Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Straigh Actors Singing in Chicago

There has been a growing trend among the off-loop theatre companies over the past couple years. As a means of broadening their scope and reaching new audience bases many companies that normally do not perform musicals are putting musicals (or at least plays with music) on their season. The results are often mixed.

Sometimes the companies have thought through their choice and the production is a success. The press will love it. The Jeff Committee will love it and it does in fact open new doors for the company. Sadly this is not often the case.

Often what happens is a company with a resident ensemble of actors decides to product a musical to expand their scope. Great idea. They then fall into the trap, however, of having to cast their artists in the show. Many times these artists, while fine actors, are not trained singers. Their voices tend to be a little weaker and thus not able to carry the full range of the music - both musically and emotionally. If an artist is confident in their ability to sing the song, they will not be able to express the character's needs at the same time.

The other thing that often happens is these companies are annoyed with the "cheesy-ness" of musicals. To solve this problem, they instead add musical numbers to an existing straight play or set out to write their own musical. The product is a play with music that uses dialogue and acting to convey the drama and action rather than singing. In a musical, a character bursts into song when an emotion suddenly becomes too big for words (this is why love is a major theme). If a character is articulate enough to express how they feel, having them sing a song on top of that becomes ridiculous and falls right into the cheesy stereotypes that musicals are hated for.

Also, musicals need to have a larger-than-life feeling; they are singing for goodness sakes. This is not realism. Too many plays with music tend toward realism as opposed to spectacle. When you are creating two contrasting worlds the resulting effect can be very jarring and confusing.

Again, the above are pitfalls that plague companies in our city that are very easy to fall into. Not all companies and productions fall prey to such road blocks. Here at Ghostlight we always support the attempt of trying new things artistically, raising the bar, and exploration. But if you are going to push the bar, first know why you are doing it and what you hope to achieve. It is a director and artistic director's responsibility to know the tools that you have and the tools you will need to acquire to be successful. A company shouldn't pick King Lear for their season if they don't have an actor who is old enough to play the role. Likewise, you shouldn't do a musical if you don't have actors and production staff with the appropriate skill set.

No comments:

Post a Comment