Seeing the pre-Broadway tryout of Beetlejuice The Musical at the National Theatre in Washington, DC on Friday night was an exciting and fun experience. I remember watching the movie over and over with my brother and the musical brought to life specific scenes and characters from the movie in an inventive and hilarious way. Of course, the musical’s (same as the movie’s) closing number had me dancing in my seat!
The vocal style in this show is without question contemporary musical theatre with pop and rock influences. There’s the boy band number, the Hamilton-esque rap duet, the teen pop ballad, and the hard rock character pieces. Vocally, we can hear the singers implementing the growl, the rock scream, the really high mix/forward placed sound, the low, soulful tone, and the nasal character voice. While these are all different, it is possible for one singer to produce a multitude of sounds and styles even within one two hour show. Things that can help singers in this feat are having a flexible soft palate, a good breath support system, and a general understanding of how your individual voice feels and resonates on your body.
I’m certain that the teen girl singers in my studio will be clamoring to learn Lydia’s music (and I might encourage them to also look at the Girl Scout’s number that opens Act II). If you’re thinking of attending an EPA for the Broadway production of Beetlejuice, either look for a pop/rock song that encompasses character (for Lydia, I might recommend a high mix Avril Lavigne or Pink or Alanis Morrisette) or a contemporary musical song with this sound (Off-Broadway and not as widely popular as Heathers preferred).
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.
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.
Hearing music from Grease immediately brings back memories of singing in the ensemble during my sophomore year of high school. I was featured in Beauty School Dropout :-). Of course, I’d first seen the original movie in my early teens, even saw Grease 2 at some point, and had the hand jive down before I even started at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, NJ.
On Sunday night at 7pm, I was all set to watch Grease: LIVE! on Fox. Following the trend to bring musical theatre to audiences nationwide with a live taping usually featuring big names, Grease did not disappoint. There was a lot of energy emanating from the cast throughout the entire show and the live audience really added to the production. They brought to life the movie (more so than the stage production) that many remember from their childhood and I was singing along to almost every number!
So for my vocal students, my thoughts today are about what to sing if you’re auditioning for Grease. The first word that comes to mind when I think of this show is FUN. Finding a song with lots of character and bringing energy into the audition room is key. My top repertoire suggestion is actual 50s pop/rock music. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Google it and find some tunes. Artists that I think of in this era are Bill Haley and The Comets (fond memories of singing Rock Around The Clock with my parents), Elvis, Debbie Reynolds, Connie Francis, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino.
If you’d rather choose or are asked to choose a song from a musical, I would find a show in a similar style to Grease! Cry-Baby is a great example. It was written as a movie in 1990 and made into a Broadway musical in 2007, but it’s set in the 1950s and has music that reflects that time period. All Shook Up is another great example. In fact, jukebox musicals are a great resource for finding pop and rock music. Then all you have to do is be confident and rock the audition!
Check out http://www.fox.com/grease-live for more information on the live broadcast!
Here is a short video with 2 possible audition song selections for Grease: