Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s score has a contemporary musical theatre sound with a strong conversational component, pop music elements, and lyrics that inform the melodic line. The production of If/Then that I watched last night at The Theatre Lab (pictured above) was not my first experience with this show. I know the music well and saw Idina Menzel in the starring role twice, first in the pre-Broadway tryout at the National Theatre in Washington, DC and then on Broadway in the fall of 2013.
Quick Vocal Tips for Singing If/Then
There is a conversational component to almost every song. Whether a solo, duet, or group number, each song is really dialogue or monologues that could be spoken without pitch so we want to hear specific inflection on pitch and extension of your speech on pitch. Please leave vibrato and sustained notes for another show! Exception to this is the high mix and belt notes for both mezzos and tenors that usually end a song: these are meant to have power, be sustained, and wow the audience. Practicing speaking on pitch and getting used to your natural speaking voice while on specific pitches, both high and low, is a great way to get comfortable with this style.
Tension is the singer’s (and actor’s) worst enemy. Releasing tension is something I work on with students in all genres of music. With a contemporary musical theatre score, it’s important to find a way to tell the story without clenching the muscles in your neck (or jaw, shoulders, back, hands) and straining. How to practice with music from If/Then (or any another contemporary show): sing the song while literally rolling your head like a rag doll, swaying (not in time), and/or with your arms outstretched and open. A lot of times tension is a result of body/voice awareness that takes you away from the character and out of the moment. Being open and receptive to what’s going on around you and just breathing that in can be helpful. It’s also useful to be aware if there are specific notes that are either just beyond your comfortable range or on your break that cause you to tighten your muscles either in preparation for the big note or in order to sustain the big note. Prioritize warming up your voice with vocalises that emphasize vowels that are helpful to YOU on your big note(s)!
While If/Then is not my favorite Kitt and Yorkey musical (Next to Normal takes this for many reasons), it has awesome ensemble characters and music that reflects everyday speech. I love that the show takes place in NYC and that we get a glimpse into the many different people that live and work in the city. I’m a type A, over thinker so the “what if” question that is constantly asked throughout the show is interesting to me.
Special shout out to my student, Carla Crawford, who was excellent in the role of Kate and made strong singing and acting choices throughout the show! The Theatre Lab’s performances ran through last night (I saw the closing show!), but be on the look out for their next production since they tend to choose interesting material for singers and actors to learn and explore!
For those of you in the Northern Virginia area, I’m posting to promote my students’ current work around town and emphasize how proud I am of their achievements. This is a huge weekend for school musicals and I have several students that are performing lead, supporting, and ensemble roles.
Beauty & the Beast Jr. with Saint Mary’s School is playing at Bishop Ireton High School on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2 PM. Aimee Bee student highlights: Viana Schlapp is starring as Belle, Addison Parker is Silly Girl, and Elizabeth Cheney is in many scenes as a featured ensemble member.
Billy Elliot is opening tonight at West Potomac High School and plays through May 6th. More information and tickets are available here. Featured Aimee Bee students are Willa Denton, Kendall Grady, Max Marshall, and David McFarland.
Oklahoma is also opening tonight at West Springfield High School and playing through Sunday afternoon. My student, Connor Brunson, is a freshman and singing tenor in the ensemble!
Chess at The Theatre Lab in Washington, DC opens tonight and plays through May 6th. Carla Crawford has a leading role as the Arbitor in this rock musical! More information and tickets are here.
Finally, The Lion King Kids is playing on Wednesday, May 3rd, at 7 PM at Maury Elementary School. Aimee Bee students (studying with my awesome teaching artists Moriah and Jess!) Fiona Hendrickson and Eliza Gwin are in this show!
Check out these awesome shows and support our local musical theatre students!!
It’s time to start thinking about summer programs if your middle or high schooler is planning on furthering their musical theatre studies this summer. Even though it’s still February, summer is just around the corner and there are many local programs in the DC metro area that are fantastic!
1. Aimee Bee Inc will be offering a one week half-day workshop intensive for students to learn about contemporary musical theatre. It will take place from 9:30am to 1pm, June 27 through July 1, in Alexandria, VA. We will be exploring songs from shows that are currently on Broadway and the week will culminate in a cabaret style performance. Check out my website for more details and email me with any questions.
2. Signature Theatre’s Stage One is a two-week workshop for ages 14 to 17. Auditions are held in Arlington, VA on March 26th or by video submission. Taking place at this Tony award winning theatre, students are immersed in musical theatre for two weeks. Click here for more information!
3. Theatre Lab’s Summer Musical Theatre Institute produces two full-scale musicals each summer over a three-week experience. This summer, students ages 13 to 19 can audition for either or both Jesus Christ Superstar and Carousel. It’s a great opportunity for students to gain performance experience on a large production. Check out their website for more details.
4. High School Summer Musical Theatre Institute at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC offers rising high school juniors and seniors an opportunity to hone their musical theatre skills in a two-week residential program. Click here for more information!
If you’re looking to improve your musical theatre skill set this summer, there is absolutely a program in our local area that will fit your goals.
Did I miss any local programs that you would recommend to your friends interested in Broadway? Please comment and let me know if there’s another program I should add to my list and tell my students about. I’m always excited to learn more!