemble in interesting and notable ways.
Here is a video examining two short sections of musical theatre rock vocals and how to execute them!
It is common practice in musical theatre for auditions to consist of singing 16-bars at both the professional and community level. On occasion you may be asked for 32-bars, a short song (2-3 min), or even an 8-bar cut (yikes!). I’m focusing on finding 16-bar cuts, approximately 30 to 45 seconds of music, for the purpose of auditioning. Many of my students want to show everything they can do in this short amount of time from their highest note to their powerful belt to their awesome acting chops to their musical prowess. In short, this is an impossible task and not what I want my students to focus on.
What’s important in those 16-bars?
Find a song that is age and voice appropriate. I don’t want to hear a thirteen year old singing “Send In The Clowns” or a fifty year old singing “Good Morning Baltimore”.
Find a song that fits the style of the show you’re auditioning for. If you’re auditioning for Rock of Ages, a rock song (preferably not from a musical) is what I’d recommend whereas if you’re audition for The Sound of Music, I would generally suggest a legit classic musical theatre song.
Find a song that you love. There is so much music to choose from that there is no need to settle for a song that you think is just okay.
Tell a story in sixteen bars and make sure that your cut makes sense. We don’t want to end in the middle of a phrase or on a leading tone (note that wants to be resolved to Do). It is possible to have a cohesive story in 16-bars.
You! Directors, music directors, and the producing team want to work with awesome people. Don’t get so caught up in vocal technique and acting and musicality that you forget to simply enjoy the performance of your 16-bars!
Last, but not least, HAVE FUN! It’s your time and your audition so enjoy it.