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.
The fall audition season has arrived and I have been preparing students all summer for auditions at professional theatres, community theatres, local youth theatres, and school productions. Here are 5 basic tips to keep in mind as you get ready for your next audition:
1. Be familiar with the show that you’re auditioning for so that you can select appropriate material. What style of music? What decade/year is the show set? What characters are you right for?
2. Have your sheet music prepared for the accompanist in the right key and marked for the specific cut (usually 16 or 32 bars). Have this music memorized and ready for performance; the same goes if you are asked to prepare a monologue (1 to 2 minutes), memorized and ready to go.
3. Dress appropriately! Again, think about the character and the show, but DO NOT go in a costume. If you look and feel uncomfortable, then this will affect your performance. You want to look presentable and relatable.
4. Warm-up your voice ahead of time and take ten minutes to focus. I tell my students all the time that they don’t need a piano to warm-up. Breathing exercises, lip trills, and slides are easy on-the-go warm-ups, while free pitch pipe or piano apps on your phone can give you a starting pitch for arpeggios, scales, or even your song.
5. Be confident and have fun in the audition! You’ve done the hard work to prepare and now you get to perform your audition material for new people. Isn’t that what we performers love to do?
Mount Vernon Community Children’s Theatre’s production of The Little Mermaid is perfect for the whole family! I saw this fun-filled Disney musical on Sunday, November 13th, and thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon. Aimee Bee Inc has 11 students in the production that either take private lessons on a regular weekly basis or coach for specific auditions and performances. I am one proud voice teacher! All of my students’ hard work on strengthening their sound, their diction, and their expression was seen on that stage.
MVCCT is a special place. I started teaching in the summer camps at MVCCT my first year living in Northern Virginia and have since taught spring break camps as well as workday workshops. I’ve met amazing artists, teachers, and friends through these opportunities as well as worked with some incredible groups of students.
I am writing today about how wonderful theatre is for these young performers. MVCCT is more than a children’s theatre company; it is a family. The community that has been built within MVCCT is admirable. It is a place to sing your heart out, laugh with your cast, figure out how to move a giant set piece as a team, cry when you’re having a bad day, and share your many talents.
I wholeheartedly believe that theatre is empowering to children and teens, that it offers a means of expression that can benefit students within their everyday life. I also believe that theatre explores themes that are applicable to other subjects including history, English, and geography. Maybe some of these cast members learned about a new sea creature from singing “Under The Sea”!
If you’ve seen the movie, you’re sure to recognize many of the songs in The Little Mermaid including the classic “Part of Your World”. I will once again say that I always love the songs that are written specifically for the Broadway show and not in the movie version. Some of these are “Beyond My Wildest Dreams” (I just LOVE this piece and the staging in MVCCT’s show is perfect!), “If Only” (the quartet of this song is beautiful!), “Positoovity” (don’t forget Scuttle’s big moment!), and “The World Above” (I had tears in my eyes during this opening number because I was so proud of Nicole, our Ariel, and could really hear the growth in her voice).
The Little Mermaid is running through this upcoming Sunday, November 20th. Get your tickets now and take the whole family “Under The Sea”!
There is so much to learn from working on classic Broadway showtunes. I’m devoting this post to learning traditional, classic musical theatre for kids of all ages (and yes, this can even include those who are young at heart).
As a voice teacher, it is extremely important to me that my students know songs from the Golden Age of musical theatre. While searching for audition material, some students are so focused on finding obscure or new songs and avoiding “overdone” songs that they somehow miss learning about Oklahoma, The Music Man, and My Fair Lady. This is certainly an impediment to their progress as performers. We can learn so much from these classic musicals about the history of this American art form as well as the development of healthy vocal technique and song study.
I encourage all of my students to study at least one song by each of these classic Broadway composers and lyricists: Rodgers & Hammerstein, Frank Loesser, Lerner & Loewe, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Comden & Green. If you are unfamiliar with any of these musical theatre writers, please find out more! Look up the names and see if you recognize any of their shows or songs. If you don’t, find and play this music at home, in the car, or wherever is best for you and learn through listening!
Here is a video that explores two classic Broadway songs for young performers: