We all go through phases. I am particularly adept at going through phases. In fact, I read a great book called The Renaissance Soul which actually helps you manage multiple phases. I love this book. Read it if you love to do a lot of things and you don’t really want to choose one over the other. But I digress.
I’ve heard people say they’ve gone through a “musical theatre phase.” I can understand that. It’s a bizarre, fun, and fascinating world. I, on the other hand, went through a NON-musical theatre phase. You see, much of my life has somehow been influenced by musical theatre whether it was accompanying my Dad and Mom to Camelot rehearsals with Archbold Community Theatre, or soulfully and geekily rocking out to my Mom’s West Side Story record, or being in a musical myself. Then I went to college. I purposefully attended a theatre program that did not emphasize musical theatre. In fact, when other students would start to complain that we only did one musical per year, we would shout “Go to CCM!” or “You knew this was how our program was when you applied” Or “F*CK OFF!” I had spent most of high school doing musicals (and a few plays) and I felt like if I went to a musical theatre school, I would never learn how to act. I don’t regret this decision. (I should have taken more dance, but I just didn’t have room in my schedule. ) However, in my go big or go home style, I basically completely wrote off musicals unless I was cast in one. And even then, EVEN then I was still sort of considered resident musical theatre expert and that was basically like being a Star Trek expert at a cool kids convention. Not something you want to advertise, but also very difficult to hide. I’ve have actually shouted “Pal Joey!” and then clapped my hands over my mouth when I overheard someone say, “I actually really like that song ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’. ”
Then I moved to Chicago and slowly began to miss musicals. I also met two people named Jamie and Bob who showed me what it truly means to love musical theatre. I mean…I can’t even…they just. They know a lot of musicals. Encylopedic knowledge of musicals. I was proud I had a selection from “Fanny” in my audition book. Bob quoted “Brooklyn” at Jamie’s wedding.
So, to review, so far I’ve loved musicals…been loved by musicals…loathed musicals…and totally gotten back together with musicals. As such, I’m trying to fill in the gaps of my musical knowledge. I’m starting at the 40’s and moving up. Then I may move back from the 40’s and head into the past. The 1940’s are significant because it was the first time musicals really made the leap from either vaudeville or operetta to their current incarnation. More plot than vaudeville, but not as classically styled as operetta. I believe I’m going to start with Panama Hattie. This is not an arbitrary selection. 1. I figure, why not start with Cole Porter? 2. I use a song from Panama Hattie in my audition repertoire. 3. It’s pre-Oklahoma, which is sort of the starting point for the modern musical in the sense of production value, score, and general feel. 1947, the year Oklahoma premiered is sort of a watershed year. All of sudden, you’ve heard of the musicals that were produced. Annie Get Your Gun, Finian’s Rainbow, Oklahoma… Before that, it was Big Ben, Evangeline, The Night and the Laughter. Never head of ’em either. I want to listen to the build into 1947, so I figure 1943, the year of Panama Hattie, is as good as any, no? Now. This of course, only addresses, the stage. Back in a little town called Hollywood, people had been escaping from the woes of the depression via the movie musical for years. (Note to SITC2: next time follow that Liza instinct all the way through. ) So I clearly can’t start this project (which happily coincides with my general movie project) at 1943. Luckily, I’m combining mediums. I will watch/listen/and play my way through the musical theatre cannon. Certainly, I’m not starting from scratch. I’m merely puttying and painting over the cracks. So, while this will be a learning experience, I certainly wouldn’t call it Musical Theatre 101. Let’s call it Musical Theatre 452: Thesis Concentration. (It would be really fun to design a Musical Theatre 101, however.)
I’m a person that likes graphs, charts, statistics, trends. I won’t be going about this in a particularly random way. I want to watch the art form itself grow. While new art forms have certainly emerged since the musical, you’d be hard pressed to find one so inherently American. I want to start from somewhat of a beginning. SO, while 1943 will be my stage beginning, I have to go back to 1929 for the movies. This is pre-crash movie musical. I want to see what they looked like before they became the ultimate escape. So, we begin with what some refer to as one of the greatest films of all time, The Broadway Melody of 1929.
It would be overwhelming and not very productive to watch/listen/and/or play every musical I come across. Sometimes things are obscure because they aren’t that good. So, in putting together this research list I’m looking for longevity, historical significance, and variety.
What’s the point? Well, I have a sneaking suspicion it could make me a better actor/singer/dancer. Also, it will expand my repertoire. I want to hear the evolution of vocal styles. And I want to rekindle the love.
I’ll post the list, eventually, once it’s made. My goal is a musical per week. Maybe two. I might rent/go see/dig through a score/listen to a cast recording. Maybe more than one of these. I want to strive to experience the original material when I can, as opposed to a revival. Things are reorchestrated, modernized, cast with goofy incapable reality stars. So if all I can find is a cast recording (as opposed to a ticket, a film, or a score) I will go with the original one.
This will be tagged as The Musical Project. I am also considering doing this with classic and new plays. But that’s another post.
Let me know if you don’t like my methods. Let me know if you want to nominate some selections. No, I probably won’t rewatch Little Shop of Horrors for the 100th time during this project. Again, this is gap-filling. But you might be able to introduce to something I would have ignored. Maybe you think I should start now and go backwards. Maybe you think I should skip movie musicals all together. I’m all ears.
Part Two: The List coming soon!