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Cuts and Additions

August 13, 2010

I recently heard a story about a music director who would just cut numbers if they weren’t working out, whether they advanced the plot or not. That’s obviously an extreme case of an over-cutter.

Cuts are a place where the balance of the 2 principles comes strongly into play. Your contract with the rights organization probably says you can cut nothing and add nothing. In reality, I’ve never done a show that cut nothing. If they don’t expect you to cut anything, why do they instruct you how to mark the cuts in pencil in the musician’s books? The language is there so that they have legal recourse to stop your production if you do violence to the conception of the show. (that is, if you egregiously break principle no. 2)

The first place cuts normally happen is when a dance break is just too long. People can watch Broadway dancers dance for a very long time. They’re really good. But watching kids dance can be a little less inspiring. A dance often has a dramatic function, even if it’s just adding a little pep when the story slows down. But that doesn’t mean it needs to go on forever. Make sure you discuss any cuts with the choreographer, and that they make musical sense. (usually suggestions for cuts come from the choreographer, but you can make a suggestion if you feel you have a good cut) Try to find ways to cleverly cut that allow for things to modulate properly. Often, in older shows, the dance music is pretty self-contained in discrete sections. At the end of the 16 or 32 bar section, the music either modulates or it doesn’t. Sometimes, even if the music is modulating to one key, the modulation is open ended enough to allow you to just plop yourself into whatever key you like, Andrew Lloyd Webber style. When that’s the case, you can just cut directly to whatever key you like. (When the key is modulating up, that’s more likely to work than when it’s headed down, abrupt downward modulations suck the wind out of your sails) Other times you have a section with a repeated musical idea, and the second time through the idea is the part that transitions into the subsequent section. Often you can find a place to splice the two sections together, so that you get the smooth transition into the beginning of the first iteration and the smooth transition out of the second iteration without having to hear the idea twice. Always play through your cut and let your ear be the guide. A good cut is inaudible: the audience should never know they’ve missed something.

Cutting entire numbers or sections of large sequences is a far scarier prospect, because they’re more likely to be load bearing. AABA songs usually function in a particular way. Cutting a repeat of the number may be okay, but cutting one of the As out is probably going to change the storytelling arc of the song. Verse-Chorus songs also function in a particular way, and any cuts should be carefully constructed so that the songs still work properly. Also make sure you’re not divorcing any rhymes that might be married to one another on either side of your cut.

Additions of reprises of numbers are usually well-meaning, but unnecessary. Giving a kid more singing time is a nice idea, but most shows aren’t too short, they’re too long, and adding a reprise just makes it longer.

Adding material from another show, or worse, another writer is a big big no-no. They stopped doing that in serious musicals about 70 years ago, and you are not the person to bring it back.

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