Archive for May, 2011

h1

2011 Summer Reading Recommendations

May 27, 2011

I’m new to recommending books, and there isn’t a whole summer worth of theatre books coming out each year. So I’m going to recommend one new book, and four old ones you may not have heard of for your reading pleasure this summer. If you’ve already read them, fantastic! (I’m sure there’s at least one you haven’t seen, though…)

Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim

This is the only new book in my list, and if you don’t have it, you have to go out and get it! It’s chock full of revealing anecdotes and explanations about Sondheim’s shows, analysis of the work of other lyricists, and thorough examinations of Sondheim’s work from the master himself. It’s the best book on Sondheim ever written, by a country mile, (and there have been some very good ones) Simply a must.

Letters From An Actor by William Redfield

I feel like nobody has read this book; I believe it’s been out of print for a long time. But it’s really wonderful. Redfield is in a production of Hamlet directed by John Gielgud, with a cast that included Alfred Drake, John Cullum, Hume Cronyn, and Richard Burton as Hamlet. The book chronicles the rehearsal process in a fantastically funny and perceptive way, and it’s a joy to read with its descriptions of actors at work. 243 pages; totally a beach read. A friend gave this book to my wife and I as a gift many years ago, and it’s a gift that delights every time I pick it up.


The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway by William Goldman

William Goldman (yes, THE William Goldman who wrote Marathon Man and The Princess Bride) followed every show in the 1967-1968 season, and managed to arrange his thoughts in perceptive chapters following trends and ideas. It wasn’t a terrific season in Broadway history, but his insights sure are.

Act One, An Autobiography by Moss Hart

Moss Hart was a playwright and director. With George S. Kaufman he wrote, among other things, the original play version of Merrily We Roll Along, The Man Who Came To Dinner, and Lady in the Dark. He also directed the first Broadway productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot. This book, which tells the story of the first part of his life, is riveting, funny, and occasionally absolutely heartbreaking.

Everything Was Possible: The Birth Of The Musical Follies by Ted Chapin

This is a fly-on-the wall perspective on the first production of Follies, one of Sondheim’s masterful flops. At 20, Ted Chapin was a gopher on the production, and by golly he seems to remember everything! Ever wonder how these shows get put together? This book’ll tell you. By the way, Ted Chapin is now the president and executive director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization. Oh, and the bookwriter for Follies? James Goldman, the brother of the aforementioned William. Small world, isn’t it?

I’ll be posting a bit less over the summer, but look for more in the fall!

h1

Building Professional Connections

May 20, 2011

This post is more for freelance musicians than school teachers, but I think it has applications for many areas of music.

If there’s one thing I wish somebody had sat me down and told me when I was just starting out as a freelance musician, it would be this: Every job you do is an audition for the next one.

With some exceptions, the theatre community consists primarily of pick-up groups. Each set of performances hires what they need for that specific show, and when that show is over, everyone is left to go on to their next job. That puts music directors, directors and producers in a position of hiring a completely new set of people every time they do a job. And people who are not in a position to hire are frequently called upon to give advice on hires. That means that practically everyone in the production you’re working on has a list in their head ranking everyone they’ve worked with in terms of how pleasant the collaboration was, how high the quality of the work was, and the likelihood they’ll ever hire you or recommend you in the future. That’s why when you look at a theatre resume, you want to see if there are multiple jobs at the same venue. Multiple jobs means someone thought you were good enough to hire again. Getting the first job is actually not so hard. Getting the second one requires a very long audition.

I’ve gone over all these areas elsewhere in the blog, but briefly:

1) Bring your A game. Do you like this job? Do it well, as best you can. If it’s not worth bringing your best to the table, you shouldn’t have taken the job in the first place. There is no slumming. (doing a job beneath your ability level) There are only situations where you are extremely well qualified to do your job. And in that situation, it isn’t right for you not to do your best.

2) People don’t want to work with divas. On your first job at a place, don’t go throwing your weight around and insisting on changes in every little thing. It may be that things are horribly dysfunctional, wrongheaded and inefficient at your new position. But do it their way at least once, and don’t give advice that’s difficult to take unless you’re asked. Did they hire you as a consultant? No. You’re a specialist with a job. Do that job, and do it well.

3) It’s encouraging to see when someone has done their homework. Want to make a good impression? Really know what your show is about. I am very good at reading the score, at listening to the cast recording, and at researching the history of shows. I am terrible at reading scripts cold and remembering characters names. When I’m in a meeting, and I refer to the reason why a number ends the way it does, and the mechanics of a musical sequence, people are really glad they hired me. When I forget what the secondary female lead’s name is and show ignorance on a basic plot point because I didn’t read the script carefully enough, people wonder why they hired me in the first place.

4) Especially in your first production with a group, add value: Is there something you can do that other M.D.s can’t? Do that thing, and do it well, particularly the first time you work with a group. In one production, I played accordion in the pit. In another, I transcribed a better version of a song from a revival cast recording and orchestrated it for our pit. I frequently make practice tracks of numbers for the chorus. I transpose numbers on Finale, and give a copy to the director which looks exactly like the one in the score, except it’s in the lower key the singer needs. I find bootleg copies of shows and track them for the choreographer so that she has every measure of music at her fingertips. I transpose at sight when possible and necessary. People want to work with those kind of collaborators again and again.

5) Show up on time. It’s hard for me to get places punctually with my busy schedule and my four kids. But showing up consistently late puts you on the ‘don’t hire’ list quick! And if you show up for a show late, it’s the kiss of death. Plan to arrive early. I have a number in my phone for SM (stage manager) and I replace that number every show with whoever is holding that job. If I can see I’m stuck in traffic, I give quick heads up. And then the next time I try my best to leave earlier.

I should note that I have blown EVERY ONE of the previous five items, and I’m convinced that if I had gotten all of them right, I would be turning down a lot more work, because everyone would be calling. These are an ideal, not an everyday reality. Work to make them a part of your professional bearing.

You’ll probably do this anyway, but you should then keep a mental note of all the people you’re working with for your own future reference:

Loved working with director X, she’s really good at comedy.

That pianist can’t play jazz.

That actor is always on the ball. She was off book early.

That actress brings too many of her personal problems into the rehearsal. It throws off our focus.

Then the next time you’re casting, or are called upon to recommend somebody for a job, you can make informed judgments. And if you have particularly competent friends, recommend them for jobs you are unable to take. Tell the person you’re recommending the colleague to that she should mention your name. It does two things: it acts as a calling card. ‘so-and-so recommended you’ tells the other musician that the person who is calling isn’t a whack job or a stalker. It also subtly reminds the other musician that you exist in the world, and should be thought of for future positions. Most musicians like to return favors like that.

If you’re a freelance musician, you rely on referrals. I haven’t applied for a job in 8 years, they’ve all come from referrals. Each of those referrals comes from somebody who worked with me and enjoyed the experience enough to recommend me. Make sure everyone has that experience when they work with you.

h1

Tales From The Pit: An interview with a Broadway Music Director

May 18, 2011

Ran across this interesting interview with Lynne Shankel. She says a lot of great stuff in here!

About giving each performance 100%:

“It’s tricky to keep a show fresh that you do every night. Everything I do, I try to put myself in it every night so that I’m always in it and on every night. It’s really important for the energy of the cast and the energy of the musicians, because they’re very effected by what the conductor is doing. If the conductor’s just like (waves arms dully), that’s what you’re going to get.”

On coaching singers to build a dramatic shape of a song, not just the notes:

“…we hone in on the vocals and work on not only the sound and the style, but also the interpretation of the lyrics. A big part of what I do is coaching the actors through a song so that it not only has a musical arc, but a dramatic arc as well.”

Some great explanations of jobs and responsibilities in there too.  Read the whole thing if you get a chance.

Good Stuff! Thanks, stagerush.com!

h1

Thoroughly Modern Millie: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

May 13, 2011

BEFORE YOU START:

1) Listen to the Original Broadway Cast Recording

2) Read the script. It took me about a half an hour

3) Set aside an evening, pop some popcorn and watch the original Julie Andrews Movie. You can do it if you set your mind to it. And then you’ll be able to speak intelligently about it and not just say what everybody says, which is, “What a weird movie.”

4) Read the following interviews:

from THE ADVOCATE

from SAMMY CAHN’S RHYMING DICTIONARY

from BROADWAY YEARBOOK 2001-2002

AS YOU’RE CASTING:

Millie: Needs to be a very strong belter/ dancer with a sustained belt 3rd space C, preferably a charming and funny actress.

Priscilla Girls: Need to dance a little, be able to hold harmony, especially middle part. Not for the life of me Tag, measures 68-69, measures 77-78 are particularly troublesome for the middle part.

Dorothy: Very traditional legit soprano ingénue.

Trevor: Needs to be able to do patter well, the high G in ‘Falling in Love’ can be floated or rewritten if you have to.

Jimmy: High tenor, charming, needs a strong G above the staff.

Muzzy: In the OBC, she is African American. Casting it this way makes the stepmother line at the end funnier. You could cast a soulful girl of any ethnicity. Needs to be warm, maternal, and have a fantastic 3rd line B.

Flannery: Character part, needs to make funny faces, belt a C, some tap (could be comedically awful tap, I suppose) comedy chops.

Meers: Probably should not be Asian. She is supposed to be doing a sort of racist caricature. Lowest belt role in the show, only needs to belt Bb.

Ching Ho, Bun Foo: The fellows who have to speak Chinese need to be especially dedicated. They’re small roles with a lot of prep work. The materials come with dialect recordings so that they can speak the Chinese, and they also have a fairly straightforward 3 part harmony to learn. Mostly, though, it’s all that Chinese.

Priscilla Girls: Need to be able to hold 3 part harmony, dance a little. I requested 6 from my director, so that the parts could be evenly distributed. I only got 5, so I had one girl on the top part, and 2 on each of the others. You could also have 9, but I think if you only have 3, you don’t have enough girls to distribute the lines to, and 12 is really too many.

A few things to note about the Music Director’s Materials:

The Piano Conductor Score is very hastily assembled and contains quite a few errors. (more than normal for this kind of book) A great deal of care obviously went into the orchestra parts and the piano vocal score, but the Piano Conductor Score, which combines piano pit parts in bold and the cues for all the other instruments in a smaller type needs to be read with a grain of salt. Having edited scores like these using music notation software myself, I know the cutting and pasting procedures that make sloppy scores like this one if the editor doesn’t carefully go back over his work. Cues appear in the wrong measures, with the wrong instrumentation, and with extremely poor enharmonic editing, which makes those parts quite difficult to read. They’re not unplayable, like the Dale S. Kugel reductions, but Kugel’s reductions are at least accurate. These are inaccurate, and unnecessarily difficult to read, because the chords are frequently mis-spelled. Some of the chorus parts do not even make it into the score; you have to look elsewhere to figure out what the chorus is singing during the “Speed Test”. There are also very few metronome markings and tempo markings in the Piano Conductor Score, which is really a bummer. You start a number and think, “How fast is this again?” and the score is no help. Unfortunately, if you’re conducting from the piano or from the podium, it’s the ONLY choice you have; the piano vocal score does not indicate who plays what, and you need to know that in order to cue. Take some time to compare the piano vocal score with the Piano Conductor score and copy in the necessary information page by page.

What follows is a list of the things I found wrong in the Piano Conductor Score and in the parts: There may be more, but these are the things I caught while M.Ding the show.

5B page 60. Misleading line ends the 5 bar scene change with a phrase that occurs way into the scene. Just cross it out.

Speed Test Page 80. The cues in the top staff of 84 and 88 are wrong. The notes are copied from the previous measure, and don’t actually appear in the parts. The chorus parts do not appear in this number at all. Refer to the vocal score or the vocal book to see where they go.

Page 89 Score is good, but there’s a misprint in Reed 2, measure 187, beat 3 should be F natural.

Page 97, missing cue notes in 13 and 14 for Meers Music.

Page 107, measure 12, not saxes. Clarinets.

Page 108 missing tempo marking at 28

Page 110 Clarinets soli, not alto.

Page 115, measure 98, clarinets soli, not saxes.

Page 119 there is a tiny Go! at the top of the page which is an accelerando.

Page 126 clarinets enter in 37, not 38.

Page 136, 11B is good, but tell Reed 2 that measure 4 is quarter, quarter half, not quarter, half quarter. Or you’ll have some strange stuff going on between the clarinet and violin.

Page 138 incomplete information in measure 6. What chord is that?

Enharmonic misspelling of D# to eb in measure 7.

Page 143, Trumpet entrance in measure 46 belongs in measure 45. (!!!)

Page 164 measure 55 F#7 chord very badly misspelled in the cue staff.

Page 173 in the Entr’acte, around measure 46, the reed 4 part says to move to Bass Clarinet, but that’s a misprint. It should stayBari.

Page 241 courtesy F# needed in the vocals at 15.

Page 249 measure 92 is Millie. So is 98.

Page 259 the left and right hand step all over each other from 10-21. If you’re comping from this page, play only the left hand.

Page 264 reeds very badly spelled measures 67-70. A mess.

Page 275 measure 2 marked clarinets. Actually Saxes.

Page 282 measure 13 Right hand completely wrong. Refer to the vocal score for a better read.

Page 300 parts are marked in cut time. Score is marked in 4. Which is why 102 on the next page is marked In 4, even though it looks like you were already in 4.

TROUBLE SPOTS AND ADVICE:

2 Not For The Life of Me had a cut in the original cast recording and in the original production from 62 through 72. If you choose to do the number as written in the score, make sure you’re not rehearsing with the CD, or that people know there’s an extra verse there.

3 Thoroughly Modern Millie

When you start learning the various versions of Thoroughly Modern MillieNOW!, start right away teaching the different lengths and cutoffs.

The chorus is voiced very interestingly. It seems like somebody was trying out a particular sound. You’ll see a lot of 3 part writing in the men’s section and 2 parts in the ladies. And that seems complicated to teach until you look closely and realize that the high tenor part is identical to the alto part. Consolidate parts and save yourself the time. Maybe with pros, that high tenor sound combined with belting altos really gets ‘em going, but in most places, it drags guys out of the parts where they need strength in numbers

4 Not For The Life Of Me Tag

The Priscilla girls have some 3 part harmony (branching out to 6 parts at one point) in Not For The Life Of Me Tag. It’s mostly Andrews Sister stuff, with some tricky jumps and a modulation that needs to be run many times to pull off naturally. The cast recording is super fast, but you don’t need to take it at that quick a clip to pull it off well. When I taught measure 86, I made all the girls sing all the notes at first, then made them stop on the notes I wanted them on, then made them only sing the note they’re on.

5 How The Other Half Lives

Make sure the number has a relaxed tempo. It tends to speed up. When it gets too fast, the dialogue section is rushed and sounds awkward.

5A How The Other Half Lives Tag

If the elevator scene looks lame, you can cut mm. 10-17 so it doesn’t go on forever.

7 The Office Crossover

This is a fun number, but ask your choreographer if he/she wants to choreograph it before you work on it with your student pit. I bet it gets cut. We started in m. 17 and ended on the downbeat of m. 28

8. The Speed Test

Pace yourself. StartTOOslow, then work your way up GRADUALLY. If you don’t rush, each section will seem faster than the last. If you get carried away too early, you’ll have nowhere to go, and things will get sloppy.  Let Graydon choose the last tempo himself. Make sure the “Dear Mister Hudsons” are actually in rhythm with the orchestra from the first rehearsal, and be sure to attend the rehearsal when they start choreographing measures 105-112. Use the vocal score to figure out what the chorus is doing in this number, not the Piano-Conductor Score (see error list) The original cast recording has some mistakes in the vocal line. Teach it to them and tell Graydon not to listen to the original. Or live with the mistakes; your call!

 9. They Don’t Know is a tricky number. My Meers pulled a copy of the song from the internet to run with her teacher, and we couldn’t figure out why she was having so much trouble when I played it for her. We finally discovered that her version was a transposition from a national tour and was a 4th (!) lower. The song changes keys every 4 bars or so. Not hard vocally, but needs a pretty good ear. We coordinated the door slams at the end of the previous scene with a rimshot in the tempo of the song, and after the last door, the bass clarinet starts the tune. Nice effect.

10. The Nuttycracker Suite is awesome. Really fun stuff. Measures 28-41 make a nice SAB voicing. At 113 that 3rd trumpet solo is rough. Make it a 2 bar drum solo and let your drummer set the new tempo. Works like a charm and saves you a lot of rehearsal.

In our production we had a light for the flash in the subsequent scene that I ran from a switch at my music stand. I just copied the pages of dialogue from the script and flashed at the appropriate moments. My pianist played a flash sound effect from her keyboard. Then I counted off 10A and did the last 5 flashes as they appear in the score. We found this was more foolproof than running it from the booth.

11 What Do I Need With Love is a terrific number. Listen to the cast recording and get the tempo changes in your head. You need to just know them, you don’t have time to think of them.

11A Morning Music is unnecessarily difficult. It doesn’t really work right under the scene and the guitar part is a little tricky to coordinate under the celeste. You might cut the celeste and guitar out entirely and just leave the violins, but they’re in a very un-violinistic key for the first 4 measures. You could also start in measure 5, or even play 5-8 twice and then go on. Find an option that doesn’t take too much of your rehearsal time; it’s only a minor transition after all.

12 Only In New York is not at accurate to the score on the recording. My philosophy about this kind of song is to learn it note-perfect, then deviate tastefully when you’ve got it the way it says to do it. Learning this number from bootlegs of the show or from the original cast recording only makes the singer copy the improvisations of a particular singer, which is not teaching them anything about how to find their own approach. This number also needs a slow build: Hold it back as long as you can. By the way, I’m pretty sure measure 6 is an E minor chord and measure 7 a B7 chord, if you’re reading from the Piano Conductor Score

12 A/B Muzzy’s Dance Party is a tough balancing act. Your players need to play loud enough that the dancers can hear you, but not so loud that they drown out the dialogue. It’s a big pain. Also, keep an eye on the dance rehearsals. The numbers are set to be done at a certain tempo in order to time out correctly with the dialogue, and if they are choreographed too fast or slow, you’ll wind up cutting or repeating big sections.

13 Jimmy This number needs toLAND for the show to work, there’s no way around it. An under-equipped Millie will be most awkward in this number.

SIDEBAR: JIMMY (as written in the stage play) and WHAT DO I NEED WITH LOVE are structural pillars which employ similar compositional techniques. Both characters are of two minds; Jimmy wants his playboy lifestyle and has fallen in love. Millie wants to marry her boss and has fallen in love with someone else. At the beginning of both of these numbers, the characters veer back and forth between legato, lyric melodies and frenetic nervous ones. A good performance shows the character grappling with these conflicting styles.

Once you’ve reached measure 32 of JIMMY, the melody has gotten to a wistful and sweet place, and I prefer to hear more head voice in the mix. The chestier sound would come in around measure 76. I think there’s a musical justification in this; JIMMY is one of the few numbers I can think of in which the final B and A after the instrumental break modulate DOWN instead of up. Why would Tesori do that? It seems anti-climactic. On the contrary, the higher key at measure 32 is more conducive to a lighter vocal registration, to indicate that Millie is completely in an idealistic infatuated mental state. For the big finish, I think the audience is meant to see that Millie has made up her mind to ‘go after him’ as it were, and a chestier ‘belt’ registration delivers that quality. The lower key puts the high note of the section on the 3rd space C, which belters can usually deliver thrillingly. Note that the last time through this part of the tune, we had a D#, which is really too high for many singers to be singing with a full belt. Work the number carefully to build to that last C, and you’ll have a terrific act 1 closer.

As far as the pit goes, the important opening staccato chords in the clarinets are in an awkward part of their range. Spend some time making it as clean as you can.

15 Forget About The Boy This is only a difficult number in a couple spots: 65-72. (you can leave out #10 without too much difference) and 135-148. If you want to avoid 135-148, there’s a good cut: Play 120, cut 121-150, play 151 to the end. If you’re not careful, this number can turn into just a big scream-fest. Observe the dynamics and the payoff is much stronger.

 16 Ah, Sweet Mystery/Falling in Love The double dotted eighth-32nd pattern is funnier when done correctly. Measures 8 and 9 are hard for the strings, very difficult gypsy violin solo at 36 and 37. Marc Kudisch is wonderful in the original cast recording, but he does go sharp at 54-55, don’t let your Graydon do that. There are other harmony choices for high-note-challenged Graydons, don’t be afraid to find them.

17 I Turned The Corner The opening needs to be pretty quick, half note should equal around 100. If you didn’t hire all the violins, a pianist is going to have to play the eighths in the first 8 measures. To avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, the pianist can simplify that by alternating the top two notes and the bottom note instead of playing all 3 for every eighth. At 129, if you coach them right, the unison  sounds like one person, which is a neat effect and kind of a metaphor, don’t you think?

18 Falling in Love (Reprise)

This number can be really spectacular if well rehearsed. There’s no indication for the drummer that the number shouldn’t be swung. You might tell him that, so he doesn’t mess up the groove with swung eighths. Clean cutoffs and entrances are crucial here.

19 Muquin

Foolproof. Sing the harmony right and this number knocks their socks off.

20 Long as I’m Here With You The men at the beginning have some 3 part harmony. It’s virtually the only difficult part for the men of the chorus in the whole show. It is possible to give this harmony to women, down the octave. You have to be creative to get it to work in the tag at the end, but even that is doable. It might make sense for your group to do it that way. We wound up making the opening a solo for a guy in a tux, which also worked well. There are also cuts to be taken in this number if it becomes interminably long. Get your actors to wait until the trumpet solo at 56-59 is over before starting the scene. (or cut the measures) Tell the drummer to lay out at bar 80, but keep the guitar playing. Give your drummer a strong cue for the fill at 101.

21 Gimme Gimme

Another slow build. At 23 the articulation is counter-intuitive for the reeds, who want to play staccato, tenuto, tenuto, staccato. It’s all tenuto. Don’t speed up too early. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And get your Millie to go easy until at least 83. It’s another number that shows whether you got the right Millie.

21A Gimme Gimme Tag Possible to cut 9-13.

22C Zazu Rosy Smevmen Plan to rehearse this with the scene. If you don’t get the chords lined up, you have only yourself to blame.

23 The Speed Test Reprise There is a fuller harmony available at 17-18. Just assign the notes of the D major chord to whoever you like. Also make sure Meers doesn’t paraphrase the speech that leads up to this number; it spoils the effect.

24 Ah, Sweet Mystery Reprise I think most people will have no trouble pulling the D# out of the air, but if you do have trouble, put a pitch pipe backstage.

25 Finale It’s not marked in the score, but the melody at 19 should be assigned to a sub-section of the chorus. Talk to your director about the staging of this number so you get good sight lines.

26 Bows should be staged as written. Not to do it is just foolish. At measure 77, the new quarter is the old half. Tell your group this before you run it. Accelerando at 156, slowly speeding up until by 173 you can just switch into cut time. For some reason, this was a really unnatural transition for all my players.

27 Exit Music I found the exit music a real downer, so I told my group to go back to 26 and play it again. And then for fun, the whole pit sang MILLIE in measures 185 and 186. Might also be a good place for a sound effect like a whistle or gong or something.

INSTRUMENTS YOU SHOULD TRY AND GET FOR YOUR PIT:

You must have a drummer, a pianist, and a bass player for this pit.

Millie is a dance show, and requires an excellent rhythm section. If you can’t get these players, pick a different show.

If you have more money, add:

Trunpet

Reeds 1-3

Guitar/Banjo/Ukelele

The banjo really nails the time period, it suddenly sounds authentic.

If you have more money than that:

Violin

Trombone

Reed 4

After that, hire:

Another Violin or 2

Horn,
Harp,

Cello

And the rest of the brass section.

Don’t bother using the percussion book. It’s full of mallets, which make the show sound more like the Joe Papp Pirates of Penzance from the 1970s than the Jazz-Age sounds it’s supposed to evoke. My drummer pointed out that the book is full of vibes, which hadn’t even been invented when this show takes place. That’s not a jab at the orchestrator. The original orchestration is very effective. You just don’t need that book.

My pit was:

Piano

Bass

Drums

Guitar

Reeds 1-4

Trumpet

Trombone

Violin 1

We made a great sound. I didn’t really miss the horn, the harp, the cello, the percussion, or the other violins. We did have some trouble keeping under the dialogue during Muzzy’s Party, but the brass used mutes, and the drummer switched to brushes.

h1

Annie: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

May 6, 2011


A Rough Guide for the M.D.

BEFORE YOU START

Watch the movies (in this order):

Annie (1999) This version is closer to the stage version. (still many differences)

Life After Tomorrow A remarkable and somewhat disturbing documentary about the continuing lives of the original cast members of the Broadway show and national tours.

Annie (1982) This version gives you the iconic pop culture image of Annie

Get the original cast recording with the extras, and read the liner notes.

There are books of Annie Cartoons, and plenty of other information to read about Annie, a christmas C.D.a sequel to the movie, and a sequel to the musical, none of which you really need to be familiar with to music direct the show; unless you’re planning to start a shrine and convert your house into an Annie Museum. (see the dude in Life After Tomorrow) If you want to geek out on Annie without going the whole way, probably this is the best way to go.

I’ll be talking about this aspect during this entire rough guide, but I’ll start here. The version licensed by MTI contains revisions, I’m guessing from the most recent revival of the show. I’ll list all the large-scale changes below, but the reason I’m bringing it up here is that if your director and/or choreographer has done this show many times before, the revisions will put a crimp in their style. Have this conversation early. It is possible to get pretty close to the original version, but in order to do that you’ll need a reference: the original piano vocal score. I was able to find one used. It is confusing to toggle back and forth between them, but the original vocal score also has the advantage of being completely PLAYABLE by an average pianist, something which cannot be said of the new piano-conductor score.

AS YOU’RE CASTING:

Annie and Orphans:

This is one of those cases where hearing your pool of orphan candidates sing one song can tell you everything you need to know about all the girls. In the new version, Maybe is in A instead of in Bb, which makes the number far easier to sing. Tomorrow, though, is in the same key it was always in, and your Annie must be able to deliver it, high note at the end and all. Funny enough, though, the Orphans actually sing higher in Hard Knock Life, so have all the girls sing Tomorrow, narrow your Annies down from that pool, and choose the girls who got closest to Annie as the rest of your orphans. The courage the girls gain by being in a large group enables them to sing the WE get kicked at a volume and quality they’d never be able to achieve one at a time. Unfortunately, this means you’ll need to hear Tomorrow about a billion times, but you signed up for this job! J

SIDEBAR: If you’re auditioning for Annie, I think Maybe is a better choice than Tomorrow. They’re going to make you sing Tomorrow anyway if you get a callback, and Maybe shows more acting chops. Have them play it from the score. You’ll sound better in A.

Annie needs to look young enough to be 11, needs to be able to sing Maybe and Tomorrow loud and strong, and needs to be a fair enough dancer to hold the stage with Warbucks a couple of times. She also needs a combination of toughness and sweetness that is actually kind of tricky to get across.

Miss Hannigan:

This is one of those great roles, where body type and looks don’t exclude actors from the running. You have to be able to sing, you have to be able to act, and move well enough in Easy Street not to embarrass yourself. Should be a strong personality.

Sophie and Star To Be:

These can go to your fantastic singers who can’t act, or who you couldn’t give a bigger part to.

Grace:

A soprano with a traditional ingenue look usually. Generally a sweet, maternal figure, but should be able to spar with Hannigan, and should have a little chemistry with Warbucks and with Annie.

Warbucks:

Needs to be a strong actor, high baritone or tenor, with the ability to play a powerful and sometimes aggressive personality, but also to convey paternal warmth. Needs a high E flat at least.

Rooster:

This part is really all about the personality. He’s a high tenor, but that can be fudged. More on that later. Usually cast with an extroverted, showbiz personality.

Lily:

Your typical Floozy with the high stupid voice.

Bert Healy:

Radio personality type, needs to be able to sing Never Fully Dressed.

Boylan Sisters:

They have to be able to sing a poorly written three part harmony. That’s about it.

FDR:

Needs to be able to do a passable FDR impersonation. Can talk the songs if unable to sing.

The rest of the roles can be filled by average singers and actors.

A FEW THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT THE MATERIALS:

As with most of theMTIstudy guides, this guide is great. If you’re looking to use the show as a springboard to talk about history, or musical theatre form, this guide is great. The guides are written mostly by the faculty of NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, and they know what they’re talking about.

Some of the things I’m going to mention will sound petty, but in the interest of being thorough, I’m going to mention most of the things I discovered while music directing with the new materials. Take your conductor score out and pencil in the ones you think are important so when the spots come up, you’ll be able to address them quickly.

Firstly, as far as I can tell, none of the tables of contents for any of the music books has the correct numbers. They don’t even list some of the numbers in the show. Don’t bother using them; get some removable tabs and write the titles on them if you need to get there in a hurry.

On page 13, measure 84, the last note should be a c#, not a C double sharp.

On page 61, there’s a subito piano in measure 21 that isn’t in any of the parts.

On page 64, the cue out of 59 is “Will I get it back?” The cue out of 61 is “The floors”

On page 73, the marking 4x above measure 9 does not appear in the parts.

On page 82, in measure 108, that right hand figure is wrong. It should be eighth rest, G# and A together, G natural and A together, and E and A together

On page 86, measure 141 is a mess. The last right hand chord in the measure should have a G flat on top, not a g natural. I prefer the old version of the left hand, which read, quarter note Gb bottom line with Bass f, quarter note 1st space Ab with 4th space Gb, quarter note bottom line G with Bass F, and quarter note bottom line Gb with 3rd space E natural

On page 87, Star to be should be singing N.Y. C. on the notes with the stems going up, Everybody else is supposed to be singing Ooo on the notes with the stems pointing down.

On page 93, Easy Street is marked as a number with the Chorus. The Chorus isn’t in Easy Street.

On page 98, measures 53 and 54 don’t indicate the melodies crossing properly. It should be one line that goes F#, A, G#, G natural, F #, and the other line going A, B, D, E, D.

On page 99, the cue out of the fermata in measure 63 is the 3rd “it ain’t fair”

On page 107, the cue to begin is “Damn Right”

On page 110, there’s an eighth note treble clef top line f led into by an e natural grace note with a staccato on the downbeat of measure 40 in the reed 1 book flute part. You’ll need to cue it.

On page 119, measure 50 is mismarked as a safety. A safety is for when things have gotten behind. But of course in the first measure of a dialogue section, you have no idea whether you’ll be behind or not. The original score said 3X, and when you play it that way, you’ll see what it’s really there for. On the same page, measure 58 should be spelled G#, not Ab, the next measure too, and the last note in the left hand of 59 should be an F# (like the right hand is)

On page 120, the right hand of measure 66 needs a G natural in the lst beat, not a rest.

On page 126, measure 41 should read Moderato in 2, as it did in the original score. It’s impossible to play a jazzy two step majestically.

On page 128, measure 79 should be in 4 in both the score and the parts.

On page 173, measure 40, the reed 1 part is misspelled concert A flat in the 3rd beat in the Eb version, and concert Bb in the F version. Score is correct, part is wrong.

On page 169 and 178, Warbucks’s first note in measure 110 is wrong, it should be an F in the Eb version or a G in the F version.

On page 198, in measure 29, the left hand is enharmonically mis-spelled. That should be an Ab, not a G#. That’s why that measure was a mess when I played it the first week of rehearsals. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

TROUBLE SPOTS AND ADVICE

1. Overture:

Very straightforward overture with few surprises. Woodblock sets the new tempo in measure 56.

2. Maybe

In the old materials for this show, the number used to be in Bb. Thankfully, it’s been moved to A now, and that half step makes a world of difference for the little girls who now have to sustain C#s instead of Ds. In every performance I’ve ever heard, the last note in measure 48 is a C, but in the original and revised versions, it’s written as another E flat. The C is better. In measure 60, there’s an instrumental break that’s kinda loud. I’m pretty sure that’s where some stage action goes. Even though it’s marked dialogue in measure 60., I think it’s meant to begin in measure 68, where the orchestra drops to pianissimo. Tell your band that Annie sings the last time through the vamp at 28.

3. Annie’s Escape

You’ll probably cut this off early. The original score specified 8 times through measure 2. If you’re following my advice and only using Reed 1 and Trumpet 1, have trumpet 1 play the trumpet 2 notes in this one, to fill out the harmony.

4. It’s The Hard Knock Life

The words are actually it’s THE hard knock life. Everybody sings it’s A hard knock life. It’s difficult to get the THE to pop, even when you sing it right, it still sounds like A. More interestingly, the script and score say weGOT kicked, but I’ve never heard any version actually sung that way. Everyone saysGET. It’s more immediate, and I suspect it’s actually a rewrite that happened in rehearsals, and just never made it into the materials. At your first rehearsals, get the girls to pay attention to the notes in measure 89. They’re lower than you might think. The score also says to have 4 rimshots coming out of 15, but I found it better to just really punch the downbeat of 16.

5. Hard Knock Life Reprise

The end of measure 9 is pretty weird writing when you take the repeat, the F chord doesn’t really lead back into the Bb chord properly. Originally the last chord in measure 9 was a C minor chord, which also sounds off. It worked better for me when I leave off the bass downbeat in measure 2 on the repeat. Measures 10-18 could be sung up the octave by the ‘All but Molly’ group. Any 2 measure group can be removed or repeated from 11-18 for the sake of what’s happening on the stage. There was also originally a repeat with a first and second ending from 19-26. You could reconstruct it if you were so inclined.

6. Tomorrow

The original score of this had a 2 measure repeat right up top, fermata last time only. It also was marked Slowly (in 4). The new vocal score is far better spelled in the section beginning with measure 11. IMPORTANT: all the versions of this song say ALWAYS a day away until FDR changes it later. Then it’s ONLY. Make a note of it and teach it that way from the get-go. Tell the pit that Annie sings the last time through the vamp at 50.

7. Hooverville

This number’s pretty straightforward, and like the rest of the show, contains almost no harmony. The delivery should be aggressive and with very clear, crisp diction.

8. Hooverville Raid

Spend a little time getting used to the 3/8 4/8 section at the end. It’s not hard, but it does take a little thinking for a moment.

9. Little Girls

The soprano sax is very important in this number. Try to keep it from dominating the dynamic, though. Very straightforward number. If Hannigan has trouble finding her entrance, tell her to wait for the vamp. Tell the pit that Hannigan sings the last time through the vamps at 30 and 70

10. Little Girls Reprise

Same as above.

11. I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here

Dialogue is supposed to begin around measure 21. The subito piano in measure 21 is so the band gets out of the way of the dialogue. When we got to 62, my pit was usually going much too fast. I told them to check in with me around 58 to establish the correct tempo for the rest of the number.

12. N.Y.C.

The tempo picks up a bit at 27, but it isn’t indicated in the score. If you’re trying to get a cut in this number, you can cut from the end of 45 to the beginning of 85. If you take that cut, have the chorus sing NYC at 89-90 and 97-98. Measures 129-142 are awkward to play and m. 141 is badly spelled. I wrote in my part Db/F Edim, Ebm7 Ab7, GbM7 Ab7 G7 Gb7, then F7 at 142, which seemed to help. Make sure you see the notes above regarding the errors in this number. From 153-156, make sure your star-to-be is hitting the lower notes right in the jumps. The Eb, the D, the C are easy. It’s the lower notes that can be pitchy. The goofy thing from 179-182 has been added in this version, it’s not in the original. Tell your pit that Warbucks sings the last time through the vamp at 11.

13. Easy Street

This number could go a few different ways. The parts can be distributed any way you want really, in any octave, and you can improvise some other parts too, if you like. If your actors are good enough musicians, you can just teach them the basics and let them do what they like with it. But usually Rooster sings the melody high, and Lily is also high, in that ditzy voice, and Miss Hannigan sings the harmony part. But if your Rooster can’t sing the high parts in the chorus, you could give him the harmony or even the melody the octave down. Likewise Hannigan or Lily; it’s very malleable, and because they’re sort of sloppy unsavory characters, it can even sound kinda lousy and still be okay.

13a Intro Warbuck’s Mansion

Easy scene change.

14 Why Should I Change a Thing?

This number is new to the show, not in the original recording or production. It’s a great establishing number for Warbucks, and gives him a chance to do some declamatory singing. It also raises the stakes for the scene to follow. Normally shows don’t need more ballads, but in this case, I think it works well. Start conducting in 4, then move to 2 in measure 3 (even though it isn’t marked that way) If you’re looking for a cut, go from the end of measure 59 to the beginning of 76. Warbucks is also now one of those roles where there are 2 keys for one number with a high note at the end, (Something Was Missing) but only one key for another equally high note. (this number) If you’re looking for a way around that high G flat, change the G flat to a B flat, the f of ‘sed’ to a C, and change the F to a D flat. If you use this rewrite, you need to tell everyone in your pit who is playing a concert B double flat in measure 98 to change it to a concert Bb.

15 You Won’t Be An Orphan For Long

This is a number that gradually accelerates, so pace yourself. But I’ve also found that if you keep it slow for too long, it saps the energy from the song. I think the tempo should pick up around measure 10. Drake has this random ‘done’ in measure 13 which seems really lame to me. Maybe I’m out to lunch, but I don’t get it. It doesn’t sound like an echo, because it only happens once. It sounds like Drake is just a beat behind. In the original score, Cecile and Annette sing the second half of 17 on, adding Grace at measure 21. Everyone else joins in at 25. In the original vocal score, there was a marking Moderato in 2 at measure 26. Grace used to sing the second half of 29 to the first note of 32. There also used to be a caesura (railroad tracks) in the middle of measure 32. Measure 34 used to be marked Bright. I think the men’s parts in 36 and 40 were always there in performance, but they didn’t used to be in the vocal score. Don’t go too slowly at 85. 89-92 repeats once if at all. Your Warbucks may have trouble finding his note at 104 and feeling the ¾ at measure 109.Run it a bunch of times until it’s foolproof. Your Annie may have some trouble remembering which version of Maybe she’s singing at the end. Also note the low A here at the end of 114. It isn’t an E like it was before.

16 N.Y. Entr’acte

Make a note that the Reed 1 book is mismarked with this number as 15. The trumpet lick at the beginning of this Entr’acte is prone to goofs. My trumpet player nailed it every night, but he tells me the trumpet chat rooms are full of people kvetching about this cold opener. There is a cut possible from 60-71. If you don’t have a great low brass section, you might want to use it.

16a Timpani Cue

This number is new, and very funny, especially if you cut it off right where it says to, before Warbucks says “drop page”

17 Fully Dressed

This number is pretty simple, so it’s surprising that there are so many potential problems in it. In order: You need to pick your Ronnie Bonnie and Connie voicings. Bonnie is the highest, Connie is in the middle, and Ronnie is the lowest. If you’re conducting a small group from the piano, tell your players to keep the rhythm going in measures 4+5 while you play the celeste cues as he says their names. The new version has these hahahas in them. Your director may think they’re lame and cut them, in which case your cue out of 6 is “…Bert Healey saying…” In the old version, the Boylan sisters said “Ah” at 32, but “So” is better. The harmony at 50 is needlessly hard. The original vocal score has only unison here, but I think there has always been a harmony part here. Plan a lot of time to work on it. Hopefully you’ll have a Boylan sister who can run the trio backstage without your help. I am including here a rewritten harmony that makes more sense to me. You can do what you like, of course, but I found the middle part really counter-intuitive from 55-57.

18 Dressed (Children)

This one is easier. If you’re playing, note that 18 is in Ab, or you’ll start in the wrong key after your page turn. If you’re looking for a cut, the one I used was from the end of 37 to the beginning of 46, and from the end of 52 to the beginning of 61. The key change is a little awkward, but it’s a good cut, and if your orphans aren’t riveting to watch, it makes the number blessedly terse. I think it’s become customary to drag out the last fermata in measure 69 to allow the girls to get into their kickline positions.

19 Easy Street Reprise

This number was originally marked ‘Swingy’. I have no idea what that means. There should also be a fermata in the second beat of 19.

20 Train Music

Your basic fast scene change. One time in our production the scene change was delayed, so we wound up playing it 20 times or so. We started improvising train things, like Midnight Train to Georgia, and Chattanooga Choo Choo.

21 Cabinet Tomorrow

Does your Annie have perfect pitch? No? Then play a D flat to help the girl out. At 17, play it 3 times, as it says, and bar 19 should work out perfectly for your vamp. The new line for Annie at m. 30 doesn’t really work. Note that it’s still ALWAYS a day away, not ONLY yet.

22. Cabinet End

This was formerly written in 4/4 with a tempo marked ‘in 2’. They’ve fixed that in this edition, and if you pick the right tempo, repeating each section once, and if your actors don’t drag things out, FDR’s entrance comes at just the right time. This is where the words change to ONLY a day away.

23 Train Scene

Your basic piece-of-cake scene change.

24. Something Was Missing.

Great number for Warbucks, in 2 keys. Unless your Warbucks is an honest to goodness Tenor, I recommend the Eb version. The cue to begin should be “…Babe Ruth…”, not “…and there’s something else you should know…” I picked up the tempo at the end quite a bit, so that my Warbucks didn’t have to hold out that note quite so long.

25 I Don’t Need Anything But You

This number is totally rejiggered in the newer version. If your choreographer and director want to do it the old way, it can be done, but be forewarned: it’s a LOT of work to get it back to the way it was, and it’s work YOU’LL be doing. You’ll need the original vocal score and you’ll find that most of the original is there. Here is a list of the measure order from the new materials that approximates the old version: 83-84 repeated. (kind of) 82-136, 17-81, 148-171. That’s CLOSE to what the original was, but not quite. There are a few measures of vamp missing here and there. And because the parts have so much jumping around when you do it that way, you really need to cut and paste the parts, or rewrite them. I rewrote them during breaks in the tech week, which worked pretty well, except that the last ones I rushed and made some errors. Here are some plusses for doing the number the new way, should you be looking for arguments not to do hours of extra work:

1) The old way, it’s a number about Warbucks and Annie realizing they need each other, culminating in a number where everybody says they love Annie. The new way, it’s a number about everybody loving Annie which culminates in Warbucks and Annie realizing they need each other; which is a much stronger idea dramatically.

2) The original version has what I think is one of the most dreadful lines in Musical Theatre:

GRACE: Have they sent the cheese?

DRAKE: Yes, AND ice

Camemberts and Bries

GRACE: Judge Brandeis!

It’s clear what happened. They needed a rhyme for Brandeis, and the only one is a stiltedANDice, which is not the way any normal person would stress that, and then to fill out the phrase, they went with Camemberts and Bries, as though they are talking about different kinds of Camemberts and different kinds of Bries. The audience doesn’t hear that. They hear the word Breeze, which doesn’t make sense, and then they immediately  hear and see Judge Brandeis, who was mentioned in passing twice before and seems odd showing up here. There isn’t time to process what those lines might have meant, and the audience just shrugs and thinks, “guess I missed something” Worse yet, to justify the cheese line, the original script has Grace asking Warbucks excitedly about cheese, which makes her seem looney in a way she isn’t for the rest of the show. The new version cuts all this out and replaces it with a section from the pre-broadway tryouts, a section which can be heard on the latest version of the Soundtrack in a backers audition as performed by the writers.

3) The new number has more harmony and countermelody which is sorely needed in this show.

4) The new version adds a cute measure of drum fill (measure 147) that the original doesn’t have.

Another thing to note: If you’re using the soundtrack to block the number, there’s a section that isn’t in either version of the score. If you’re using the old score, you repeat measures 28-51. If you’re using the new score, you repeat 99-122, and then cut it off at 137. Look over it carefully so that you understand how it works if you try to add that section. It’s actually a little tricky.

26 Party Music

I should think you’ll cut this off after about 3 measures, and if you do it sloppily it really creates a great disjointed effect for the entrance of the ‘Mudges’.

27. Same Effect on Everyone

This number used to modulate to Bb in measure 15, but now it goes to A, the new Maybe key in this version. Why didn’t they change the key of the first section also? I’m guessing it’s because the solo flute would then have a note that isn’t in range for some flautists. Which brings me to that solo. Many doubling flutists will have trouble getting tone down there on the flute. Be careful about throwing it up the octave though, because the volume may drown out the dialogue. Make sure your Annie sings the right words here.

28. A New Deal For Christmas

I don’t think you need to repeat 32-35 really. At measure 51, the rall. feels like it’s leading up to a big tempo change but it isn’t. You’re right back in tempo in 52. Make a note of it, or you’ll have trouble reestablishing the tempo.
29. Bows

A couple of things. The first repeated section is listed 4 times in the score, but not in the parts. Let them know. Tell your group that the words are ONLY a day away. If you’re looking for a repeat, take one from the end of 22 back to the beginning of 3. I honestly think the second start at 32 is overkill. By this time nobody really wants to hear Tomorrow again, they want to go home.

30 Exit Music

Kind of a truncated version of the overture, really. I have no idea why there’s a measure marked 95AND48. Make a note of it to avoid confusion.

INSTRUMENTS YOU SHOULD TRY AND GET FOR YOUR PIT:

You MUST have a drummer, a piano and a bass player for this pit. I prefer the sound of an upright bass, which pushes it slightly more into the historical time period of the show. An electric bass points up the 70s sound, and makes it sound more like the time the show was written in.

If you have more money, add (in this order):

Trumpet 1

Reed 1

Guitar/Banjo

Trombone

The trumpet really adds a lot to the sound of the show, it opens both acts and has a lot of material.

Reed 1 has the flute in the marches, the soprano and alto sax parts that are so important to Little Girls, and a lot of nice touches here and there. It is by far the most important reed book.

The Guitar and the Banjo complete the rhythm section and make the up tempos pop.

And there are a number of exposed Trombone solo lines that are important to the score.

After that, add as you are able (I think in this order) :

Violin 1

Reeds 2 and 3

Keyboard 2

Reeds 4 and 5

Tuba

Trumpet 2

Trombone 2

Cello

It’s not a huge pit to begin with, so paring it down doesn’t kill the sound, provided your pianist can fill in what’s missing.

My pit at a synagogue production was:

Piano

Reed 1

Trumpet 1

Guitar/Banjo

Upright Bass

Drums

The location was acoustically problematic, with a lot of echo, but not in a good way, so we needed to keep small. But the big moments were still impressive, and we didn’t have a lot of sound issues, because we could keep underneath the singers.

Annie’s a great show, draws a huge crowd, and gives lots of people chances to shine. And everybody knows it. But don’t let that lull you into thinking it’s easy. There are some very tricky moments to work out. Good Luck!