Showtune Savvy : Choosing Broadway Repertoire

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ello CS Music artists. It goes without saying that we are existing in an incredibly challenging time. Specifically for musical artists and performers. In fact, no one industry has been decimated on quite the scale that live performance, theatre and opera have been. We have, as artistic warriors always have, quickly innovated and pivoted-now into the digital space. We take voice lessons on Zoom. We sweat all over our home furnishings in dance classes on Zoom. We put on cabaret’s, concerts and competitions, you guessed it, on Zoom. We enjoy never before seen access to our favorite stars and teachers on Zoom. Zoom Zoom Zoom Zoom Zoom! We got the Zoom thing down. We are sick of Zoom. We need Zoom. In all of the constant Zoomage of life and connecting with so many of my beloved Broadway community members lately, the question arises “How do I make the most of this ‘time off’’?”. In a recent workshop I was teaching I was able to connect students to Tony winner Stephanie J. Block, Beetlejuice star Alex Brightman, Tony nominee Eva Noblezada and living legend Ken Page. I was struck by the shared core content of their messaging to students that day. “BE READY! BE PREPARED! When live theatre comes back, you should be as sharp as if you were battling through an entire season of Debbie Allen dance classes in the movie, Fame.“ Ok, I may have paraphrased the last bit. But you get it, NOW is the time to be enhancing and honing your craft. NOW is the time to refine your repertoire. Thus, I bring you SHOWTUNE SAVVY—a digital series that will explore the musical theatre/Broadway cannon and give you a leg up when choosing what songs to bring to life, either in the audition room or concert stage. Even on, ahem, Zoom.

But before we get too deep in, let’s get back to the basics. There are inherent differences in what is expected in a proper classical audition setting and your typical musical theatre “cattle call.” Gone are the days of standing in front of casting directors and creatives and delivering a nuanced 5 minute “tour de force” of your song. There are just far too many fabulous folks out there. The cold hard truth is, you will almost always begin with a 16-32 bar cut of your song. And there’s a lot to be accomplished within those parameters. The good news, a lot CAN be accomplished quickly with the right song, right cut of music, and the right preparation.

Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret—almost everyone can sing. So how do you stand out among the throngs? You must invest in becoming a true and authentic storyteller. The quickest way to create a thorough and impactful story arc is by asking more questions. 

  1. Who Am I talking to? 
  2. What do I want from them? 
  3. How Am I going to get it? 

Get creative, and remember, it may not be playable to be talking to yourself, God or “The Beast.” Get creative. This is heady stuff and we can talk more about it later. 

For the purposes of this inaugural article, I have selected a handful of songs from a musical that is slightly off the beaten path. The Baker’s Wife, music by Stephen Schwartz of Wicked, Pippin, and Godspell fame, and book by Joseph Stein (Fiddler On The Roof).  https://www.mtishows.com/the-bakers-wife  Although The Baker’s Wife has achieved cult status, it has never actually played Broadway after the pre-Broadway production starring Patti LuPone was pulled by producers. It had a modest West End run and a successful Paper Mill Playhouse production starring Tony winner Alice Ripley, and yet it has produced one of the theatre’s most storied and, frankly, fabulous songs.

 

MEADOWLARK  (Mezzo Soprano/Belt, Ballad, Contemporary Musical Theatre)

Ah, “Meadowlark!” It is the stuff of legend. An epic song with a storied history. Producers snuck into the pit, out of town, and ripped up the musicians’ scores of this selection in an effort to force the song out of the show. Something like that, I’m sure you can do an internet deep dive that’ll give you all the delicious drama you crave. The first thing to note about “Meadowlark,” it is a BEAST! Depending on which version of the song you are referencing, it sits at AT LEAST 5:30 minutes. With the lush intro and prelude before the song proper within the score, you are at a far more time saturated experience. Few songs boast quite as luxurious a “build.” Beginning in an almost pensive state of being, the song continues to grow and soar throughout its 3 verses and choruses, not to mention a sumptuous bridge, into full throttle vocal pyrotechnics. Not for the faint of heart. As with any gigantic showtime worth its salt, big decisions are being made throughout. Genevieve must decide: Stay or go? Live or Die? Love or Leave?  It’s a veritable storyteller’s sandbox. By the time we get to the final tagline, All bets are off. “My beautiful young man, and I!!!!, will haunt any singer’s dreams for weeks. 

Finding the right 32 bar cut would be crucial. Many folks opt to begin at the bridge and bring it on home. Others are able to slide an earlier verse into the final chorus, which can be very effective and show lots of range. Remember, no-one in the audition room is actually counting bars so if you need to sneak a few extra in, go for it, just don’t be greedy. Casting directors and musical directors will know when they’re being bamboozled. In very plain speak, only present “Meadowlark” if you can sing the crap out of it (pardon my French). That being said if you got it, you simply can’t do much better. Pitfall, “Meadowlark” does sit pretty high on the overdone meter. I reiterate-unless you really SING this bad boy, keep working on it in voice lessons, and save it for when you’re ready. 

Fun story time! During early casting of Wicked (of which I was an original cast member), one of the actors who was auditioning for the role of Munchkin Boq, decided to stage a coup and perform “Meadowlark” for HIS final audition. In the original key (high note E5). It was a perfect storm—vocalist, composer (Stephen Schwartz), and x factor. He nailed it. As soon as he finished, director Joe Mantello reportedly left the room to address the upcoming auditions and simply said, “Thanks, you can all go home now.” That’s the power of “Meadowlark.” 

Use to audition for: Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, Fantine in Les Mis, The Witch in Into the Woods, Grace in The Pirate Queen…y’know, the biggies.

Listen/Watch: Patti LuPone, Liz Callaway, Stephanie J Block, Andrew Rannells. And for a very refreshing take, try listening to the simply luscious orchestrations of Sarah Brightman’s “The Songs That Got Away” album.

Side Note: “Meadowlark” is a fabulous concert and cabaret piece for mature singers with a strong acting point of view. Go for it!

PROUD LADY (Barritone, Uptempo Patter, Comedy, Contemporary Musical Theatre)

“Proud Lady” is the stand out gentleman’s tune in The Baker’s Wife. Dashing, conceited, hilarious with all the vocal heft you need to show off your power in the audition room. Dominique is the foil to Genevieve’s stable, if not lackluster, life in the village. Although it is inherently comic, with lots of room to play, “Proud Lady” is best portrayed from a place of truth and resolve. This is where the “What do I want?” and “How will I get?” tools really come in to play for serious musical actors.

“Proud Lady” is a much more concise 3:10 long and is quite easy to find an effective 32 bar cut from. Have fun with it, the song is very squarely segmented and can be mixed and matched. Find the lyrics and story that are the most fun for you. 

Use to audition for: King George (Hamilton), Adolofo (The Drowsy Chaperone), Gaston (Beauty and The Beast), Lancelot (Camelot)

Listen/Watch: Ben Crawford, Max Von Essen, Aaron Tveit, Nick Rashaad Burroughs

**“Meadowlark” and “Proud Lady” are certainly the biggest and most sung of the songs from this wonderful score, but I want to give a shout out to a hidden gem.**

WHERE IS THE WARMTH? (Mezzo Soprano, Ballad, Contemporary Musical Theatre)

“Where is the Warmth?” comes near the end of The Baker’s Wife and serves as a lovely resolve to Genevieve’s saga. Lyrically splendid and thoughtful, it acts as the anti-Meadowlark. Lilting and powerful at the same time. If you want to be remembered with a performance of a song that is well-loved and underdone, this is the sweet spot. I recommend having fun with your arrangement of the song. The final chorus can soar into your upper register with thunderous introspection. Finding a cut should be easy as this song follows a standard A/B pop structure. I find this song to be truly delicious. A fabulous concert piece.

Keep looking beyond the fads and norms for music that resonates with you personally. Sometimes the songs that we love to hear and sing in our showers aren’t necessarily the songs that showcase us the best. Be creative and daring, and keep doing the work so you are prepared with a fabulous book full of contrast and variety at your next live audition.

 

LOVE,

Your Broadway Buddy,

Ben Cameron @BenDoesBroadway

Ben Cameron

Ben Cameron is your Broadway Buddy. He has appeared on Broadway in Wicked (original cast), Aida and Footloose (original cast). He has toured in Sweet Charity, Fame, The Who’s Tommy, State Fair and Footloose. Ben is the creator/host of Broadway Sessions (2018 MAC Award), MainStage host of Broadway Con, host of the hit podcast talk show ’The Broadway Cast’ w/ Playbill, BroadwayWorld web series Dance Captain Dance Attack, Broadway Buskers concert series w/ Times Square Alliance and much more. Ben is a frequent face on PBS WNET. He is a sought after writer, director, teacher, host and travels the world teaching high energy theatre and dance masterclasses. Follow Ben on social media @BenDoesBroadway. www.bencameron.nyc