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From the Page to the Stage

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Bringing a character to life through song might not sound that difficult. Memorize the song, memorize the scenes around it and, poof! You’re ready to go, right?

Not quite.

Your enthusiasm is great, but there’s a little more work to be done.

Musical theater is an animal unlike any other. It’s a genre that asks its audience, more than any other, to suspend its disbelief. Musicals of the early to mid-20th century, like Anything Goes, the Pajama Game, Carousel, et cetera, often have libretti that are less than cohesive and well-written than one might hope. One glaring exception might be My Fair Lady, the book of which was adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, and is, arguably, one of the most clever and witty scripts of the genre. Happily, in the 21st century, we are more likely to be treated to a better script, such as The Last Five Years, Urinetown, or the Producers, all of which really stepped up the story game.

And, get into your costume or costume pieces as soon as you can. The one element that can really change your attitude is costume. I find that one’s character can truly go through, not just a transformation, but a transfiguration when the costume elements of the character are brought to bear.

In my opinion, we as musical theater artists have to work twice as hard to assist our audience in that suspension of disbelief, especially when performing in a show that might have a weaker storyline. Come into rehearsal with those songs memorized by all means, but find your character a thru-line for the entire show. If there isn’t one written or alluded to in the script, write your own! Backstory is one of the most valuable but often overlooked tools of the trade. If the story doesn’t provide you with that little bridge to the song, build one. Opera used to be about the instrument, traditional musicals; the splash, but today, character is king!

 

Submitted by: Maggie Zindle

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