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!
The fall is here and I have students performing in productions all over town in lead, supporting, and ensemble roles. I’ll be writing about many of these shows over the next month, but have decided to start with a professional staged reading that I saw at Signature Theatre this October.
I am a strong advocate for new musical theatre, learning about new composers, new shows, and new repertoire. As I discover new material, I also develop opinions on these pieces. It may be apparent that a show needs a lot of work (re-writes, cuts, edits) before heading to a larger venue or it may be ready for something more and leave you (the audience member) excited about this new show. I always consider whether a show has something unique to offer our contemporary musical theatre world and whether the storyline is compelling.
On October 22nd, I had the opportunity to see a staged reading of Light Years at Signature Theatre as part of their SigWorks: Musical Theater Lab. Watching a bare space with 6 actors sitting in chairs behind music stands in everyday clothes, I was captivated by these artists that brought this story to life through vocal inflections, pacing, and simply telling the story.
Robbie Schaefer, who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for this show, also performed the role of Older Robbie and played guitar (the main source of accompaniment with some piano). This was a brand-new show to me in every way. I did not know the composer or the story or even the style of music. The score had a folk influence and feel (and if any of my students were auditioning for this show, I would look beyond musical theatre and find a song that is folk or country). It was directed by Eric Schaeffer (a big name in the musical theatre biz) and the music was beautifully and seamlessly connected with the book.
This was my first experience with SigWorks and I can’t wait to see what is next. They are creating art and bringing to life new musical theatre works that need to be seen and heard. Being in this small audience on that Saturday afternoon was a joy and I soaked in every minute. Don’t be afraid to see a show just because you don’t know anything about it! It’s important to support new musical theatre and to be open to these new and exciting works of art.
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.