Kiss Me Kate (The Musical Project)


 

I was just recently in a production of Kiss Me Kate, so my proximity to this material will be much closer than most of the musicals I cover in The Musical Project.

That's me looking like my head is growing out Christine's arm.

Kiss Me Kate is so very fun to sing.  I’ll get to the score and the actual meat of the musical itself momentarily, but first…y’all I got to bitch about the movie.

If the only experience you have with Kiss Me Kate is the 1950-whatever movie version, then brother, you don’t know Kiss Me Kate.  The movie is sanitized and just a jumble of pieces that at one time comprised the actual work that is the stage musical Kiss Me Kate.

I really enjoy Howard Keil in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  His vocals soar and he is perfect the role.  Academically he’s also perfect for Petruchio/Fred but he bombs.  Bigtime.  I get the feeling the director was of the Frank Sinatra “that take was good enough” school of directing because everything feels thrown together.  I get that musicals written for the stage don’t transition well to film, but you know who’s problem that is?  Not mine.  Unfortunately, as a viewer I still have to deal with it if the producers didn’t.  Oy.

Meanwhile, the Code.  Oh, the Code.  The old Production Code basically took all the fun out of Kiss Me Kate.You see, Cole Porter is dirty, downright raunchy if you play it right.  So when Ann Miller sings “According to the latest report…” you have to know that the actual lyric is according to the KINSEY report and that Ann Miller, bless her, isn’t even supposed to be singing it in the first place, and not in that getup. (I found myself saying “What is she doing with her body??” several times.)  A man needs to sing “Too Darn Hot” because why else would it matter if the singer “ain’t up” to their baby tonight?  Huh?  Hmmm????  So already we have a reference to the most comprehensive survey ever performed in reference to human sexuality AND a dick joke.  And that’s just one song.

What I also find fascinating about the sanitizing of Kiss Me Kate is that it doesn’t extend to Shakespeare.  Baptista says, “…thoroughly woo her, wed her and bed her” and that is no problem.  My guess?  It didn’t even occur to the censors to look at the Shakespearean language.  Certainly not our loss, I just like to point out the inconsistencies and the patent ridiculousness that is censorship.

Everything in Kiss Me Kate is punctuated by a metaphorical wink. In fact, in order for the show to pass muster for me, Lilli HAS to actually physically wink after “I am ashamed…”  SHe HAS to.  Or she loses all credibility.  And I think we’re dealing with an actual domestic violence situation.

I’m not a fan of Taming of the Shrew.  I think it’s a chestnut.  I suppose it has academic merits.  I’ve seen a production that employed nearly gymnastic commedia del arte between Katherine and Petruchio.  But it’s not my cup of Shakespearean tea.  I do enjoy the Taylor/Burton/Zefferelli version but that is a big ol’ Art Imitating Marriage situation.

Hilarious.

Unique.  Lovely.  Done.

So why do a musical that does a Taming of the Shrew light with the added pre-women’s lib eye twitches of 1940’s sexual politics?

Cole Porter.  That’s why.

I think this is the face he made when he saw the movie.

This score soars.  It is brilliant and very influential.  There’s no opening whistle in West Side Story without the opening to “Too Darn Hot.”  Tevye can’t ask Golda “Do You Love Me?” if Lois doesn’t ask Bill why he can’t “…Behave.”  In fact, I often found myself backstage singing, “…with our daughter getting married and this trouble in the town, you’re upset…you’re worn out…go inside… go lie down!” while “Why Can’t You Behave” is trickling through the monitor.

Kiss Me Kate is the ultimate transition piece.  You can hear the future of musical theatre (as seen from the 40’s) and yet, there, right at the end of show placed ever so conveniently for costume change purposes, is a perfect vaudevillian number preserved for posterity in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

And that’s the thing.  It’s a show of numbers.  Big, classic musical theatre numbers that any theatre aficionado should know.  I happen to think that “Always True to You in My Fashion” is one of the most clever belt numbers ever to grace the stage.  Full of winks and puns.  Check out Blossom Dearie’s rendition if you want to hear my favorite.  I use it as an audition piece.

However, even though it’s a show of numbers, it’s not exactly a revue.  The plot is certainly more developed than some musicals.  It’s a play within a play structure.  Yet, there are moments I feel this structure fails.  This musical comes from an era where the pop music of the day came from Broadway stages.  Audiences didn’t demand as much depth from plots.  They wanted to hear the latest hit.

For me, Kiss Me Kate is about what Cole Porter could do, and he could do a lot.  Many of the songs in Kiss Me Kate are major high water marks in musical theatre as well as being textbook influential entries.

“So in Love” is both a perfect ballad AND torch number.  It’s also an actress’ dream.  In the right hands, “So in Love” makes Lilli Vanessi/Kate a fully 3-D woman.  It’s a mistake to label the character of Lilli Vanessi and/or Kate just a bitch.  And the right actress won’t.

But analysis aside, let’s look at this show from a performer’s standpoint.  It has everything.  You like to dance?  Here ya go.  You want to belt?  How about “Always True to You in My Fashion?”  You want legit?  Here’s “So In Love.”  How about a waltz?  Here’s “Wunderbar.”  How about Jazz?  Here’s “Too Darn Hot.”  Operetta?  “Cantiamo”.  Comedy?  You got it.

Sure there’s a bit of a light hand if you look at it from a domestic violence point of view.  This is not a particularly enlightened show.

Interestingly, the 11 o’clock number is “From This Moment On.”  It’s a duet.  And it’s a lie.  Lilli is lying to herself rather than finding some sort of resolve.  Is that a flaw?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if adherence to structure dictates perfection.  It would be a little scary if it does.  I mean, Kiss Me Kate isn’t perfect.  “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” basically shouts by virtue of existing that there is a massive costume change going on backstage.  Still….everybody wants to see those gosh-darn Gangsters again.  I also think Cole Porter was probably of the “who gives a shit?” school of thought.

It’s an old show, so there are many places to experience at least a recording of the score, if not a production.  The recent London revival has some great renditions.  This musical hails from a time when pop music came from musical theatre.  So while in our minds watching Bono and The Edge write Spiderman or Duncan Sheik pen Spring Awakening feels kinda dirty and gross, well, there’s history there.  Sure I think Cole Porter is a better musician, but it would be wrong to pretend precedent hadn’t been set years ago.  Although, and correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think anyone was brutally maimed and disfigured during the original run of Kiss Me Kate.

Kiss Me Kate, for a musical theatre performer, is like learning your family tree.  It’s your roots.  It’s where this whole thing came from.  I like knowing who was influenced by what.  Sondheim, for example,  thinks the best of the best is Porgy and Bess.  I like knowing that type of thing.  Hearing the influences of today’s writers is humanizing.  We often thrust composers into demigod status.  There is this web meme going around called Steal Like an Artist.  It’s nice to know that even the big guys do too.

To Review:  the movie is a stonker (although potentially worth watching solely for Fosse and his uncredited choreography.  You also get to see the dude dance.)  But the stage version is a classic.

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Musical Auditions: Part 2: The Audition Day


Career Post

Part 2 of a series about Musical Auditions.  (Click here to view Part 1: Preparation)

We all have our own little rituals when it comes to stressful situations.  Some people do a little yoga, some meditate, others pray.  Some people seem to be immune to audition nerves and bully for them.  For me, I like to know absolutely as much as possible about what to expect.  So, this post is sort of written to myself in the past in the hopes that a newbie musical theatre professional can get some sort of benefit from it.  If you are a seasoned old salt, please add any helpful hints.  Rather than focus too heavily on the nitty gritty details, I try to answer the question What is a musical audition like?

If it seems like the following is a lot of effort for all of 60 seconds of your life, well, it is.  But it’s worth it, in the end.  Preparation lessens the stress of a situation that is traditionally thought of as nerve-wracking.  But, it can, and should be fun, for the most part.  Why not?  Auditioning is absolutely as much a part of the actor’s job as anything else.  No need to look at it as a “necessary evil”.  It’s like a 60 second cabaret starring you.  This is a notion to keep in mind while selecting material, something I’ve blogged about here and here in reference to building your book.  I will also discuss it in an upcoming post about selecting audition material for a particular audition and how the book itself should function.

There are basically two situations:  Appointment or No Appointment.

Appointment

Auditions by appointment are posted ahead of time.  Sometimes you have to submit your headshot and resume in ordered to be offered an appointment.  On the day of the audition you show up a little early, fill out the requisite paperwork, and do your thang.  If there are no appointments available, ask if can be on the waitlist.  They still may be able to squeeze you in.

No Appointment

These include Equity crashes, waitlists, open calls and cattle calls. (I loathe and detest open calls.  But that really doesn’t matter.  Cattle calls, however, are not as horrid as the name implies.) I recommend crashing Equity auditions every once in awhile.   Particularly in Chicago.  While the talent pool is big, it’s hardly overwhelming and to date I’ve never not been seen.  Scare yourself every once in awhile.  That’s my motto.  (I know, I have like fifteen mottos.)

The purpose of this post isn’t to detail all the ins and outs of the different types of musical auditions because in the end, you are still busting out 16 bars or so and maybe a monologue.

*************

So Audition day dawns.  What to do?  Well, whether the audition is at 10 in the morning, or 10 at night, find some time to warm up and rehearse and hydrate.  Avoid caffeine and dairy if you can (makes you sound a little gurgly).  Don’t let the audition be the first time that day you’ve sung.

Of course there is the age old question of what to wear.  I am going to do a post about audition wear coming up, but whatever you choose should be pressed and professional.  I like to wear a dress to musical auditions.  It’s the most “me” thing.  Lots of women wear dress pants.  It doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is to look a little dressy.  Musicals, in particular, have a bit of a dressy feel to them. The makeup is a little more intense.  You are often wigged.  Even miked.  The costumes are a little more ridiculous (if not patently a lot more ridiculous).  Dressing up hints in that direction, and it’s a sign of respect.  Remember, as I’ve said before, at it’s heart it’s a job interview.  A creative one.  Where you sing.

Keys:

LOVE your material.  Love it.  Don’t get so caught up in finding obscure and interesting pieces that you forget to sing something you enjoy.  I tell you this from experience.  I have been guilty of this time and time again.  You should really love your whole book.  I sort of look at my book as a dream cabaret – with a few caveats.

I like to have a little checklist for myself  that I keep in my audition binder to remind what to bring along:

1.  Music – marked (I’ll talk about how to do this in the Audition Book post.)

2.  Sides (if provided)

3.  Monologue (for review, and if requested)

4.  5 headshots and resumes

5.  Shoes (if I plan on changing shoes when I get there)

6.  Water

7.  Audition/Rehearsal Kit (I will go over what is in this in a later post.  But it’s basically a makeup bag full of safety pins, lozenges, mints, kleenexes and other stuff I usually wish I have.  More important for long audition days.)

8.  Pashmina or something in case the audition area isn’t heated…this happens.  A lot.

9.  Calendar

10.  Phone/Keys/Wallet

11. Dance clothes and dance shoes.  (I don’t think you need to carry around your dance shoe collection, but having your characters on hand is not a bad idea.  Don’t do your initial audition in them, however.  Frankly…it looks dorky.)  You may be asked to come back and dance that day.  This is fairly rare in Chicago, but it does happen.  I am of the “Be Prepared” school of thought, so might well throw those trusty t-straps in your bag.

12.  The details of the audition including location, directions, and hopefully a phone number in case you get lost or are running late.

13.  Pens and a little notebook.  You might be called back immediately and given information that you will want to write down.  You might meet someone who’s name you need to remember.  You never know.

The Audition Itself

When you arrive, you will usually be met by a table where an audition monitor will usually be seated.  This person is your guide.  They have the sheet with your appointment.  They have the forms you need to fill out.  They know if things are running as scheduled.  They know who is in the room.  Be nice to them.  Follow their instructions, and ask them any questions you have.

Then sit back and relax, go over your stuff, observe.  Sometimes I even knit.  Pay attention to any announcements from the monitor.  Don’t make them repeat things over and over.

When you are called into the audition room, you could see any number of people: The director, the music director, the accompanist, the choreographer, the producer, the artistic director, the assistant director, the stage manager, the managing director, casting director,  interns….  Normally, there are usually 3-4 people in the room, and not the entire slew of production staff.   I often ask whoever is monitoring the auditionwho is in the room just to have a general feel for what will greet me.  I also like to know who is accompanying on the off chance I know them.  If we’ve worked on a certain piece together, it might be a good choice for the audition.

So what do you do once you are in there?  You are introduced by the monitor, typically, and then given a moment to speak with the accompanist.  Don’t lollygag with the accompanist, but do take your time.  They need the info to play to your specifications.  Bring music in your key.  Do not expect that the person at the piano can transpose on demand.  Even if they can, they may not because it’s a pain in the ass.  Also, make sure you bring actual sheet music.  Not chord charts, and certainly not fake book entries.  With the internet, libraries, and music stores are at your disposal, you’ve got absolutely no excuses other than laziness in this regard.  The accompanist is your partner and there really, more than anyone else, for you.  The director doesn’t need backup music, you do.  However, the accompanist may also be the music director.

Once you’ve established your music with the accompanist, you walk to your spot, re-greet the people at the table, introduce yourself and your piece(s) and do your thang.  Finish up.  Say thank you, and wait for them to dismiss you.  They might want to ask you questions.  They might not.  Don’t go running out of the room.  They might even ask you to sing, gasp!, something else.  (You should have several selections available in your book.  I’ll talk about that in the Audition Book post.)

Then you’re done, you’ve thanked the monitor, and before you know it, you’re back at home and it’s all in the past.  Except for that waiting part.  For reference, I like to make a note of who I met at the audition, who was in the room, what I wore, what my hair was like, the material I did, my thoughts on the audition, and any comments or reaction.  It’s just good info to have and info you’ll be glad you have the next time you audition for them.  I used to keep this information in a notebook.  But now I use an Excel spreadsheet.  Oh yes.  My dorkiness knows no bounds.

Coming soon I’ll talk callbacks, audition wear, your Book, the pieces themselves and how to approach their actual performance,  rehearsals and all sorts of other fun stuff!

Every Little Step


Movie Post

Every Little Step sat in my watch instantly queue for quite some time.  Meanwhile, I was recently promoted to admin from receptionist so I’ve been getting to know the executives I’m assisting.  Living in a big city like Chicago means you really don’t have the luxury of making a lot of assumptions about people.  I used to labor under the delusion that I was the enlightened one amidst a community of cube-dwellers because I had the balls to take a job less than me so that I could follow my dreams.  Well, needless to say I’ve learned how egotistical and basically wrong that is.  I’m not saying I’m constantly surrounded by sensitive aesthetes at my day job.  I’m just saying I’ve quit being so surprised when one of the execs I assist (Whom I will refer to as Merv) turns out to be European and a fantastically talented amateur photographer and connoisseur of the theatre and also hilarious and incredibly easy to work for.  So let it be known artist-friends, that even in the depths of corporate America are very delightful non-drones who make excellent documentary suggestions.

A couple months ago, upon finding out I’m an actor,  Merv asked if I had seen Every Little Step.  I said no but that it had been languishing in my queue for some time.  He convinced me to watch it and so yesterday, in a fog of my annual winter plague (a delightful combination of cold/sinus infection) I plopped down and pressed play.

This documentary tells the story of both the creation of the original production of A Chorus Line and the 2008 Broadway Revival casting process.

This morning, when Merv asked how my weekend was, I said I watched Every Little Step.

MERV:  What did you think?

ME:  I loved it!

MERV:  Who was that guy?  That guy.

ME: ?

MERV: The judge!  On, um,  the So You Think…  agh….the yutz!

ME:  Tyce Diorio?  Yes!  What an ego!

MERV:  I know!

ME:  Didn’t get the role, did he?

MERV:  No, he didn’t.

I love So You Think You Can Dance.  I think it’s a grand program that pushes it’s viewers to think about art and dance and theatre and performance.  It busts with creativity and the choreographers often bring me to either tears or absolute joy.  Tyce Diorio is one of those choreographers.  His Damn Yankees number from last season was perfection.   Absolute perfection.  I don’t even like Damn Yankees.

So with all due respect to his current artistic incarnation, Merv’s right.  In Every Little Step, Tyce is a yutz.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

I always say if you get a chance to be on the other side of the audition table, do it.  No class can teach you more.   Every Little Step does just that.  It’s very much about dance.  But the vulnerability of auditioning as a performing artist is a universal experience.

When I watch showbiz movies or documentaries I try to learn something from them that can help me.  With Every Little Step I learned two big things.

1.  Humbleness and Confidence are not mutually exclusive.

2.  I’m paraphrasing but one of the producers says “The way to get a role on Broadway is to audition and callback as if it’s opening night.”  That’s how polished your performance has to be.  I’m not exactly auditioning for Broadway, but it’s good advice that applies across the board.

In reference to Lesson #1, let’s get back to Tyce.  I mentioned his choreography skills before.  Let’s talk about his dancing ability:  unbelievable.  Out of this world talent.  Of the three finalists for that particular role (the one that sings “I Can Do That”), by far the best dancer.  But his ego was OUT. OF. CONTROL.  And he ultimately lost the role.

Every Little Step demonstrates that fine line between confidence and egotism.  You can be humble and confident at the same time.  It also shows how being “the best” isn’t always the clincher.  But then again, sometimes it definitively is.  My favorite moment is when an auditionee makes four hardened Broadway salts cry with his performance of a monologue they have heard a million times.  He ultimately secures the role.  After he leaves the room, the director says while wiping tears away, “that hasn’t happened to me in 30 years.  In an audition!”

To be able to be THAT vulnerable…in an audition.  Oy. I should be so lucky.

In this world of shows that seem to cash in on the audition scenario (American Idol and the like) it’s easy to forget what real auditions are like…and no, I don’t consider American Idol a real audition.  Being able to sing a cappella by yourself is worth a cup of jack squat.  In Every Little Step, each one of those auditionees is a consummate professional.  The only tearful breakdowns occur either as an acting choice during a read or after they have been offered a role.

Finally, Every Little Step confirmed a suspicion I’ve had for some time.  To quote Julie Andrews in the PBS documentary, Broadway: The American Musical, “while the theatres rarely change, the musicals have always reflected our changing times.”  Right now, belt is big.  Belt is the thing.  The influence of singers like Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and the like have made most auditions a long series of forced money notes.  In Every Little Step, we watch as person after person belts out the “At the ballet” progression to the point that finally the director says, “Honey, you don’t have to shout it.” Volume is often confused with quality.

I believe that we have reached the current peak of the belt and that, due to the work of composers like Adam Guettel, the increased emphasis on Sondheim’s more classical works, and the general forward movement of art, it’s going to get more legit from here on out.   That’s not to say that belt will every go away.  It won’t.  And I don’t want it to. I’m just saying I want a nice balance back.

But I digress.

In summary, Every Little Step taught me to stand tall, be confident, be polished and professional at all times, and in the words of Merv, don’t be a yutz.

Auditions: Musicals – Part 1: Preparation


Career Post

This is the first post (sort of) in a series about how I prepare for auditions.  I actually enjoy auditioning now, but for years it caused me much stress.  Was I doing it “right”?  Why was I so nervous?  How do other people do it?

I’ve been lucky enough to experience both sides of the table, as it were, and I’ve really relaxed into the process.  While that isn’t to say I don’t ever get nervous (I absolutely do), I am confident that I am now doing my best.  There is always room to grow.  I want to push myself to take big risks in both my selection and  interpretation of material.

So, in the interest of transparency in a particularly elusive and hidden world (shut doors!  OOooooo) I’m going to share my experiences in an effort to learn and hopefully calm down anyone like me.   Please chime in with advice or if you think I’m *gasp* wrong about something, or if you have had any experiences in the past that taught you something about auditioning, or if you have any sage philosophies.  I truly believe we aren’t all cut throat competing against each other, even though it might feel like it.  There are so many mitigating circumstances around casting that we may as well share what we know.

Today I want to talk about musical auditions.  I’m curious about other people’s audition strategy.  I’m always trying to improve my game, and streamline the process.  There are entire thick volumes written about the subject of auditions, so for  a mere blog post, I won’t go into too much detail.  In the future, I will get into the nitty gritty of things, but this post is more general and about preparation.

As a little bit of background, I am an actor.  However, I have been a musical director several times.  I’ve also directed and I play the piano.  The following is garnered from my experiences in those offices.

So, this is a bird’s eye view of how I prepare for musical auditions here in Chicago. (I chose musicals to cover first because I’m preparing for a musical audition at present.  I will cover that specific audition in detail once it’s over.)

  • First, I sign up/submit for the audition.  Then I note exactly what the posting asks for.  While I may take a risk with the material I use or my interpretation, I always follow the time limit or requested bars to a t.  I like to show the director and musical director that I’m responsible, professional, and I pay attention.  That’s the first thing I can do to demonstrate that.  At it’s heart, an audition is a job interview.  I treat it as such.  No, I don’t wear a suit and bring references.  But I show up on time, if not early and follow directions.

I’ll do another post about general auditions in the future,  but let’s assume this audition is for a specific musical.

  • The next thing I do is get familiar with the show.  I download the original broadway (or off-broadway, what have you) cast recording if it’s available.  I almost always go with the original recording.  The reason for that is that likely the composer was involved in the process and the material is presented as originally intended.  I like to know how things originate.  I can put my own spin on them later.  Sometimes I will rent a movie version.  This isn’t my favorite way to learn about a show, however.  Movies do massive amounts of editing to make stage productions film-friendly and they sometimes lose essential elements in the process.  While I love the movie Chicago, you’d never know Mary Sunshine is traditionally drag by only watching the movie.  (Jokes aside).  If the musical in question is an original piece (and that is really exciting if it is!) I get as much info as I can.  What is the style?  Does the composer have anything out in the ether I can read or hear?  Do I know anyone that has worked with them?  Is the score available to puruse?  Typically the posting will have some indicators.  I prepare my best contemporary piece, and I make sure I have a couple more ready to go.  Once I get to the audition, I might learn more that may inform my choice.  Having a few pieces under your belt can be really freeing in those situations.
  • Once I get a feel for the show, I select my audition song.  (I wrote a couple posts last year about my sources for material.  In an upcoming post, I will show what my “book” looks like and how I use it.)  I initially pick 3-5 songs that feel right.  They may be by the same composer as the show, they might take place in the same time period, or the subtext might be similar to a role I want. One piece usually sticks out to me initially and I try to remember what my first instinct was.  Then I sing through each of these songs.  Usually, in that process, 1 or 2 will be eliminated right away.  This could be for myriad reasons including the range, the subtext, or just a feeling.  Then I will try and make the appropriate cut in each of the songs.  Sometimes you just can’t find a good 32 bars, or 16 or even 8.  If I can’t get the song to match the length or time requirement, it goes.  That usually leaves me with 2 choices.    I mull these over for a couple days, sing through them, and then decide on the piece.  (If the audition calls for 2 songs, the process is basically the same, just expanded.  I look for one piece initially, and then use that piece to find a nice contrast.)

Sometimes  a musical audition asks for a monologue, sometimes a cold read, sometimes nothing at all.  I always default to my favorite comedic monologue unless they ask for something specific.

  • Then I rehearse.  Quite a bit.  I dig into the text of the song and pack with objectives and action.  It’s a monologue, at it’s heart.
  • If I really care about the audition and the project, I will shell out the cash to hire an accompanist to run the piece with me a few times.

As I get closer to the day, I do a few things.

1.  I up my hydration.  Theatres can be dry, dry places.  Good for a hairdo, but yicky for the chords.  I will never stop drinking coffee in the morning, but I try to lay off the afternoon diet cokes for a couple days (key word: try) and I drink more tea, along with good ol’ H2O.

2.  I start to think about what I’m going to wear.

3.  I try to get a little more sleep than normal (sometimes this is possible, sometimes it isn’t).

4.  I really nail down where I want the accompaniment to begin, and what I will say to the accompanist.  I make sure the music is marked clearly.  (Recently, a musical director friend of mine returned from New York and taught me never to begin with a bell tone and always to have an introduction, even if it’s just a bar. )

The day before the audition, I run the whole thing (all songs and monologues as requested) as much as I can in the shoes I’m planning on wearing.  I keep up the hydration and try to get some sleep.  (Again try is the key word.)

This brings us up to the day of the actual audition, and I will save that for another post.

In the meantime, what is your process?  What are your rituals?

Recommended Reading

The books I like the best for musical theatre auditioning are Auditioning for the Musical Theatre by Fred Silver and Charles Strouse and On Singing Onstage by David Craig and A Performer Prepares by David Craig.  (Audition by Michael Shurtleff is also grand but I will talk about that for non-musical auditions.)  Some of the information is dated, and of course, New York centric.  But preparation is preparation and these books are chock full of great advice.  Musical Theatre Audition.com is also a friendly and informative site to check out.  Great for initial show research.

The other thing I recommend is finding a way to observe auditions from the other side of the table.  It is the best learning experience aside from actually auditioning.

“Broad’s Way” – The Musical Project – Broadway Melody of 1929


Finally!  My first entry in The Musical Project.

I have to be honest with you.  The DVD for The Broadway Melody of 1929 sat, untouched, in our apartment for 2 months and 9 days.  I kinda sorta was not into watching it, if you can tell.  The thing is, movies from the 20’s can be a little tough to watch.  Sometimes they were merely transferred to DVD, rather than being restored.  (Even things from the 50’s can have this problem.  I tried to watch some episodes of Flash Gordon as research for a role one time.  The volume was at max and I could still barely make out what the actors were saying. )  PLUS, the musical as we know it now wasn’t around quite yet.  Broadway was more of a glitzy vaudeville.  Big costumes and reviews, but little substance (not that I always look to musicals for substance.)  So anyway, this is my explanation for the delay.  Reluctance.

But last night, I came home. Slapped down my things and declared to any cat that was listening that yesterday was the day, goddammit.  So I changed my clothes, grabbed our portable DVD player and watched The Broadway Melody of 1929 while I made risotto.

Initial Observations

1.  Apparently, if the cast of this film are any reflection of Broadway at the time, you didn’t have to be, um, talented to work on the Big White Way. A bottle blonde seems to be the main qualification.

2.  I was expecting a sort of early Ziegfeld follies, but what I got was a sister story.

Not to say there was no Ziegfeld at all.  Instead we have ZANEfeld.  Oh ho ho! Clever!

I don’t mean to sound snarky, exactly.  This is the precursor to today’s Broadway.  Certainly, as a kid, I fell irreparably in love with the Broadway of the 80’s.  So I have respect for those that came before.  In fact, for everyone who bemoans the commercial entity that Broadway has become I argue thus it has always been.  In Broadway Melody of 1929, we have tuxedoed, occasionally drunken investors who care not for the quality of the product but for the return.  Broadway in Chicago might be newish to Chicago, in the scheme of things, but Zanefeld..er…Ziegfeld wasn’t so much a theatre artist as a theatre entrepreneur.  So while it may be depressing, certainly, we aren’t witnessing some sort of downfall.

Actually, the story is pretty good.  Simple but sort of heartwarming in that typical Put Your Modern Values Away To Watch an Old Movie way.  Still, we meet up with the Sweeney…er…Mahoney Sisters, who are girls out on their own.   They’re fresh in from Peoria and ready to hit the heights!  Queenie and Hank Mahoney (guess which one’s the “pretty” one) shuffle off to Buffalo…a bit laboriously…and occasionally hilariously, not intentional I’m sure.  If Broadway Melody of 1929 was supposed to be the typical vehicle for songs, then it fails.  There’s only a couple songs, and I already know the choreography.  Not because I’m good at picking up on choreography (I’m not really), but because it’s just a lot of two-steps-forward, one step back, with a smile and silly hands.

Yet, it’s a heartwarming sister story, and frankly one that rang true with me at present.  Hank, the eldest, is perhaps over-mothering Queenie, the younger.  Queenie is making horrendous choices just because she can, and there’s nothin’ anybody can say about it!  While Hank might be a more selfless sister than I (Queenie marries Hank’s boyfriend with Hank’s blessing), I certainly understand Hank’s frustration.  Honestly, aside from the 1920’s quips and trappings, I like these two sisters.

The Mahoney Sisters

The Broadway Melody of 1929 is significant in that it is both a representation of early musicals AND early film.  In fact, it was the first sound film to win Best Picture!  While some of the acting retains a certain jerky silent film quality, I was pretty impressed with how it holds up.  Much like my experience with watching the AFI Top 100, I found myself groaning at old jokes, only to remind myself that at the time, the jokes weren’t old.  The Mahoney Sisters aren’t similar to the Haynes Sisters of White Christmas, The Haynes Sisters are a nod to the Mahoneys.  I assume.  You even get a little feel of Velma and Roxy: love and rivalry, career vs domestic.  Is it sad or universal that we sometimes still, after all these years,  feel this way with our lives and our sisters?

The Wedding Number

White Christmas actually makes many nods to The Broadway Melody of 1929.  There is a very “Mandy”-ish Wedding number.  We have a seasoned pro trying to help a sister act along.  I would assume that Irving Berlin had a soft spot for Georgie Cohan.  And Cohan this is.  Cohan’s work has an air of celebration be it for country or Broadway.  Truly his work embodied that early-mid 20th century (pre-crash, pre-war) optimism.  All you needed was some pep and pick up.  And yet, we see a grimier side of showbiz.  Queenie gets offered a limo, an apartment and jewels from Zanefeld himself.  If this were Bullets Over Broadway (a film that shares the setting of the roaring 20’s), some sassy maid would be telling her, as she does Jennifer Tilly’s Olive,  that “you better get in the mood, honey, because he’s paying the rent.”  But it’s George M. Cohan, and instead of getting down with the bigshot, Queenie gets married to a heartsick hoofer from Vaudeville and Hank moves in.  Which is a truer representation?  I wouldn’t move in with my ex-boyfriend who married my sister.  But that’s just me.  I think the true choice is Queenie’s diamonds or Olive’s black pearls.  I’m a little dark, myself.

Here is the opening number to the film. It’s almost like the ESPN office commercials.  I love the idea that somewhere there is an office where people are just jammin’ and dancin’ and makin’ musicals.  You could very nearly pick this number up and insert it right into Yankee Doodle Dandy.  James Cagney and Charles King do that high-steppin’, high elbows dance-travel thing oh so well.  It is also the way my Dad dances through the kitchen.

Also interesting to me is that Hank  (you gotta figure Mr. and Mrs. Mahoney either wanted a boy the first time around, or figured their first little girl wasn’t going to be the picture of beauty) is actually the scrawnier of the two sisters.  Queenie is considered the looker of the two, and Queenie is kinda big.  I mean, look, anyone with a cup size higher than A looks a little frumpy in the sleek lines of the 20’s, but still Queenie has some thighs.  What I note about this is that 1.  Anita Page wouldn’t have gotten the role in today’s sickly Hollywood., 2. I had always thought of the 20’s as a particularly lean time as far as body types went.  But Queenie is absolutely considered the more desirable of the two very differently sized women.  This, of course, doesn’t have a lot to do with the history of musicals, but the changing tastes and the ideals of beauty through the centuries fascinate me.  It is my nature to comment.

All in all, Broadway Melody shows that what we tend to think of as “modern” is hardly that at all.  Broadway has always and will always be commercial (which is why any truly aspiring theatre artists might want to wish to pound the pavement in this here city of Wind…); Sisters will always have complex, weird, and nurturing relationships; American movies strive to be positive; and even though their may not be any original ideas left (which I don’t quite believe), we can always improve upon the old ones.

The Musical Project – The List


Updated with a few new musicals to represent George M. Cohan and the introduction of successful playwrights such as George S. Kaufman

PART TWO of a SERIES (Find Part 1 here)

Who else would run a musical library, I ask you?

(I mentioned in the last post that I would start with The Broadway Melody of 1929.  I’ve added a couple titles previous to that.)

This is not a complete list.  For a much more all-encompassing sense of the entire English language musical theatre canon, please visit The Guide to Musical Theatre, The Internet Broadway Database, and Musical Theatre Audition.com.  This list actually meshes nicely with my Alternative Movie List project, so I’m excited to see how it all turns out…when I turn 111, because that is probably how long this will take.

As I created this intense but not exhaustive list, something struck me;  I don’t know whether to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work produced by a very small group of composers and lyricists, or disconcerted that more productions from lesser known writers never make it to the Big White Way.  I guess I’m both.  But yikes that list is heavily white and male, isn’t it?  Yay Lynn Flaherty!  Also, if making this list has does nothing else, it has really opened my eyes to the quality of musical that remains Off-Broadway.  Floyd Collins, Martin Guerre, even some Sondheim never makes it to Broadway.  Sometimes that just indicates depth.

What you won’t find:  Ragtime, Jersey Boys, The Music Man, Annie Get Your Gun, Les Miserables, Cats, Annie, The Boys from Syracuse, Camelot…  Why?  Because I’ve either seen them, been in them (sometimes more than once), or am very very familiar with them.  That said, if you see a screaming omission, please let me know.  I might have left it out on purpose, but then again, I might not have.  Also, in reference to the stage, this refers solely to the American stage – generally Broadway, New York as opposed to the West End.

I have purposefully avoided Shirley Temple movies.  Yes, they are musicals.  And yes, I love them, but they fail without her.  I want stand alone works here, not star vehicles.  One could argue that Gypsy is a star vehicle for a Patty type, but there were many Rose’s before Patty.  If this is faulty logic, lemme know.  I did include an Elvis movie – Jailhouse Rock.   I’m sure that Elvis is integral, but what I was more interested in was the feel of the decade and the introduction of rock ‘n’ roll to the musical canon.

Also, I’m looking for movie musicals that have found life on a stage.

Although this group is large, I didn’t include every musical to grace the Broadway stages.  Basically, this is a list of musicals I’ve heard of, but don’t really know.  How unscientific is that!?  Many times, particularly in the case of older musicals from Cole Porter, the Gershwin boys, and other heavy hitters, I may actually perform a piece of theirs in either my audition or performance repertoire, but I, embarrassingly, don’t really know the show.  Sometimes, I knew the show, but I haven’t seen it for many many years.  OR I may have seen a high school production, say, but nothing I’d call representative of the content of the show.  But then again, all I’ve seen of Li’l Abner is a high school production, and yet, I somehow feel I “get” the show.  Some things just don’t run much deeper than that.  (And yes, I not so secretly want to play Mammy Yokum.  LATER.  Much later.) While it’s been awhile since I’ve seen Nunsense III Jamboree, I don’t think I need to retread that path.  Sometimes I’m familiar with the vocal selections, but not really the entire piece.  And EVERY once in awhile, I have absolutely NO idea what a show is, I just liked the name (see Sweet William).  And then, no matter whether I know a certain show backwards and forwards or not at all, if I am auditioning for it, I will review it.  Expect a Sunday in the Park With George post soon.  I really love Sunday in the Park with George, but this will be the first time I audition for it.  It changes the way you listen to a production.  And every once in awhile, I pretend a musical doesn’t exist (Dirty Dancing.)  There are probably some surprising items on this list.  How could I not know Songs for a New World?  Well, I do in the sense that many a college girl was shrieking it out in 2002, but I really only know the vocal selections.  I don’t really know what’s actually happening.  Why IS Jenny afraid of water?  I have no idea.  You’ll also find an occasional Esther Williams piece and some Disney (in that they have found life on the stage of late).  If this list was for the general musical theatre education of the masses, I would probably include The Jazz Singer and maybe even a Muppet movie or two.  Why not a Don Bluth cartoon while we’re at it?  Well, I’ve seen The Jazz Singer, and all the Muppet movies.  And many Don Bluth cartoons.  This list is for me, although I do hope you will follow along and lend me your insight.

Before we start this list, let me note my current favorite musicals.  I expect the Musical Theatre Project will change this list, so I would like to note it now:

In no particular order:

  • Ragtime
  • Les Miserables
  • The Music Man
  • The Life
  • Sweeney Todd
  • West Side Story
  • Godspell
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  • Annie (shut up.  I want to play Hannigan)
  • Once on This Island
  • Gypsy
  • Sunday in the Park With George
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • Chicago

Moviewise, I really love Guys and Dolls, All That Jazz (could easily be considered NOT a musical), The Band Wagon, White Christmas, Meet Me in St Louis,  any Doris Day movie ever, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Funny Girl.  (The Music Man, too, but the movie is very true to the stage.)  I lean 50’s with the movies and 60’s and 70’s with the stage. And yet, my audition rep is very 40’s.  I’m interested to see what I have a taste for “Nowadaaaaaaysssss”….

Finally, instead of butting recordings up against books up against movies, I’ve decided to just take a title, and see what there is to offer in reference to that title.  So, for example, if I can get the original recording of Kiss Me Kate, the movie AND the revival recording, so much the better.  The date listed is the earliest incarnation that this mortal coil was able to find.  Ergo, if the movie came before the stage*, then the movie date is listed and vice versa.  But I’m human, and I might be wrong.  Please let me know if I am.  I am striving to be accurate, but I’m not going to contact the estate of Jerome Kern, know what I’m sayin’?

*In the case of Jesus Christ Super Star, it was a studio recording before it was anything.  Just an interesting side note.  It’s also not on this list.

Okay.  Pre-babble over.

Let’s get on with the show, y’all.

The Musical Project

My attempt at reschooling myself in part of my chosen profession.

  1. Little Johnny Jones – 1904 George M. Cohan’s first Broadway success.
  2. The Student Prince – 1924
  3. No, No Nanette – 1925
  4. Show Boat – 1927
  5. The Broadway Melody of 1929
  6. Of Thee I Sing – 1931
  7. The Band Wagon – 1931  The movie is great
  8. The Phantom President – 1932 George M. Cohan stars in a dual role
  9. 42nd Street – 1933
  10. Three Penny Opera – 1933
  11. The Gay Divorce/Divorcee – stage 1933, movie 1934
  12. Anything Goes – 1934
  13. The Great Ziegfeld – 1936
  14. On Your Toes – 1936
  15. Pennies from Heaven – 1936
  16. Shall we Dance – 1937
  17. The Cradle Will Rock – 1938
  18. Babes in Arms – 1939
  19. Du Barry Was a Lady – 1939
  20. Panama Hattie – 1940
  21. Broadway Melody of 1940
  22. Cabin in the Sky – 1940
  23. Pal Joey – 1940
  24. For Me and My Gal – 1942
  25. Carmen Jones – 1943
  26. a yet to be made selection from the Gene Autry canon
  27. On the Town – 1944
  28. Cover Girl – 1944
  29. Going My Way – 1944
  30. Pin-Up Girl – 1944
  31. Anchors Away! – 1945
  32. Ziegfeld Follies – 1946 (There were Ziegfeld Follies every year from 1911 – 1927 and then scattered over the years until 1957.  This particular title is a film.  If there is someone out there that can convince me to dig around for the original recordings – if they exist – to a particular year of the staged Ziegfeld Follies, please do.)
  33. St. Louis Woman – 1946
  34. Finian’s Rainbow – 1947
  35. Allegro – 1947
  36. Oklahoma – 1947 (While I am very familiar with the film and many a local production, I haven’t heard the original recording.  For such an influential piece, I thought it would be worth it to have a listen)
  37. Easter Parade – 1948
  38. Kiss Me Kate – 1948
  39. Brigadoon – 1949
  40. The Barkleys of Broadway – 1949
  41. In the Good Ol’ Summertime – 1949
  42. Neptune’s Daughter – 1949 (There is a Neptune’s Daughter from around 1906.  It was produced in accordance with two other shows.  I suspect that at the very least, they were in revue form and likely nearly impossible to find, so I’m going with this one.  If you can talk me out of it, do it.)
  43. South Pacific – 1949
  44. Carousel – 1950
  45. Pagan Love Song – 1950
  46. Guys and Dolls – 1950
  47. Summer Stock – 1950
  48. Lullaby of Broadway – 1951
  49. Paint Your Wagon – 1951
  50. The King and I – 1951
  51. Bloodhounds of Broadway – 1952
  52. Me and Juliet – 1953
  53. The Boyfriend – 1953
  54. Calamity Jane – 1953
  55. The Glen Miller Story – 1953
  56. Can-Can – 1953
  57. Wonderful Town – 1953
  58. Kismet – 1953
  59. There’s No Business Like Show Business – 1954
  60. A Star is Born – 1954
  61. The Pajama Game – 1954
  62. Fanny – 1954
  63. Plain and Fancy – 1955
  64. Silk Stockings – 1955
  65. Candide – 1956
  66. The Most Happy Fella – 1956
  67. Bells are Ringing – 1956
  68. Jailhouse Rock – 1957
  69. Gigi – The play is 1951, the musical is 1973. I will get back to you on how I’m going to handle this one.
  70. West Side Story – 1957
  71. Flower Drum Song – 1958
  72. Gigi – 1958 I don’t know the relationship of the movie to the musical.  The musical opened in 1973.  The play, by Anita Loos, in 1951
  73. Once Upon a Mattress – 1959
  74. Gypsy – 1959
  75. Fiorello – 1959
  76. The Fantasticks – 1960. Can anyone confirm what my research reveals, that The Fantasticks never actually played on Broadway?  From what I can tell, The Fantasticks opened off-Broadway in 1960, and was revived in 2002, also off-Broadway.
  77. The Unsinkable Molly Brown – 1960
  78. Irma La Douce – 1960 (may have originated elsewhere)
  79. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying -1961
  80. Carnival! – 1961
  81. Little Me – 1962
  82. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – 1962 I know the movie, but I’ve never heard or seen it staged.
  83. Oliver! – 1963 – I am very familiar with the movie, however I’ve never seen or heard a stage production.
  84. She Loves Me – 1963
  85. High Spirits – 1964
  86. Hello, Dolly! – 1964
  87. Pickwick – 1965 This appears to have premiered in London.
  88. Flora the Red Menace – 1965
  89. Hard Day’s Night – 1964
  90. Anyone Can Whistle – 1964
  91. Funny Girl – 1964 I know the movie, but I’ve never listened to the stage recording.
  92. Man of La Mancha – 1965
  93. The Yearling – 1965
  94. Do I Hear a Waltz – 1965
  95. The Apple Tree – 1966
  96. Mame – 1966
  97. Sweet Charity – 1966
  98. Cabaret – 1966 I know the film well, but I have little experience with it on stage
  99. Promises, Promises – 1968
  100. Hair – 1968 The same applies to Hair
  101. 1776- 1969
  102. Applause – 1970
  103. Company – 1970
  104. You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – 1971
  105. Follies – 1971
  106. Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris – 1972
  107. Grease – 1972  I’ve heard the original, the Chicago storefront version of Grease is raunchy as hell.  Now.  How do I find it?!
  108. Pippin – 1972
  109. A Little Night Music – 1973
  110. Mack and Mabel  – 1974
  111. Yentl – 1975
  112. The Wiz – 1975
  113. Tommy – 1975  I actually know embarrassingly little about Tommy.  The movie is from 1975.  It never made it to B-way until 1993?  Looks like it may have premiered in the West End in 1979.
  114. Chicago – 1975  I know the revival recording and the movie but I’ve never listened to the original
  115. A Chorus Line – 1975 I know the movie, but there is a cool documentary about the revival so I’m keeping this on the list
  116. Godspell – 1976
  117. A Star is Born  – 1976 Non-stage remake, BUT it’s Barbra and both the original and remake are on my movie lists.
  118. Pacific Overtures – 1976
  119. Annie – 1977  I know it frontwards, backwards, forwards and crossways.  Pure guilty pleasure that it’s here.  BUT there are some really good documentaries available.
  120. I Love My Wife – 1977
  121. Side by Side by Sondheim – 1977
  122. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas – 1978
  123. Working – 1978
  124. On the Twentieth Century – 1978  I’m noticing a penchant for Art Deco here in the 70’s.
  125. Evita – 1979  Sadly, all I know is the Madonna version, and myriad divas singing Don’t Cry For Me
  126. Sweeney Todd – 1979.  Preceded by a production in England called The Demon Barber.  Also, a play entitled Sweeney Todd was on Broadway in 1924.
  127. Barnum – 1980 We ring in the decade of my birth with a circus.  How apropos.
  128. Merrily We Roll Along – 1981 The George S Kaufman play is from the 30’s I think
  129. Dreamgirls – 1981.  1981!  You guys, I had no idea.
  130. Baby – 1983
  131. La Cage aux Folles – 1983
  132. Song and Dance – 1985  Opened in London.  1985 was the year it hit Broadway.
  133. The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 1985
  134. Rags- 1986
  135. Starlight Express – 1987 Although I believe it opened in 1984 in London
  136. Into the Woods – 1987
  137. Chess – 1988 I believe it came to us via London where it premiered in 1986
  138. Grand Hotel – 1989.  This is a movie from the 30’s.
  139. City of Angels – 1989
  140. Tick Tick Boom – 1990
  141. Aspects of Love – 1990
  142. Assassins – 1990 Off Broadway.  Broadway in 2004
  143. Miss Saigon – 1991  A lot of London hits from the 80’s seem to have made their way to the US during the early 90’s
  144. The Secret Garden – 1991
  145. Children of Eden – 1991 London.  Never on Broadway.
  146. Crazy for You – 1992 Obviously, Gershwin wasn’t sitting at the premiere.  I have to do more research.
  147. Falsettos – 1992
  148. Five Guys Named Moe – 1992
  149. Kiss of the Spider Woman – 1993
  150. Hello Again – 1994
  151. Passion – 1994
  152. Sunset Boulevard – 1994
  153. Floyd Collins – 1994 Never made it to Broadway.  Tina Landau wrote the book!  I had no idea.
  154. Victor/Victoria – 1995
  155. Smokey Joe’s Cafe- 1995
  156. Songs for a New World – 1995
  157. Martin Guerre – 1996
  158. Bat Boy – 1997
  159. The Lion King – 1997  Ughhhh… I’m not a fan of the movie, first of all.  And no, I never saw it.  I’m a HUGE Taymor fan… but, I don’t know…I just never really made the effort.  Of course, by the enormity of this list, you can see I actually rarely make the effort.
  160. Parade- 1998
  161. Marie Christine – 1999
  162. The Full Monty – 2000 The movie is earlier, but it’s not the musical.
  163. The Wild Party – 2000
  164. Mamma Mia – 2001  Is this the beginning of the end?  Is this when they started writing musicals with other people’s songs?  Sure, Cole Porter may have borrowed from himself.  Irving Berlin, too, but this….this…..
  165. The Last Five Years – 2001  Premiered at Northlight!  I had no idea.
  166. The Producers – 2001
  167. By Jeeves – 2001 By Jeeves, I believe, is a rewrite of Jeeves which is from the 70’s.  I’ve heard one song from By Jeeves and I adored it.  I’m going to go ahead and believe that the rewrite is the way to go.  Jeeves seems to have premiered in England and never even made it to the US so I’m doubtful I could find the original Jeeves, anyhoo.
  168. Movin’ Out – 2002
  169. Hairspray – 2002
  170. Zanna, Don’t! 2002 What the hell, I already have the recording.
  171. Brooklyn – 2004
  172. Spamalot – 2005
  173. The Woman in White – 2005
  174. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – Look, I love Lithgow.  I do.  But I also love the original non-musical movie.  This musical has a lot to live up to.  And it also needs to break through the barrier of “Sweet fancy Moses, why do they keep creating musicals out of MOVIES?! ”  I want to joke about the making a musical about the movie Overboard, but c’mon…it’s ripe for the picking, so you heard it here first:  I bet there will be an Overboard musical.
  175. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – 2005  I auditioned for it.  Here.  For the tour, I think.  Or the Chicago production.  I can’t remember.  My first Equity crash.
  176. Little Women – 2005 Did you know Louisa May Alcott wrote her own play version of the novel?  She did!  It premiered on Broadway in 1912.
  177. The Light in the Piazza – 2005.  Honestly, this has never enticed me.  But it’s seems to be really popular.  But then so is Wicked and I ZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
  178. The Drowsy Chaperone – 2006
  179. Spring Awakening – 2006  I remember it blew my head off at the Tony’s.  Then I downloaded it, and then I couldn’t stop listening to Mamma Who Bore Me and the Reprise and I never got around to the rest of the show.
  180. Grey Gardens – 2006  I’m looking forward to this.  I’ve seen the original documentary.  I, too, have a revolutionary costume.  Fake eyelashes, sky high heels, and what’s in the middle doesn’t really matter. As opposed to 80’s and 90’s comedies, I like the idea of a documentary as source material.
  181. Xanadu – 2007
  182. Legally Blonde – 2007  Hmmm…2007.  Shit year for musicals?  TBD.
  183. The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin – 2007  I stumbled upon this little gem on Pandora.  I love EVERYTHING I’ve heard.  But I haven’t hear everything.
  184. In the Heights – 2008
  185. Billy Elliot – 2009
  186. 9 to 5 – 2009
  187. American Idiot – 2010

Okay.  There it is.  As I said before, I will attempt to go roughly in order.  But library holds, auditions, and availability will all effect what I actually focus on.

Now, off to get my learn on.

It’s Showtime, Folks!


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!