Posts Tagged ‘musicals’

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How did they do school shows back in the day?

June 22, 2016

I’ve recently found some old sources about how to put on a school show. This blog originally catered toward people putting on school shows, and I thought some of my readers might get a kick out of how much things have changed, and how they also absolutely haven’t changed at all. There seems to have been a real vogue for school operetta from the late 1920s through 1940, and most of these quotes come from that era.

Oddball Advice

Have all your rehearsals onstage.

“Have your rehearsals conducted as often as possible upon the stage on which the contemplated performance is to take place, for in an operetta you will in all probability have groups to deal with. If available space is not taken well into account, it will be found necessary at the last moment, perhaps, to dispense with the services of some who have worked hard in preparation, and who have possibly gone to the expense of purchasing a costume. This, to a boy or girl is heartbreaking.” -Joseph Despicht, The Practical Teacher, 1898.

Despicht goes on to explain that if you can’t have all your rehearsals onstage, you can tape out another room to make sure you don’t need to dismiss half the chorus when you realize they don’t fit on the stage. I love that this advice sounds like it comes from bitter experience.

Kids are cool and will basically get all your casting decisions.

“The director should be unbiased in choosing his principal characters. His chorus must know that he is governed in his choice by the desire for a successful production. Students are generally fair minded and will abide by the directors decision.” -William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

Where is this school? Has anyone experienced this calm reaction to casting, ever?

Scenery is Overrated.

“Perhaps the wisest plan is to trouble very little about [scenery], for it is far less essential than many people suppose…” -Joseph Despicht, The Practical Teacher, 1898.

If you need publicity, that’s what the English department is for.

“The English department will handle the publicity.”-William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

Or you can do it the old fashioned way: (I’m pretty sure this picture was meant as a joke in the book)

Live advertising

Frank A. Beach’s Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

Wow, Things Have Changed!

Spanish Grandee

Those gas lights can be a pain.

“Let some adult be in charge of all lights and fires about the premises. He should have no other duties. Lastly, don’t lower the gas in the auditorium so that visitors can neither read their programmes nor the Book of Words.”-Joseph Despicht, The Practical Teacher, 1898.

I know this is the way theatrical lighting has been for most of the history of theatre, but it’s a miracle everyone wasn’t immolated at every production.

Need electrical lighting equipment? Make it yourself!

“A home-made dimmer may be constructed at a comparatively small cost. In making a dimmer, consideration should first be given to the resistance, voltage, and candle power of the light to be employed. Ordinarily a resistance equal to four times the resistance of the lamp load must be placed in series with the foots or borders, or with both, in order to dim completely either or both of these circuits. The bulletin, L.D. 146 A of the General Electric Company, on stage lighting suggests…”-Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

“A set of four or five dimmers can be made for five dollars. Common drain tile is used. A copper slug is cemented to the bottom of the tile, with an electric cord attached to the slug leading out the bottom. To the other end of the cord is attached another copper slug. The second wire is unbroken and runs down the outside of the tile. The tile is filled with water and the closer the slugs come together the brighter the light will be…” – Gwynne Burrows, Light Opera Production For School and Community, 1929

“The following homemade dimming device is very satisfactory for small stages. In recommending this we want to again caution the amateur to be very careful, for there is always danger in handling live wires. Take two old dry cell batteries and extract the center pole by breaking away the packing around it. This center pole is a stick of carbon. Next cut one of the wires of the electric cord leading from the current source… fill a large earthen jar three-fourths full of water…” – Kenneth R. Umfleet, School Operettas and Their Production 1929

Hold up. To save money, we’re chopping up batteries and floating things in water?? After theatrical lighting went electric, it’s still amazing everyone wasn’t killed!

An opposing view is expressed by Mr. Jones:

“While it is quite possible to make improvised dimmers, it is not advisable on account of the fire risk and the danger of electrocuting the stage crew.” -Charles T. H. Jones, Musico-Dramatic Producing, 1930

Have half the rehearsals during the school day.

“It is always desirable to make the rehearsals a part of the classroom work…”-Clifford A. Caton, How To Select and Produce Operettas, 1930

“In this schedule at least one-half the time required should be taken from the regular school day. The arrangement of such a program will conserve the strength of the participants, avoid conflict with scheduled and extra events, encourage cooperation, and avoid serious encroachments upon the leisure hours of the student and the director.”-Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

But when would they do the standardized testing?

Costumes? Make the girls sew them.

“…when a performance of any dramatic piece is contemplated a committee of ladies should be formed to carry out this department of the business. The ordinary theatrical costumer does not care for the work unless he may charge an enormous price. The school staff, assisted by lady friends, do the work better, and at much less cost.”-Joseph Despicht, The Practical Teacher, 1898.

Well, the bit about theatrical costumers charging a lot you have to agree with. But surely there must have been some boys who wouldn’t have minded helping?

Don’t choose shows with all that tawdry jazz in it.

“It is a cause for regret that so many [published operettas], consisting of cheap and tawdry verses set to commonplace and drab, or jazz-colored melodies, masquerade as worthy operettas, and as such are admitted into good standing in the musical repertoire of many schools.”-Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

No Cello? An Alto Sax will do. They can just transpose.

cello sax-Charles T. H. Jones, Musico-Dramatic Producing, 1930

This is just a terrible, terrible idea. No, no, no.

I’m just going to leave this here…

Make upblackfaceBoth of these come from Frank A. Beach’s Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

um nomistrelsblackface 2

These are from Charles T. H. Jones, Musico-Dramatic Producing, 1930, who says “The only real black-face makeup is done with burnt cork.”

“Irish, German, blackface, and similar characters usually involve a certain amount of dialect, and actors must be especially careful not to overdo it. The colored porter in ‘Peggy and the Pirate,’ the Swedish maid in ‘Sailor Maids,’ and the Irish comedian in ‘Belle of Barcelona’ are funny only if they are heard.”-Clifford A. Caton, How To Select and Produce Operettas, 1930

Let’s hope those days are all behind us.

Some Things Never Change

Pick a worthwhile show.

“If the supervisor or amateur director, then, realizes and accepts his responsibility and opportunity in connection with the selection of an operetta, he will be confronted by two questions: first, ‘What will the singer do to the operetta,’ -second, and equally important, ‘What will the operetta do to the singer?'”-Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

“…our first admonition is to select an operetta worthy of serious production, one that will enlarge the interest in life itself, that will instruct and deepen the sympathies, and lead to a better insight into the motives of men.”– Kenneth R. Umfleet, School Operettas and Their Production 1929

Use Understudies.

“The presence of well-trained understudies also serves another purpose- that of keeping each member of the cast alert in the matter of attendance, interest, and effort; for the knowledge that someone else stands ready to step into his place is an excellent spur for each principal.”-Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

Don’t let kids cast the show.

“To have a vocal class vote on these candidates is one way of asking for trouble. The judgment of the class is too apt to be prejudiced.”-William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

Shockingly, I occasionally hear of schools that have students make the casting decisions today.

Don’t bow to parental pressure.

“A supervisor should be cautious in dealing with the ambitious ‘little star’ who in order to gain a footing, will sometimes bring unthought-of pressure, and even parents with interests somewhat their own ‘move in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.'”– Kenneth R. Umfleet, School Operettas and Their Production 1929

“Family connections, social prestige, or financial status have no bearing whatever on the qualifications of the actor. No boy should be chosen because he is the trustee’s son, and no girl is qualified merely because she is the banker’s daughter!”-Clifford A. Caton, How To Select and Produce Operettas, 1930

Make sure the singing parts are cast with actual singers.

“Singing by people absolutely devoid of prowess is torture to performer and audience alike.” – Charles T.H. Jones, Musico-Dramatic Producing, 1930

Learn the music first.

“If possible, let all learn all the music, solos and choruses (regard being paid to the range of the child’s voice) and let the spoken parts be read til all errors are eliminated. Nothing so irritates the young performers as to have to ‘stand about’ when all should be in action, while some soloist repeats and re-repeats his part.” -Joseph Despicht, The Practical Teacher, 1898.

Yes. Have the music rehearsals first.

Somebody actually needs to block the show.

“Although it is plainly evident to the audience that in the preparation of the operetta the music has been carefully directed, it is equally apparent to a critical observer that the action in the average operetta suffers from the lack of direction.” -Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

Biggest complaint I hear from kids about productions they’re in? They had to make up their own blocking.

Your costumes need not be as racy as they are on Broadway or the Vegas national tour.

“In connection with the dancing chorus it is well to supervise the type of costumes that will be worn. Girls particularly will want to wear the abbreviated costumes seen on the professional stage. These generally are unsuited to school productions, aside from the fact that they are seldom compatible with the text of the show. Perhaps the most serious effect of this type of costume is to provoke eyebrow raising and loss of sympathy for the production by the adults of the audience. They may ask, and rightly so, if that is the sort of things schools are teaching today.” -William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

I’m with him. In some high school productions I’ve attended, I’ve spent most of the dance numbers studying carefully the ad for the car dealership on the back inside cover of the program. Oh, and you kids get off my lawn.

You also don’t need to blow your vocal cords out singing like the Original Cast Recording.

“The conductor will do well to keep in mind the fact that the average operetta will be given but once; the voices of the singers will be used for years to come. No vocal effect therefore will justify the misuse of the voices of the cast and chorus. Furthermore, the director in his choice of the operetta should remember that a work which has no moments that are really musical- from a vocal standpoint- is unworthy of the time of the conductor, the cast, or the chorus.” -Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

Get those scene changes moving fast.

“One or more of the early rehearsals should be devoted to stage setting alone; the director may use, as an incentive for acquiring rapid shifts, a definite time limit within which the used setting is to be removed and the next one set up. Dress rehearsals often drag late into the night simply because the stage manager has neglected to have separate rehearsals for scenery and lighting.”-Frank A. Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

“Do not forget to hold one or more special rehearsals for the stage crew at which time nothing is done but the actual changing of scenery and properties. A half-hour wait between acts is intolerable and unnecessary.”-William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

“Never, under any circumstances, let more than ten minutes elapse between acts. Five minutes are better.”– Gwynne Burrows, Light Opera Production For School and Community, 1929

Shout it from the rooftops, people.

Have an honest to goodness dress rehearsal and give the speech.

“See that they are equipped with everything necessary and require them to wear it at least for the first act if no change is necessary. This is important. You will then find that the flowing dresses of the girls catch on the scenery, that one boy trips himself on his cane, that swords are difficult to manage, that beards fall off and any number of things are apt to happen. Another trial for the director is the disposal of costumes after the dress rehearsal. Watch your hero throw is outfit in a corner and rush out. When he wants it again, he will not be able to find it. Then confusion results, and the curtain rises on a thoroughly demoralized hero. Get a suit box for each person. Impress your cast with the necessity for taking care of their costumes. Your home economics people should check them as soon after the dress rehearsal as possible. Hold your dress rehearsal at least two days before the performance.”-William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

Makeup. Amirite?

“Watch the make-up problem. Amateur make-up artists are often bad. Professionals are sometimes worse. In a school auditorium where the lighting is inferior to the professional theater, your professional make-up man will plaster it on so think as to make your actors look ridiculous. Try out your make-up man as you do your electricians and scene shifters. It will pay dividends.” -William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

There’s always that one kid…

“You cannot do anything with the fellow who arrives at the school just at curtain time. He is a species that produces gray hair on the director’s head. Sometimes you can predict who that person will be, but sometimes it is your most trusted principal actor… In any event, if you wish to live to a normal age, have your entire company on hand a half hour before curtain time- and keep them out of sight.” -William J. Watkins, Producing a School Operetta, 1937

Be inspirational. Energy, energy, energy!

“Just before the curtain is ready for the overture he should call all of his people on stage and have another one of his heart-to-heart talks. This talk should be entirely optimistic; he knows they are going to give him a wonderful performance; that every one must give him the best that is in him; that they must all watch for their entrances; speak loud enough and make the audience feel that this is the happiest and peppiest bunch of young people in the country.” – Gwynne Burrows, Light Opera Production For School and Community, 1929

But More Importantly: Why do it?

“Reasons might be easily added, such as the extraordinary amount of pleasure the young folks take in the musical portion of an operetta, the charm this always has for the parents and friends of the youthful singers, and so on…”-Joseph Despicht, The Practical Teacher, 1898.

 “Few programs seem to afford audiences as great pleasure as does the school operetta: it seems to be a lodestone which attracts many who are vitally interested in, as well as those who are remotely concerned with, what is going on in the school. The pleasure afforded to the school community; the gratification which results from seeing, even in a minor role or in a chorus part, one’s own child or a neighbor’s; and the varied appeals of the operetta itself,- all combine to make it a unique medium through which a school may appeal to its own particular and intimate audience.” -Frank A Beach, Preparation and Presentation of the Operetta, 1930

Kenneth Umfleet’s words are still profound and important, probably more true now than 80 years later.

“Most of our educational efforts have been considered sufficient if they have properly attended to the intellectual side of the pupil. The emotional elements, which in reality are far more important in determining character and action, have been left to shift for themselves, practically unguided. We have been centering our efforts on training the intellect rather than the emotions, yet the greater part of mankind lives, and is guided by emotion. It is said that practically all the actions of the present generation are traceable to an emotional source, and, in view of this supposition, the neglect of emotional training is a serious fault in our educational system. It is the opinion of many that dramatic activity will serve as an emotional outlet, an excellent safety valve for the young…

…Moreover, in our schools and in our life we fail to recognize adequately the educational power of joy – the joy of refined and edifying leisure activities. Our education seems to have run to brains, giving slight regard for the feelings. It has been slighting the heart, the imagination, the creative and dramatic nature of the child…”– Kenneth R. Umfleet, School Operettas and Their Production 1929

I’ll try and share more trips down memory lane as I come across them!

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A Wonderful Noise: A Musical By Michael Hollinger and Vance Lehmkuhl

June 16, 2016

I had the privilege of Music Directing a delightful new musical by Michael Hollinger and Vance Lehmkuhl this past Spring at Villanova. Normally when I music direct a production, I do a long and exhaustive guide explaining the ins and outs of putting up the piece. Because this work is newer, and because I was heavily involved on the creative end of the production, I’m going to write this post a little differently. This lovely work deserves a wider audience and I’ll make a case for which kinds of companies could put it on. I also imagine some of you may be interested in the backstage process of putting on a new work like this, so I’m going to share what it was like to prepare to program the work, to rehearse it, and some of the process of orchestrating the music for the pit.

Michael Hollinger is a nationally known Philadelphia playwright with a reputation for writing very smart, carefully constructed plays full of humor and insight. He is a careful listener, an insightful teacher, and a witty and thoughtful conversationalist. His plays share these qualities. If you don’t know his work, you’re really missing out. I should also mention that he is a fine violist and a wonderful speaker about the process of writing a play.

Vance Lehmkuhl writes for the Philadelphia Daily News and is an expert on all things vegan. He is an exceptional and award winning cartoonist, sometime pop-band frontman, music enthusiast, and remarkable outside-the-box thinker. Kind, clever, and hilarious, Vance is the sort of fellow you want to be standing next to at a Vegan party.

These two really extraordinary men met and began collaborating at Oberlin College and have worked on a number of projects together. They wrote A Wonderful Noise as a collaborative effort. Michael wrote the book alone, but the story, score, and lyrics were a team project. The musical has won the Frederick Loewe award for Musical Theatre and the In The Spirit of America Award from the Barbara Barondess MacLean foundation, and it was produced very successfully at Creede Repertory Theatre in 2009.

I profile the authors here because the piece shares many of the qualities and interests of these two delightful and unusual men. A Wonderful Noise is a rarity for new musical theatre. The writers set out to write an un-ironic book show set in the 1940s, built around 9 young Americans “becoming the Greatest Generation”, as Hollinger put it once in a conversation with the cast. The musical is a love letter to classic musical theatre and barbershop harmony, but it also manages to tackle feminist issues, pacifism, and religious differences with warmth and humanity. The lyrics are fun, zany, and often very witty.

The plot revolves around two singing groups entering a barbershop competition in 1941: The Harmelodians, a traditional mens group, and Sweet Adeline, a girls harmony group trying to crash the competition dressed as men. The members of these two groups are locked in a musical and romantic rivalry which comes to a head at the competition itself. Meanwhile, the threat of war begins to cast a shadow that threatens them all.

The book scenes demonstrate Hollinger’s trademark deft storytelling touches, smart characterization, and perfectly seamless exposition, and the musical storytelling is ambitious and smart. It’s difficult to tell a story using period musical ideas without descending quickly into characterless pastiche, but Hollinger and Lehmkuhl find ways to be authentic to the tone of the period that are infused with a personal and zany voice that feels really original. I’d like to single out nine numbers for special mention:

All photos here are from the Villanova production directed by Harriet Power, and were taken by Paola Nogueras.

1. End of the Line

The opening number of the show takes place as both quartets arrive in Saint Louis. It’s a rousing kickoff that makes great use of the entire cast, both contrapuntally and as a full group. The accompaniment sets the mood of the period, the number quotes Chattanooga Choo Choo and briefly introduces a melody which will later be the major love theme of the show.

2. All for One

The men’s group is introduced in this lively march, which deftly quotes several classic songs to introduce the importance of Barbershop in the characters’ conception of comradeship, especially as it relates to World War I. This is also the first time we begin to hear snippets of real barbershop harmony, all of which is executed very authentically over the course of the piece.

3. Give A Girl A Chance

The ladies opening number is a rousing ensemble calling for greater opportunities for women. There are some deft Motown touches and comic moments that seemed very apt as we presented the musical during the Primary season in 2016. It’s a showstopper.

4. Turn The Clock/Corner of Your Heart

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A Wonderful Noise does some really smart and special storytelling in this arena: In a flashback it is revealed that Chip and Mae had been dating some time earlier. Chip had written a poem, which Mae had set to music as a surprise. When their relationship failed, each of them took the song back to their groups and arranged it for quartet, unbeknownst to the other. The audience gets to hear the material as originally presented, and also in two totally different arrangements, each of which shrewdly reveals the characters differing outlooks. (both musically, and in terms of what happened in the relationship) This use of music to reveal character is the mark of a well-made show.

We hear the men’s version of Turn The Clock in rehearsal, and it’s really fun to watch them fine tune their performance. It’s a straight up traditional barbershop ballad, with all the charm and detail we would hope for from the genre. The ladies version is a very subtle piece of writing for women, with some exquisite harmony and some word changes to show Mae’s thoughts on their breakup.

5. I Can Sing That

Agnes has a wonderful traditional showtune here, where she tells Pettigrew she can sing anything, and then does, including a Mongolian Yak Milking song. It brought down the house.

6. Act I Closer (Give and Take)

This sequence is really special. Snippets of barbershop are peppered through the final scene of the Act, which is a complicated game of one-upmanship. That scene rolls seamlessly into a really complex closing number, with touches of Music Man style speak-singing, fast close harmony, a catchy tune, scatting, a canon, and a wild 8 part counterpoint that barrels us to the act’s conclusion. It is quite difficult to learn; we needed to spend a lot of rehearsal time to get it into shape. But while the material is difficult, and there’s a lot going on, the storytelling is very strong and easy to follow, and it leaves us breathlessly right where we should be at an act break.

7. Ma Roney’s Daughter

This number is meant to be a little too off-color for the audience at the competition, but it’s very tame by today’s standards. (which is part of the joke) This is easily the funniest barbershop number I’ve ever heard. Barbershop groups should really be doing this outside the context of the show. I won’t spoil the jokes for you, except to say that the song is about the charms of dating and marrying a woman with a wooden leg. The barbershop writing is really exceptional, and it’s beautifully paced. Another show-stopper.

8. Chit Chat

A really fun number with wonderful wordplay and a great swing dance break for two guys.

9. Chin Up

This was a difficult number to learn, but it’s a wonderful toe-tapping audience pleaser with some hilarious lyrics, and a really fun all-sing for 6 characters. Picture a rousing Dixie style romp full of references to historical figures who failed and got back up again. (except some of them didn’t)

Those are just 9 of the numbers in this little jewel of a show. Many smaller companies often have difficulty tackling Golden Age musicals, with their large cast and orchestra sizes and budget breaking scenic needs. This musical taps into the same kind of nostalgia and good-clean fun you would expect from pre-1960s musicals, with a knowing nod to some relevant social issues and some modern touches. It also has the potential to resonate strongly with older audiences. But unlike shows like Oklahoma or Brigadoon, A Wonderful Noise would work best in a small house with a strong ensemble cast of good musicians (more on that later). If that describes your theatre, I would encourage you to look into this show. Audiences adore the barbershop quartet in The Music Man; this musical plays out the same joyous thrill over the course of an entire evening.

Behind the Scenes of the Villanova Production

Barbershop Workshop

In 2006, director Harriet Power headed a two week workshop at New Dramatists with the authors to develop and revise the piece, so in a sense, our production was a reunion of a creative team that had originally done a lot of the work of perfecting the show. I was the new kid on the block with this piece, but they brought me up to speed in a hurry.

We began talking about the production a year in advance. Because of the complicated a cappella writing throughout, we wanted to make sure we had the kind of singers to pull off the score well. We held a workshop on Barbershop/Sweet Adelines singing on campus to explore the interest and abilities of our student body. Michael, Vance, and Harriet joined me as I gave a brief talk about Barbershop Singing, its history and practice. Then we did a warmup and I quickly separated the singers into 4 parts based on range. Then I took the ladies, Michael, Vance, and Harriet took the men, and we quickly taught them a passage of traditional barbershop. If you’ve ever done any barbershop style singing, you know that the highest part and the bass part are not generally very difficult to hear, that the melody is in the second voice from the top, (called the lead) and that the second to lowest voice (or baritone) is often punishingly difficult, because it threads in and out over the melody note to fill in whatever note in the chord isn’t covered by the other three voices. It’s best to teach this kind of music a part at a time, combining voices in different pairings until everyone knows what’s happening relative to the other parts. If you’re paying close attention as you teach the parts, you can easily discover who has a good enough ear to carry the part, who has potential, and who really can’t do it. There are many fine singers who can’t negotiate these kinds of interior parts. When we had taught a passage, we split up into solo quartets and tried it without the piano to help. Then, at the end of an hour or so, we all came back together and sang our selections as a group to each other. Like most colleges these days, Villanova has a very strong a cappella scene, so many of these singers had experience with a cappella music, but not much familiarity with barbershop, and as with most people, they were surprised at how fun and challenging it was! The creative team decided it would indeed be possible to mount the show, but we’d need to spend a lot of time making sure we cast the right people, and we confirmed the suspicion that we’d plenty of rehearsal time to get a collegiate cast where they needed to be. Villanova acquitted itself well.

The semester before auditions, I designed and taught an undergraduate course about a cappella singing; how to arrange for vocal ensembles, basic vocal and rehearsal techniques, auditioning and organizational ideas, etc. It was built to support the student a cappella community at Villanova, which is very strong, but it also gave me a chance to get my own head around the issues involved. The class was such fun, we’re repeating it this coming year.

Preparations

The show had two public readings and a full production with piano before we got to it, but this was going to be the first time it would be performed with a pit orchestra. I was charged with the task of writing the orchestrations. The summer before the production, I met with Michael and Vance over vegan snacks and coffee, and we carefully went over how I was going to build the band parts. It was important to me that we have a small pit, in the same scale as the cast, firstly because Villanova’s performance space isn’t enormous, and secondly because I wanted future productions to be able to hire the entire instrumentation without having to cut anything for budgetary reasons. The show needed a swing feeling, so we opted for Piano, Bass, Drums, two reeds, (doubling between them flute, piccolo, clarinets, alto, tenor, and bari saxes) a trumpet and a trombone.

As I began orchestrating, I listened to a lot of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and of course Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson and Count Basie. I discovered the challenge was to recreate the sound of the swing era without a full compliment of reeds to play against a full compliment of brass. In a big band arrangement, the trumpets usually play together, the saxes play something else, and the trombones yet a third thing, mostly as sections, antiphonally. You can’t really do that with only one trumpet, one trombone, and 2 reeds. That instrumentation is better suited to a dixieland style. However, I found that you can get some of the same feel even with a reduced orchestra if you’re clever. When the alto sax is on top of a chord voicing and the tenor is on the bottom, with the trombone in the middle, you can get a decent sax section clone. (although it gives the trombone a workout) When the trumpet is on top, the trombone on the bottom, and the alto in the middle, you get a kind of brassy trumpety sort of sound, and when you put the tenor sax in unison with the trombone, you can fake that kind of trombone section all-play sound fairly well. There’s a charming duet in the second act between the Jewish member of the mens group where he attempts to court a girl in the other group who is pretending to be Jewish and failing. Writing the quirky klezmer clarinet was a lot of fun, and I found other places in the score to write Gene Krupa style toms, soulful bluesy sax, marching band piccolo obbligato, dixieland trombone, and motown bari sax. It was really a blast to put together the pit.

As I finished first drafts of each of the numbers, I’d send them to the authors, and they’d return notes to me that were really helpful, clarifying what they intended dramatically, and I worked to clarify my work to reflect their intentions. It was delightful to have such an inside look at how the authors wanted their material performed, and I felt much better prepared to start the production.

Auditions

Our audition process was very specialized and comprehensive. We heard the normal song selection of classic musical theatre and a monologue, and I did a range check. Then I did two ear-training exercises; the traditional one, where I played a three note chord and  asked the actor to sing the middle pitch of the three. Again, an inability to hear that pitch doesn’t make a person a bad singer, but for a show like this, you need really fine ears. If we got a good result there, I put the actors through a really unreasonable test: I played My Country Tis Of Thee with them, then asked them to sing it in the same key they just sang it in, while I accompanied them in another key entirely. By the time we got through that gauntlet, the audition committee and I had a fairly good idea  of who was going to be a possibility for the two quartets. Of that group, we separated the voice types, particularly looking for the highest and lowest parts. This style of singing requires a very strong, clear bass, and a light, floaty high tenor. The singers best at putting over a song should go to the Lead, and the best ear should go to the Baritone. (second from the bottom) This distribution is also true of the ladies group. Of course, the authors and directors also had strong ideas about who would suit the roles best, which figured into our callback plans as well.

For the callbacks, I had isolated brief sections of the more difficult moments in the solo and duet numbers to be sure our actors were capable of the harder non-group moments. We also taught 4-8 measures of the a cappella music for the men and another set for the women. The big moment in the evening was the counterpoint section of Give and Take. We taught the large group of actors the parts based on their ranges, then split them into groups of eight (4 men, 4 women) and heard them carry their parts on their own. After this process, we had a short list of who was able to do the heavy lifting in terms of the a cappella music. I relayed my thoughts to the rest of the team, they contributed their own observations, and we continued with scene work to get enough information to cast the show.

Rehearsals

Once we had decided on a cast, we scheduled a number of early rehearsals, where we began with the most difficult ensemble music. These rehearsals were spaced a week or two apart, so that there was time for people to leisurely run things on their own between our rehearsals.  We recorded MP3 files which we uploaded to a dropbox for the use of cast members. Our goal was to hit the ground running when our rehearsals began. I had a wonderful Assistant Music director in Lexi Schreiber, who was able to share some of the duties of rehearsing the two groups, take notes, and bring another set of great ears to the table. A true Barbershop group directs itself and feels its own pulse. Our goal was to get the groups to be able to rehearse on their own as soon as possible. I’m happy to say that by the end of the rehearsal period, we did get there, and the Music Directors were eventually not needed in the room for these groups to get fine work done on their own. In the show, the a cappella numbers are led by the groups themselves, not by the conductor.

The creative team met early to plan our rehearsals over a plate of vegan brownies. After we had plotted our rehearsal time, we went carefully through the script to find where the scene changes would go. We had a great time trying to locate the right mood for these scene changes, and deciding whether each scene change would button up the scene that had just ended or instead lead us into the next number. We then planned on a mood and chose which songs from the show would be quoted in each scene change. I would ultimately write these scene changes during rehearsal breaks. Since the orchestra needs to be generally subdued when singers are involved, and since the musical has numbers without orchestra at all, these scene changes proved a great place to let the band really shine. The creative team gave me free rein to do as I chose with the bows, so I elaborated a full big band style medley of the numbers we only hear for a few measures.

Our regular rehearsals began about 6 weeks ahead of our opening night and we started with a very strong push to learn all the music. We were fortunate to have the authors in the rehearsal room many times, and we clarified passages based on what we heard. The materials had been in various forms, from the original readings and from the earlier production, so we agreed on a standardized format, and I edited the parts to match one another and for clarity. We also expanded several of the dance breaks and rewrote some harmony passages for easier execution. I time stamped each revision on every page, so that we could easily see whether we were using the most up-to-date versions of the music. I found when I was in rehearsal, I was in a much better position to finish the orchestrations intelligently, knowing more where the difficulties in the score were, and what the cast would need to hear to do their best work. My AMD and I had a great time working subtle musical references into the orchestra. I was pretty far behind, but a snow day allowed me to catch up and finish that part of the work. The parts were extracted and sent as pdfs to the musicians, and I began to build a new piano vocal score that cued the orchestra in to use during performances.

Tech and Preshow

Our sitzprobe was the first time anyone had heard the orchestrations. For the most part, they went off without a hitch, although there were some revisions needed. Harriet Power is well known for really tight transitions, so we needed to trim a lot of the scene changes down to just a few measures, and one wound up needing to be rewritten completely the day before we opened. I found I really enjoyed knowing exactly how long each scene change needed to be! The scene changes as I wrote them are still in the score, so future productions can take the time they may need to transition without vamping endlessly. I tried to hire musicians I knew would play well at sight, but who would also share their honest opinions about the writing. Several of the players I hired are also professional composers and arrangers. Their feedback was extremely helpful. One of my players was using an Ipad, which worked well, except when revisions made it necessary to re-assemble a full PDF of the part, and I realized I need to find a way of doing that more efficiently than I had been.

Many shows have a ‘fight call’ for various physical actions on stage that may be dangerous. Lexi, my assistant MD and I developed a ‘musical fight call’ that we used before the show to keep the difficult parts running smoothly. There is a part right before the first act finale where two brief numbers need to begin without a pitch being played. they begin with one character singing, but we took to starting those numbers randomly out of the blue just to be sure we could do it. The complicated counterpoint passages also got special nightly attention. But we found once we had really internalized them, they became some of the easier moments in the show.

Closing Thoughts

It was a true joy and a fine challenge to work with such gifted collaborators on new material, and I do hope that my readership will give some thought to including A Wonderful Noise in future seasons. Your audience will thank you. I also hope that smaller companies (even school companies) will consider the possibility of commissioning or putting on new work. The licensing fees one normally pays for a musical everyone has seen dozens of times could go a long way toward bringing something new and original into the world.

For More information about A Wonderful Noise please contact: michael.hollinger@villanova.edu

 

 

 

 

 

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The Light in the Piazza: A Rough Guide for the M.D. Part 1: Landmarks of Guettel’s style

July 15, 2014

 

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ADAM GUETTEL AND THE MUSIC OF THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA:

Adam Guettel is, for my money, the most compelling and fascinating musical theatre writer working today. I will not go into his incredible heritage and background, others have done so extensively elsewhere. I’ll focus here on what I’ve found in playing and studying his music. Guettel writes very very little. We get only a show or two out of him every decade, which makes the collapse of The Princess Bride a real blow to musical theatre, since Guettel’s output is so spare. From Floyd Collins through Myths and Hymns to The Light In The Piazza, (the three projects of his which are generally available at this writing) Guettel has developed a deeply personal musical language characterized by these 5 features, among others:

1) An idiosyncratic piano style that often relies on figures that cross from one hand into the other, with the left hand often leading a rhythmic figure that washes up into the right in a frenetic flurry of notes. This feature of his work has precedents in Sondheim (Another Hundred People, Every Day A Little Death), Schwartz (West End Avenue, Meadowlark), and even Bach. (Bb major prelude, WTC book I) Guettel seems less interested  in working out every successive permutation of a cell of pitches than Sondheim and less interested in overt pianistic display than Schwartz. In Guettel’s work, it’s almost as though the piano is being strummed rather eccentrically like a guitar.  With a few exceptions that I’ll point out later in the guide, playing these figures in Guettel’s music seems almost improvisatory, a rhythmic activation of a harmonic idea using both hands actively across the measure.

2) An obsession with moving interior chromatic lines. Guettel’s harmonies are tonal, but they often move in unexpected ways, led by the most subtle ear for harmony active in musicals today. A careful listen to nearly every Guettel song reveals a bassline or interior moving part of the harmony that leads the chords in unusual directions. The bassline is often leading the charge into exotic harmonic territory. In a must-hear interview on Tim Sutton‘s excellent podcast “The Voice of the Musical”, Guettel explains:

“I played upright bass for many years, played out in clubs, and did that sort of gig for a long time, on the upright bass, and it gave me a really good training into not just the kind of harmonic relationships that exist under a lot of songs that one might hear in a jazz club or even at a wedding, because I’ve played hundreds of weddings, but also how to make a melody out of a bassline, which I think is even more important, that the root of the chord is not always the way to go, that to create something that is a kind of subterranean melody, that is almost as strong, if you can as the melody itself is something that can help to propel a song forward.”

This harmonic subtlety gives Guettel’s music a quality of melancholy and a rich and exotic flavor of the unknown. Several of my friends dislike Guettel’s music. Among these friends are some of the best musicians I know, who say they can’t follow where Guettel is going harmonically. In the same interview I quoted from earlier, Guttel has mentioned that his late mother Mary Rodgers critiqued his early work:

“… a melody has to have some opposing energy and something unexpected about it, it has to lead the harmony, it has to be able to exist on its own, and it has to come home, and take us back to where we’ve come from. And some of these things I now observe more in the spirit of them, rather than the letter. I don’t always return to the same key, but I’ve held on to some of those basic precepts.”

Guettel is one of the few composers working in musical theatre who uses voice leading to take the music to unexpected directions, with strong direction but very subtle inflection. I find this harmonic ambiguity refreshing, and I actually hear the influence of his Grandfather, Richard Rodgers. I imagine Rodgers would have been completely confused by the harmonic progressions of Dividing Day or Let’s Walk, but in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best work, there is often an interior line moving stepwise and driving the harmony in some aching and unexpectedly beautiful direction. Think for example of the chromatically descending bassline, harmonized in 10ths in This Nearly Was Mine, under the lyric “One love to be living for”, or the end of You’ll Never Walk Alone, “walk on/walk on/ with hope in your heart/ and you’ll never walk alone…”, driven to the climax by an interior line that begins on a G, the fifth of the first inversion tonic chord, then rises a half step at a time to A, then dropping back down to G to climb by half steps back up to C. I don’t think Rodgers was working that out intellectually, but intuitively; whenever middle-period Rodgers is looking for that big emotional payoff, he finds an interior chromatic line, in a kind of distillation of his fanciful chromatic excursions with Hart. Guettel is taking that aching ambiguity a further step, to the point where the key destination becomes unclear. I think this is the key ingredient of that exquisite, painful ache of his music, and where Guettel leaves behind those with more conservative harmonic palates.

3) A Sondheimian and certainly Stravinskian use of collections of pitches in varied phrase lengths for rhythmic interest. His debt to Sondheim is well established, and he has expressed his admiration for Stravinsky in interviews. From the same interview I quoted earlier, he says:

“The way in which I’ve really been influenced by [Stravinsky] is phrasing. He invented… a kind of phrasing which has a circularity to it where he’ll lay out, I guess what we would call a cell, or a motive, or something, and start to break it into its component parts, in terms of its clauses, it’s musical clauses, and mix them and match them, and repeat little parts, and then go the whole way through, and then turn them upside down. He took melody and he created sort of like a living room out of one melody, where you knew all the furniture, and it just kept getting rearranged, and that fascinated me, and I think it’s applied sometimes in my music.”

We find this way of constructing music all over Floyd Collins. I can’t resist drawing a line between Stravinsky, Sondheim, and Guettel, because it makes my meaning clear, (and is just really fun)

Here is a passage from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire Du Soldat (1918). It was hard to find an easy-to-understand example of Stravinsky’s rhythmic game-play, but you can find it in virtually any of his scores, especially in The Rite of Spring or any pieces he wrote in the period immediately following.

Stravinsky Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope you can follow this passage enough to understand what’s going on. I want to call your attention to the Double Bass (here marked Contrabasso and C.B). It’s laying down a little two note pattern, and that’s a very steady groove indeed; it keeps going even through multiple time signature changes. It’s essentially in 2/4, despite all that’s going on. Look at that Violin right above it. The violin has a vocabulary of a few little cells of notes: 1) a group of two thirds descending to a single note. 2) A shuffling little sixteenth note passage alternating thirds and single notes on the bottom. And then 3) a figure that opens from a third into a 7th, then another set of falling thirds, this one starting on D and F, leading the first time to another instance of the first cell of notes again. Notice how sometimes the first group happens on the G in the bass. Sometimes it happens on the A. Sometimes there are two little 16th note chunka-chunka things following the first idea, and sometimes only one. A new idea shows up in the middle system that is followed by the first cell of notes transposed up a whole step. At the bottom of this excerpt, there’s a long third, which unexpectedly turns into the third cell in another rhythm, but maybe you didn’t notice, because by that time the bassoon has popped himself in and has started his own game with little cells of notes. In your music textbook, you may read that Stravinsky ‘liberated’ rhythm from the tyranny of the barline, whatever that means. I don’t know if he liberated rhythm as much as he found a new way to use it through re-arranging bits of it. What he’s really doing is using groups of notes in a sort of collage fashion, or like a fun-house mirror. He gives you enough regularity to think you may know what is supposed to come next, only to give you something you may recognize, but exactly in the way you would never have expected. For the game to work, you have to recognize the pieces, expect them to fit one way, and then be delighted (or infuriated) when the pieces turn out to fit some other way.

Now compare a familiar passage from Into The Woods, in which Sondheim uses a rising cell of notes cell of notes, C,D, and F, with a culminating high note on G:

Into The Woods Example

 

 

 

We’re in 3/4 time here; the first cell begins on 1, the second cell begins on the & of 2, and then the release of the G falls on 1 of the next measure. The 3 against 2 pattern is felt as a little hemiola, and the repeated Ds in the next measure feel like 3/4 time again. The third measure of this phrase starts the same way, and then gets stuck bouncing back and forth between the top two pitches of the cell before releasing to the G. This establishment of a musical motif, and then the subsequent fracturing and reassembling in different parts of the barline is a legacy not only of the musical modernism of Stravinsky, but also the similar games played by Gershwin and others. Think of Fascinatin’ Rhythm, Anything Goes, Puttin’ on the Ritz, or The Wrong Note Rag, to name only a few examples of repeated patterns working against the grain of the meter to accent and syncopate the melody. It’s impossible to separate what comes from Jazz, what comes from the Modernism of Art Music, what is the legacy of popular song, and what might even be found as a part of the Ragtime aesthetic, but Stravinsky looms large in the background, especially when the composer seems to be truncating or extending the phrase length to keep the listener off-balance.

It’s fun to look at this bit of Floyd Collins in light of the Sondheim I’ve just discussed, because you could nearly sing the Sondheim lyric to it:

Floyd Collins Example 1

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a half step higher, of course, but here Guettel takes that C,D, F pattern, culminating in a G, and plays the game in 4/4. The repeated notes are here at the beginning, and the 3 note cell is at the end of the measure, beginning on the strong beat, 3. The next time the cell happens, it’s on the weak beat 2. Are we in 4? I wonder if we don’t hear it as a bar of 2, a bar of 3, another bar of 3, and another bar of 2. Without any accompaniment to anchor it, we’re left with a very strong pulse, a clear sense of the collection of notes in play, and a very weak sense of how many beats are in each bar. That’s both Sondheim and Stravinsky.

The Stravinsky element is also here in Piazza.  I’ll indicate those moments as I go.  Let’s get back to Guettel’s stylistic markers. Directly related to that use of phrase length is:

4) The extension (lengthening) of passages the second or third time through for emphasis, development, or to add excitement. We find this in Saturn Returns and Floyd Collins, but in The Light in the Piazza, the device is used in every number, excepting the scene changes. This device is incredibly effective and simple in construction, but often very very difficult to learn and memorize, because for many moments there are two variants that need to be performed correctly and in the right order, or you will wind up ‘taking an offramp’ to a road that doesn’t exist. I’ll clarify that later. Another composer might modulate into a higher key to add punch; some composers lately seem to modulate every 4-8 measures. Guettel rarely modulates passages up at the end of a song, instead he draws out some passage by adding new music and heightening the tension that was already there the first time through.

5) Extended use of Vocalise– (passages using Ah or Ooh or other vowels, melody without lyric) When one hears Guettel himself perform his material, one senses that these extended wordless passages are a central part of the composer’s personal style of expression; in his voice, they sound completely effortless. When these passages are notated, they often look like a thorny bramble bush of notes. I don’t know about Guettel’s process other than that he writes all the music first; only applying words at the end. He evidently had nearly an entire score of music for The Princess Bride before the project was scuttled, but he had not begun to write the words. I can’t imagine working like that, but that process certainly accounts for the originality of his musical expression; writing words alone, one easily drops into a rhythmic syntax that results in square phrasing musically. Music without words is free to find its own expression without any regard to the limits of obvious sentence structure and poetic meter. I wonder whether Guettel’s wordless passages occur at points where he is unable to craft words that match the emotional state of the characters. Normally in a musical, there are two levels: 1) dialogue, and then 2) song when dialogue is not enough to express the idea. In Guettel, there is yet a third level, where the song reaches a point at which the words themselves need to be jettisoned to make the point; words are no longer expressive enough. In The Light In The Piazza, this device of Guettels is put to a further use, because when our couple leave words behind, they are finding the point of connection beyond common language, which they don’t share. This point is made explicit in Say It Somehow, which is an entire scene and duet about that concept.

These characteristic qualities of Guettel’s music make for a very heady theatrical experience, and many listeners can’t come along for the ride. After one talk back, a gentleman came up and asked me why modern composers had abandoned melody. I told him I found the show full of melody, but that melody was clearly a matter of personal taste. He was ready to argue the point; he had heard no melody the entire show. Other patrons mocked the Ahs, saying “Oh, there they go, ahhing again.” One set of patrons openly speculated that the music had been written by students. If you program this very difficult show, be aware that the part of your audience that isn’t completely swooning might very well be totally baffled by this music. These are intelligent and cultured people, mind you. They just don’t find his musical argument compelling. But Guettel’s voice, surely one of the most original and compelling in the theatre today, must be programmed regularly, so our audiences can begin to address the work on its own terms.

In my next post, I’ll go into greater detail about this specific show, and I think I may have found a few things that may even surprise people who know this show extremely well. Stay tuned!

 

 

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Ripped From The Headlines: Lessons you can learn from school shows in the news

March 27, 2013

I noticed a trend on my facebook feed from actors, and a little further googling revealed these 10 interesting news stories:

Surely there are lessons to be learned from these unfortunate situations:

March 1994, Middle School Production of Peter Pan Canceled citing its insensitivity to Native Americans

May 2005, Samuel French Shuts down an all-girl production of Grease

February 2008, 3 High School Productions of Rent canceled amid content concerns

July 2008, Wilmette Park production of Ragtime shut down over language and content concerns.

March 2011 High School Production of Tommy canceled because production couldn’t get it together on schedule

September 2011 PA High School production of Kismet canceled over middle eastern themes and muslim characters

October 2012 Students lobby against school’s choice to Nix the musical Rent

December 2012, High School Drama instructor in Ohio forced to resign following controversy over canceled production of Legally Blonde

January 2013, Utah High School Cancels Production of All Shook Up because Elvis’s lyrics are too racy

February 2013, Black students protest a school production of the Wiz which has no African American Leads

March 2013, Protests in Connecticut over High School Sweeney Todd Production in aftermath of shootings

March 2013, Community Group discusses appropriateness of same production of Sweeney Todd in aftermath of shootings

March 2013, Student expelled from school after fight with director during production of Annie

March 2013, School production of Spring Awakening actually plans forums to discuss topics related to their production

Musicals are a strange cultural phenomenon. They are generally written for a savvy East Coast audience of jaded New Yorkers and out-of-town tourists, but after they close in New York, they take on another life out in the rest of the world, where they often meet a different set of performers and a very different audience. New Yorkers are not easily offended, but they are very easily bored. The rest of the country is often fairly easily offended and doesn’t particularly want to see their children acting out scenarios calculated to titillate an audience of bored Manhattan hipsters and New Jersey housewives.

The school musical is actually quite an old phenomenon, but when it began, it was quite different than it is today. If I’m not mistaken, the school musical was originally an operetta, sometimes G&S, but just as often some minor English or translated European operetta, in the old style, or something written specifically for educational performance. As such, these forerunners to the school musical of today were heavy on the music and light on the drama, and run by somebody in the music end of things. Today your school director is likely to come at it from the drama angle, is often an English or Social Studies teacher very familiar with cutting edge cultural ideas, who also feels the need to stay current by  programming shows which appeal to kids or have some kind of cultural currency; something which wasn’t on the radar of school directors a hundred years ago.

Shoe-horning these new, edgy shows into schools that lie on the fault lines of cultural clashes is a recipe for controversy and argument. For the directors and the students, defending the new shows is a matter of freedom of expression. Often the ideas in the show represent points of view and ways of looking at the world they care very deeply about. For more conservative parents, the rejection of these shows is an attempt to protect strongly held cultural values, to preserve as long as possible the innocence of their children, and in some cases to push back against what they see as a bulwark of immorality in the culture. The administration is caught in-between, having to answer to parents, teachers, students, and their superiors, and wanting to avoid being the subject of an unflattering news item.

For a nuanced perspective on the issue, I urge you to read this interesting exploration of some of the facets of this phenomenon from schooltheatre.org, an excellent resource for anyone who cares about educational theatre.

What’s clear in most of these cases is that communication, collaboration, support and trust have broken down or don’t exist between the administrators of these schools and the teachers who are running the productions and choosing the shows. I know of local school districts where the Musical gets the full support of the administration, who are aware that the creative staff plans to do challenging and potentially controversial material. The creative staff can count on that support. I also know of local districts where the superintendent and sometimes the principals do not even attend the school musicals of their award winning district. I also know of districts where the entire creative staff of the musical is composed of outside contractors who have no other contact with the school and are paid from a student activities budget. These people not only don’t have the true support of administrators, they haven’t even met any.

For Administrators there are lessons here:

1) Unless you implicitly trust your staff (and are willing to go to bat for their choices), better to be a part of the process in the beginning than to come in late in the game and play catch-up. If your staff asks you what you think about their choice of a show, do your homework, read the script and listen to the soundtrack. You owe that to them, to the students, and to the parents.

2) If you’re hiring outsiders who don’t normally work in your school, you must properly vet them. You don’t want shouters and screamers directing shows, and you ultimately want people involved who are invested in the lives of the kids and the life of the school. This is not just a matter of your basic criminal background check. It’s a matter of checking references and asking questions.

3) Your teachers know when you’ve got their backs and when you’re throwing them under the bus. This may seem to you like a very small part of the life of your school, or even a headache in your already overcrowded schedule, but for the people involved in the production it represents a colossal amount of work, and when an administrator is quick to take sides against them, it feels like a terrible betrayal.

4) For Pete’s sake take a night to go and see the production. Better yet, offer to say a few words of appreciation before or after the show. These are small things that make a huge difference and will help your credibility if you have to deliver hard news or have a difficult conversation.

For Directors and other people involved in school productions:

1) Know the culture of your community and your school and take that into account as you choose a show. Some places can handle difficult material unflinchingly. Others will look askance at even mainstream shows. Walk in with your eyes open, and be sensitive to the fact that not everyone shares your outlook.

2) Run show decisions across the desk of your administrators and keep track of the interactions. If anything happens, it’s nice to be able to tell your administrator that you brought these issues up with them and that they gave you the go-ahead.

3) If you’re doing a particularly thorny piece , take a lesson from some of the schools mentioned in these stories, and plan sessions to discuss the ideas with parents, students, and community members in an honest and open manner.

4) Ask yourself why you’re anxious to program this show. Is it about the kids or about your ego?

5) Don’t program shows that you have to alter drastically to fit your school.

6) Plan the rehearsal schedules of ambitious shows rigorously. That story about Tommy up above here is a shame.

7) If there are racial issues involved in casting, try to be aware of them in advance, and where appropriate, announce your intention in the audition materials to cast with or without regard to the race or ethnicity of the characters, whichever the case may be.

8) Keep your rehearsals positive. Your school director may have been a screamer, and you may think you have to yell and carry on to get the kids to do what you want, but in reality, when it gets to that point, you’ve generally made a wrong turn somewhere. In that story where that kid pushed his director and got expelled, I guarantee there was plenty of blame to go around.

I think it’s worth mentioning that when a production gets canceled, it’s the students that lose.

Let’s work hard to present quality work with our students that both challenges and honors the students and communities we love.

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The Drowsy Chaperone: A Rough Guide For The M.D.

December 10, 2012


A LITTLE BACKGROUND:
I’m assembling this rough guide having just finished a terrific run of this show at Villanova University, which was directed by Father Peter Donohue, PhD OSA, choreographed by Kevin Dietzler, with important assistance and insight by Dr. Valerie Joyce. If there are good ideas in this essay, they are most assuredly the result of collaborating with these incredible people. If there are lousy ideas, I claim them as my own. We were very fortunate to have Bob Martin and Lisa Lambert join us for a talkback, which was really informative. They were incredibly nice people; I’m really looking forward to their further projects.
BEFORE YOU START:
1) Listen to the Original Broadway Cast Recording
2) Read the script. It’s short and funny. You’ll like it. You’ll want to play Man in Chair.
3) Our Dramaturg, Ashley Leamon put together some incredible notes for the cast, which I am including for you to use. Thank You, Ashley! Drowsy Chaperone Actor Packet
4) Watch some Marx Brothers comedies (always good to have an excuse to do that) and/or listen to some of Tommy Krasker’s restorations of some actual Broadway comedies from the 20s and 30s.

ABOUT THE SHOW
In many ways, this is a perfect show for young performers. With the exception of Tottendale, who is supposed to be old, and perhaps Drowsy and Man In Chair, everyone else makes sense with younger performers. The show is basically light, fairly clean with only a small number of potentially offensive moments (some of which could be ‘tweaked’ in a very conservative venue), and audiences love it. It’s also pleasantly short. It does have an Into The Woods style casting problem, in that it’s a show with a large ensemble cast and virtually no chorus. So if you did it at a High School, you’d have to beef up that chorus of servants and be very creative about where you put those extra actors.

AS YOU’RE CASTING:
General Notes:
The characters in the show-within-the-show should ideally be able to act presentationally, as in the period. This can actually be a tough thing for a trained actor. Normally you’re looking for the sort of honesty between characters that projects to an audience, but doesn’t particularly acknowledge them. This kind of acting is the sort of arch performance style that plays the scene, but is really focused at selling the characterization to the audience. These characters are big, comedic, and play for laughs. Stock Gestures, which are normally to be frowned upon in modern Theatre, are actually just right here, because they make the stereotypes very specific. There is a kind of honesty in this very ‘fake’ acting, but it takes a while to find it. The actors are also playing actors playing characters, so there is a layering of delivery that’s fun, but challenging.
Man in Chair:
This is a tour-de-force role for a comic actor. He has to be able to sing, but only enough to just carry a tune at the end. The important thing is that he can command the stage for the whole show; he makes or breaks the evening. There is a tricky monologue at the end that pivots from tragicomedy to tragedy to comedy on a dime, and not everyone can pull it off. When he came and spoke to our Villanova audience Bob Martin said that he considered the show a tragic monologue interspersed with some funny numbers. An amusing remark, to be sure, but it really is a story about the Man In The Chair and his relationship with a record. That record has replaced any kind of functional relationship in reality. It’s hard to play that well, and if you have somebody just playing it for laughs, the show has very little meaning.
Tottendale:
The joke is that she’s old and has no memory. In lieu of an actual old person, you can either make someone up to be old, or just play her as zany and forgetful. You do need someone who can dance a little and who has excellent comic timing. It also helps to have someone who can spit in a mist, not a stream, but I’m not sure you can ask for that at an audition. It’s also helpful to have someone who can play the ukulele. If she doesn’t play, almost anyone can learn the uke in a hurry.
Underling:
Your typical stuffy butler/maitre d type, with a high baritone voice. It doesn’t have to be a terrific voice, but he does basically open the show-within-the-show, so it would be unfortunate if he couldn’t sing at all. Underling does tap very briefly in Cold Feets, but it’s not complicated. Mainly you need someone who can play haughty and put-upon well, and someone who doesn’t mind being spit upon repeatedly night after night.
Robert:   
This is potentially a very difficult role to cast. It doesn’t require great comic timing, although that’s nice. It does require a strong tenor with at least an F chested/mixed. (If Robert doesn’t have the F, George has to.) Robert also should be a strong dancer, who can tap and skate blindfolded. Villanova’s production had a great Robert, who was sidelined with kidney stones for a performance. Our choreographer slipped into the part, but we had to eliminate the skating, because it was too involved and risky to learn in a short amount of time. (Bob Martin, the original Man In Chair told us he was also struck with kidney stones before both the New York and West End runs. Maybe there’s a curse)
George:
George was originally a high tenor, but I’ll show you a way around the very highest notes. He needs to be able to tap. A small part which was played by our choreographer in our production. This proved very convenient many times.
Feldzieg:
There are a number of ways to go with this role, because the stereotype of the producer isn’t as specific as it used to be. Sometimes the producer is played as a thin middle-european type. Sometimes he’s a more substantial businessman type. Feldzieg (switch the syllables to get the joke…) dances a little, sings a little, but mostly acts as straight man to a lot of goofy types.
Gangsters:
These guys are called dancers in the show, but they’re more of a comedy team that dances a little. They have to be able to carry a tune, but they needn’t be fantastic singers either. It’s that pun filled dialogue they have to be adept at.
Aldolpho:
Aldolpho needs to be a strong comic actor with a flair for over-the-top accents, moderate dancing ability, and a sustained G above the staff.
The Drowsy Chaperone:
Of all the characters, Drowsy needs to be the most archly aware of her audience and the most presentational in her performance. She needs to have a very strong stage presence and a very assertive singing style. In order to be playful with the material, she needs to know it cold. This is not a role for a weak performer; she winds up being the lynchpin of the show. Young people might want to look at Tallulah Bankhead for inspiration.
Trix:
This role is tiny and fun. Originally the role was played by an African American, and there’s a line about that which needs to be rewritten or cut if you cast it any other way.
Janet:
This role will always bear the stamp of Sutton Foster; adorable presence, dancing, and most of all a belted treble C that goes on for days are the mark of her roles. Janet is all about glamour. She needs to be able to present herself as glamourous, she knows she’s always being watched, and is always trying to be seen at the best angle. You should ask your Janets if they have any special skills. There are a lot of ways to go with Show Off depending on what your Janet is able to do.
Servants/Chorus/Bit Parts:
Originally these were only 4 people. You could have 8 or 12, but try to keep the parts balanced, and don’t do more than 12, or the scenes they’re in will be bloated.
A few things to note about the Music Director’s Materials:
The Piano/Conductor score is pretty well put together, although there are a few mistakes and numerous discrepancies between the score and the script. Rather than listing the errors here, I’ll list them in the Trouble Spots section. One of the great benefits of working in a quality graduate theatre program is that I could turn to my very capable Stage Manager and ask him for a list of the discrepancies, and he in turn could turn to one of his Assistants, who compiled for me a pretty exhaustive list, which I will pass on to you one at a time as I write about each number. There are also very few cue lines indicated in the score. I’ll include the ones I used in our production.

TROUBLE SPOTS AND ADVICE:

A Couple of General Notes:
I didn’t notice this until I brought the orchestra in, but there are MANY places in the show where the singer begins a phrase in the clear with no orchestra on a musical pickup phrase, and the orchestra comes in on the next measure. Actors have a tendency to sell these entrances with an allargando, which is fine, but it makes it hard for you to align the entry, especially if you’re conducting from the piano, because you can’t predict when they’re going to hit the downbeat. To solve this problem, you have to either drill these entrances to make them consistent, or work from the very beginning to get the actors watching you for the downbeat. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself muffing the orchestra entrances. I’ll list some of these as we go.

As in Thoroughly Modern Millie, the men’s parts are generally divided into 3 parts, where the women are only divided into 2. In this case, that’s because the cast is predominantly male, and there were good high voices in the original cast. If you have augmented your chorus with extra people, you may be able to tweak some of these harmonies, moving the high tenor part into a 3rd women’s part range.

2 Arcane but important details:

1) A tiny bit of this music is music in the show. Most of the music is coming from the record player. This music is diegetic, meaning it comes from the world of the show, not from the character’s expression. When a record plays or a radio is on in a movie or a play, or even when someone sings as part of their daily life, when they actually would sing, we call that music diegetic. When a character sings in a play or a movie and we are meant to see that as an expression of his or her emotion or state of mind, (not reality) that’s not diegetic, that’s mimetic. Be clear which music is on the record and time your entrances to the needle drop. In our production, I had a video feed that only looked at the record player, so I could get those cues. If the record weren’t playing, there would be no music for most of the show. Remember that as you go.

2) A conceptual point that doesn’t affect your music direction, but will very much affect the production is this: Are we seeing the actual production from 1928 acted out in front of us, or is the visual part of the production only in Man in Chair’s mind? If it’s the latter, (a much more interesting route) how does his imagination change the reality of what we’re seeing? For example, Man in Chair has a drink in the middle of Bride’s Lament, and then things go haywire. Is that the original production we’re seeing there, or his alcoholic version? I think a good production is going to have to answer that question at some point.

1. Overture
As you work out this number, you will need to be involved with the blocking and timing from the very beginning. There are a number of complicating factors: Firstly, the original Broadway cast  recording does not reflect what’s in the script. At measure 42, the tune is much further extended on the CD. There’s also more at 54. If you were looking to reinstate these measures, I think the first chunk doesn’t appear anywhere in the score, but the section around measure 54 is in the Exit Music.

The more important discrepancies are in the script. The script does not match the score, you can’t just have the actor read the script and play along with him out of the score. This is the list of discrepancies in this number the Stage Management team at Villanova cooked up for me (the formatting in WordPress isn’t doing what I wanted it to, but you get the idea) :
Sheet Music                                                              Script

You hear the static?  I love that sound.  To me, it’s the sound of a time machine starting up.  Now, let’s visualize.

You hear the static?  I love that sound.  To me, it’s the sound of a time machine starting up.  Alright now, let’s visualize.

Imagine if you will, it’s November 1928.

Imagine if you will, it’s November 1928.

You’ve just arrived at the doors of the Morosco Theatre in New York.  It doesn’t exist anymore.  It was torn down in 1982, and replaced with an enormous hotel.  Unforgivable.

You came by horse, I suppose.  I mean, a horse drawn carriage..  You weren’t actually riding the horse.

Anyway, it’s very cold and…

A heavy grey sleet is falling from the sky but you don’t care…

because you’re going to see a Broadway show!  Listen!

You’ve just arrived at the doors of the Morosco Theatre in New York.  It’s very cold – remember when it used to be cold in November?  Not anymore.  November’s the new August now.  It’s global warming – we’re all doomed –

anyway…  It’s very cold and a heavy grey sleet is falling from the sky but you don’t care

because you’re going to see a Broadway show!  Listen!

Isn’t this wonderful?

Isn’t this wonderful?

It helps if you close your eyes

It helps if you close your eyes

A kettle on the stove begins to whistle.  MAN runs over to the stove and dances while he makes himself a cup of tea.

Don’t you love overtures?  Overtures are out of style now.  I miss them.  It’s a polite way of beginning the evening.  It’s the show’s way of welcoming you.  Hello, welcome.  The meal will be served shortly, but in the mean time, would you like an appetizer?  A pu-pu platter of tunes, it you will.

Overtures?  Overtures are out of style now.  I miss them.

It’s the show’s way of welcoming you.  Hello, welcome.  The meal will be served shortly, but in the mean time, would you like an appetizer?

That’s what an overture is, a musical appetizer.

A pu-pu platter of tunes, it you will.

Oh!  Something new!  What could it be?  Sounds like a dance number.  Kind of rollicking.  Maybe involving pirates!  Don’t worry.  There are no pirates.

Oh!  Something new!  What could it be?  Sounds like a dance tune.  Kind of rollicking.  Maybe involving pirates!  Don’t worry.  There are no pirates.

He runs back to his chair as the music segues from a mono recording to a live orchestra.

Now.  This is it.  This is that special moment when the music starts to build…

and you know you’re only seconds away from being transported.

And the overture builds and builds to it’s climax…

Now.  Here it comes.  The moment when the music starts to build and you know you’re only seconds away from being transported.

The overture builds to it’s conclusion.

and the lights dim and you settle back in your seat…

The curtain is going up.  I can’t wait!

and as you’re sitting there in the dark you think to yourself

A new Gable and Stein musical.

Aren’t you excited?

I suppose since both sets of words are in the materials you are sent from MTI, you can pick and choose what you like to say. You do, however, have to align the following things:

a) I believe the music starts after “…time machine starting up”
b) I think “You’re going to see a Broadway show” ought to go around measures 14-16
c) I think the part of the monologue about Overtures needs to come around 39. There isn’t really enough time, but…
d) The “Oh! Something new!” portion of the monologue needs to come around 45. You’ll find it’s hard to get through the lines that come before in time.
e) The real Orchestra begins playing at around 63. You can take all the bass out of the cast recording and put some crackle on it, (and then you get some more time before 45) or you can record the pit like I did. Be careful, though. You’ll probably wind up recording it at the Sitzprobe, and then for the run of the show, you’ll have to listen to it every night, the way you were playing it before you knew it very well.
f) At 75, the band is just getting ripping, and they have to play under the monologue. It’s kind of a drag.

1A. Opening Scene
The cue to go on to 2. is when Underling says: “It’s a miracle, Madame” (go on)

2. Fancy Dress
This number does just what it’s supposed to do, but I can’t help thinking that it isn’t really a ‘20s number in terms of what it does theatrically. I can think of lots of examples of shows before the 60s that begin with a chorus singing “We Are” and numbers in which characters say “I Am”, but this number, in which everyone comes out and says “I am”  or “he, she is…” one after another feels like a post-Hal Prince thing to me (Fiddler, Cabaret, Into The Woods, Ragtime,). Lisa Lambert and Bob Martin came and spoke to us at Villanova, and Ms. Lambert mentioned something in passing about the number being related to a Marx Brothers opening number, but I can’t remember which movie she mentioned. Whether it’s anachronistic or not, it does the job far better than a more typical ‘30s chorus opening would do, (like Bon Voyage at the beginning of Anything Goes for example) and if it has that zany Marx Brothers madness going on, it’s the perfect opener. There are a few errors and omissions in the score: Underling is supposed to say “Ah!” in measure 27. There is a mistake in Reed 1 in measure 58. The top note, which is clearly a concert D, is marked concert Db in the part. 69-72 is a repeat, not a vamp. At measure 84, Feldzieg sings “I gotta stop this wedding or I might get shot” in the score, and “I gotta stop this wedding or I’m not worth squat” in the script. Even though the script version doesn’t sound very ‘20s, you must use that version. Kitty’s next line ends with ‘shot’ also and you can’t have an identity. If you find yourself arguing with me, I’ll just say, trust me. There can be no identities in musical theatre that is pretending to be from the ‘20s. (identity rhyming is a disease of the modern musical theatre which had not begun to spread in the ‘20s)  At Measure 128, the script has everyone singing this part. The score says ‘staff’. I guess that means it’s up to your discretion. At 144, resist the temptation to slow down. In measure 177, the cue in the score says “Champagne makes me deliciously drowsy.” Take the deliciously out. There isn’t enough time. At 189 there is an elaborate figure in cue notes that isn’t in the parts at all. Don’t play any of it in rehearsal, it’ll drown out Trix and confuse everyone when the band shows up and doesn’t play it. The figure at measure 208 for Feldzieg and the Baritones could be up the octave. (and probably should be) Same at 216. At 206, be sure your Man In Chair knows to turn the record down, and drill your chorus to drop the volume way down there. An important detail here is that the record has been turned down, but their performance has not gotten less energetic. The choreography and the energy ought to be as big as ever, because they are still performing ‘full-out’ on the record! (meta enough for you?)The script has this moment in a different place. Decide for sure where that happens with your director. At 209, Man in chair says the characters have been introduced. The script says all the guests have arrived. You’ll have to decide which you prefer. Note that 219 is a different figure than it was at 179. Make that difference explicit early in the rehearsal process. At 221, the Double Bass book has a rhythmic error. Check against the score. I did 225 twice, and used the NEXT measure as a vamp. Reed 1 has an error in measure 227; I think that first note is marked as a concert G natural, not a concert G flat, as correctly indicated in the score. Budget a lot of time for 229; for some reason it’s very counterintuitive for the principals (particularly Trix and the Gangsters). It can also be a little counterintuitive for your drummer, because the swing eighths go away without warning. Make a big deal out of a clean cutoff at 251, and if possible, have your choreographer put some movement at that moment so that they can lock in on that beat.
2B. Macaroons
The cue is marked as “…macaroons”, which must have been the cue line at one point. Now the line in question ends with macaroon (singular), and it must have been a completely different line to have been plural. Maybe at some point Feldzieg said it about the gangsters? It’s just a drum punctuation to a joke.
3. Robert’s Entrance
I did this number twice, adding the reeds the second time only to keep it from sounding like a repeat. We used the line “I always thought that number was overplayed” as the cue, but you could also use “Let’s go to the groom’s room”.
4. Cold Feets
This number has a lot of ideas from minstrelsy, Lisa Lambert mentioned the Gershwin’s Slap That Bass as a cousin of this piece, I hear a number of other classic rhythm numbers in there too. The first section of the song actually presents some challenges. You have to play a little of that trumpet line in during rehearsals, because it fills in spaces and does a kind of call-and-response with the singer. There is a stinger right at the top of the number in the brass that isn’t in the score. Make sure you give a good cue for that. It’s marked colla voce, but I think after measure A, you ought to be in a slow, but steady tempo. The phrases are actually in 6/4 when you think about it. Whatever you wind up doing, Measure 6 ought to be in tempo, because the trumpet answer phrase lines up with the bassline, and you need to be in tempo to do that. I took a slight ritard at measure 7. There is a line in measures 9 and 10 that isn’t in the score. Robert says: “You know what you got?” Measure 19 is rhythmically different from what happens before, make a note of it. In the script, George says “You don’t say?” before he says the rest of the line as written in measure 63. There is a cut around measure 73 in the Original Broadway Cast Recording. Cueing out of 85 can be tricky. By the time you’ve run it a million times, it should wind up being the same amount of times through, more of a safety than anything. Make sure your drummer doesn’t drown out the lines being spoken in 85, or you won’t know you’ve missed your cue until it’s too late. Measure 88 should read What do I want? Not what do I got? At 94, I think the tempo should slack a bit. This is one of those tap moments where the dancer sets the tempo for what follows. Make it clear to the dancer that they’re stuck with whatever tempo they establish there. At 104, the tempo picks up a bit. At some point in there, the script has them saying:

Robert: “George! Look at you! You’re dancing!”

George: “I am? I am!”

The score doesn’t have those lines or indicate where they go. Some of the trombone work at 112-127 is a little awkward. If you’re compiling a list of things to pay particular attention to for that player, that’s the most exposed Trombone work in the show. 133 on is a much faster tempo. Make sure you and your choreographer are in agreement about the tempo here. It’s easy to run away with this section. Underling has a very funny moment in the fermata at 158. Again, after that the dancers establish the tempo at 159. Make it clear to them how important it is that they establish it correctly, or conduct their 5…6…7…8… yourself. Obviously the higher voiced singer of the 2 can sing the A flats in the passage at 161. I think 183 must be a misprint. It should be an octave higher or spoken. And line up that button at the end on beat 3.
5. Wedding Bells No. 1
The Cue for this number is: “And no more tap-dancing!” The phone message has an extra bit in the score that’s kind of funny. (or at least I thought it was funny, but it didn’t really get a laugh) Call your director’s attention to it, and see if you want it back in. Measure 8 says ‘slow 4’, but that feels really wrong. For me anyhow, the section feels like it’s mis-notated, that every note value should be doubled, that every bar should really be broken into 2 measures, and that the piece should be conducted in a fast 2. It has the same vibe as 3. Robert’s Entrance and 6D Janet’s Bridal Suite, both of which are in 2. I’m not suggesting you rewrite it, I’m only saying if you don’t mention that it’s weird to the band, you’ll do it a couple of times before you get it right. If you have a George who can’t really sell that high B flat, (um, who does?) change the notes in measure 8 to D flat, D flat, D natural, D natural, E flat for the long note. And finally, be diligent about where the button goes. If you are successful in feeling the beat correctly, you’ll get it in the right spot. But it won’t feel like a 4. Play through it, you’ll see what I mean.
5A. Janet By The Pool
Fairly straightforward scene change. I repeated the first 8 measures 3 times to buy us more time. The last 4 measures work pretty well with a poco a poco rit.
6. Show Off
This is one of the major show-pieces of the musical, and you might want to watch a you-tube video of it, to see all the stunts they managed to put in for the first production. Musically, it’s your classic Sutton Foster number, climaxing on her signature belted C. There is a lot of ground to cover in this number, so you’ll have to bear with me as I lay out all the issues.

Right off the bat, there’s an issue of whole-steps versus half steps. The figure in measure 1-4 and measures 9-12 has a half-step motion; the figure in 5-8 and 13-16 is a whole-step motion. It’s very easy to do both of them as half steps. This distinction continues throughout the number. Watch the cutoffs for the chorus in measures 36, 38, and 40. Don’t speed up at 42. The marking Faster (wild charleston) is not in all the pit books at measure 48. Make a note of it. If you don’t do the snake-charming bit at mesure 74, you’ll have to cut that section or it doesn’t make any sense. Again, see a youtube video to see what the music initially went with. Some of the dance sequence is very specific. There is a huge copy-paste error in both the vocal books and score. The second vocal entry “don’t wanna show off no more” that starts at 99 is wrong, and should be deleted. It isn’t in the cast recording and doesn’t match the harmony the band is playing. If you look at the vocal book, you’ll also see some other funniness there that proves it’s in error. There was initially some business in the drum fill at 105. If your production has nothing in particular going on there, cut the measure and go straight from 104 to 106. The section beginning at 106 is a place where you’ll wish your Janet wouldn’t listen to the CD. The Original Broadway Cast Recording has this section in another key. This is another open spot where the singer could establish a tempo you don’t like. (See my earlier notes) Make sure you get the tempo you want there. Again, the chorus parts are wrong at 113-116. There’s nothing for the chorus there at all. At 123, the fermata on that chord will feel odd. Play with it until it makes sense to you. I suspect it’s a seam from an earlier cut. At 124, the Original Broadway Recording is in the correct key again, but it may still be odd for your Janet, who may hear the key relationship from the cast recording. And once again, 124 is another place the singer has potentially too much control over the tempo. 125 is clearly in your traditional ‘stripper-tempo’, a tempo which doesn’t work if too slow or too fast. It should be slow enough to dig in on the stride left hand without being so slow that it lacks any energy. I took a little accelerando at 131. It’s unclear from the score what’s happening at 142. You’ll need to carefully tape the actress singing that phrase and play it back during the show at that spot while she drinks a glass of water. I can’t remember why at this point, but I gave the low men a B natural at the downbeat of 144 and changed the low girls to a G. Take 145 through the end as fast as you comfortably can. The end of the number is an applause segue into the playoff.
6A. Show Off Playoff
Very straightforward playoff. If you want it shorter, start at 7.
6B. Show Off Encore
The cue for this number is “I’m surprised she didn’t do an encore”
There is an alternate lyric in the script, that I suspect may have something to do with whether you have a trap-door or not:

Script: “Make the audience roar no more. I don’t wanna show off.”

Score: “Disappear through the floor no more. I don’t wanna show off.”

Again, this number has 2 places where Janet could speed you up or slow you down with her pick-ups. If your Janet has a high C, that works as a last note. But whatever happens there, I would advocate for a head-voice position on the C in measure 10, so we don’t hear a huge crack on the way up to measure 12.
6C. Spit Take
The cue line for the second half of this should read “Make myself a Gimlet”, as it reads in the script. They both have Vodka in them, but Gimlet sounds funnier than Bloody Mary.
6D. Janet’s Bridal Suite
I repeated the first four bars to extend this scene change.
7. As We Stumble Along
This is a Kate Smith style rousing anthem. You need to build the performance carefully to a fever pitch; work to pace your actress properly, so it isn’t just a hot mess. The Chaperone character is capable of many levels; be over the top, but a specific over the top, not a sloppy, indistinct one.
The cue lines vary from script to score:

Script: “Really, you’re not the least bit helpful. Couldn’t you at least allay my fears with a few choice words of inspiration.”

Score: “Well, perhaps you could allay my fears with a few choice words of inspiration.”

Be sure the word changes are clear to the performer early in the process. The first time it’s “…and the best that we can do is hope a bluebird will sing his song…” The second time it’s “…but as long as we can hear that little bluebird, there’ll be a song…”
There is a slight discrepancy between script and score at measure 33 too, and a missing line.

Script: “That was quite nice, Chaperone, but I don’t see how it pertains to my situation.”

Score: “That was very nice, Chaperone, but I don’t see how it applies to my situation.”

Followed in the script by:

Script: “ Oh, really, that’s not necessary. I suppose I’m just looking for a sympathetic—“ (This happens around measure 35 but the score does not list anydialogue)

At 35 I had a lot of fun accompanying the singer. I think it got lounge-ier every night. Measure 38 is miscued in the piano score. The clarinet in the reed 2 book has that figure. I got a funny look from my trumpet every time I cued it until I started remembering. At 43 there is a line for Man in Chair, who echoes Drowsy “Antarctica, Oh, Please.” He should say it EXACTLY as she says it. After all, this is his favorite record; her delivery is important to him. Our two actors had a great time changing it up every night, she’d pitch him something different every night and he’d say it just the same way she did. Measure 47 should be straight eighths. At the Bolero in 50, I found the articulations counter-intuitive. Make it a game with yourself to play the accents without making them staccato, and play the staccatos without making them accents. Once the band shows up, if you’re a good enough pianist, you can add a lot of Liberace style piano flourishes all over the section starting at 66. Change the choral parts to a half note at 73, a quarter at 77, and cut a quarter note out of 81, in each case to leave clear space for Drowsy to be heard. You’ll notice that the accompaniment really comes down at 78, then builds back up. It isn’t in the parts, but if you build that piano in and make it a strong crescendo, it adds one final level to the number. When you get to 82, do those hits colla voce with the singer, as written, but to land the joke, you’ll need extra space before ‘plumble’, and then hit those next 2 chords in tempo. It isn’t written that way in the parts, so tell the band too. We put a big fermata at the end of 84, and a portamento down to 85, and as a joke, our Drowsy took a big breath before “-long!”. I cut the E flat out of the ladies part in measure 86, and moved the cutoff for that chord to the downbeat of 87.

7A. Stumble Playoff
Start this playoff as she’s bowing. There is a discrepancy between the script and score in Man’s dialogue:

Script: “Basically, she sings a rousing anthem about alcoholism.”

Score: “She shoe-horned this song into the show. I mean basically she sings a rousing anthem about alcoholism.”

Janet’s entrance is on measure 15. Make sure that happens.
8. Aldolpho
I think this is one of the numbers that has been with the show since the very beginning. It works very well, and always gets a terrific response from the audience. One thing to shoot for in Aldolpho’s character is that it’s kind of unclear what ethnicity it is, vaguely hispanic, but also gypsy and Eastern European. There are a couple of places to throw the audience off the trail of that ethnicity, and it’s fun to find them.

I removed measure 2 entirely. I think it originally took place during some stage business we didn’t do. I also took out the fermata in 6. The passage from 10-12 is also underlining some stage business. (probably Aldolpho falling down) Be present and alert when that’s being staged. The upbeat to measure 13 should either be cued by the MD or in tempo; you want that entrance to 13 to be together.  The rhythm in the brass is notated incorrectly in the piano vocal score at 24 and 26 It ought to read Quarter rest, eighth rest, eighth note, eighth rest, eighth note quarter note. The piano part should be changed to match it. 31-35 isn’t that tricky to get through, provided your players are paying close attention. At measure 35, there’s a marking in the reeds that doesn’t work. It’s marked fp crescendo, which would drown out the lines. I told them to mark it piano. The clarinets trade off the trill there, so provided you have more than one, it could last as long as you like. At 40, I told my first trumpet to play that figure with a fat, unfocused, mariachi tone. It was funny. Measure 45 is the one spot in the show where I missed the second keyboard. That trill just isn’t the same without a guitar patch. Our percussionist added it into the mallet part. There are a lot of dynamic details to observe. Begin playing them in rehearsal and make sure your band sees them too. The fermata in 55 should be really hammed up. On an unrelated note, am I the only one who has trouble giving a downbeat with my head while music directing from the piano after I’ve just played a big ascending glissando on the previous upbeat? Try it. Your right hand sweeps across up the piano while your head goes up and then you play the downbeat chord while your head goes down, all in one fluid and easy-to-read movement. I muffed it until I just told the band to come in on the downbeat and I wouldn’t cue them. There is a direct segue to the next number.
8A. Aldolpho Playoff
The first part of the playoff is pretty straightforward.
8B. Accident Prereprise
I played measures 1-4 3 times to accommodate a scene change. Robert will be making his entrance at the pickup to 9, and he’ll need to learn to hear that ascending triplet figure in 8 as his cue. He’s entering blindfolded, by the way. On roller skates. Now the blindfold can be seen through, naturally, but you can see how you’d want to know the tune pretty well. 🙂
9. Accident Waiting To Happen
This number is your typical 20s-30s mid-tempo ballad, like How Long Has This Been Going on? or Embraceable You. Performance practice for these songs requires a flexible tempo for the verse, the lyrics of which provide the context for the chorus. The chorus is generally performed in strict tempo. So the section of the number that begins in measure 2 should be a flexible tempo, coming to a pause at the end of each line. In the intro, be sure to play a little of that flute line in measure 1, to help the singers know what they’ll hear when the band is there.
The chorus of this song is very cleverly and idiomatically scored, and is a joy to play, particularly with the winds and percussion playing along with that jaunty accompaniment figure. Again, colla voce at 28A. (by the way, colla voce doesn’t mean slow, it means flexible. There’s a difference. You classical people, it’s more like recitative) There’s a section in the Original Broadway Cast recording that’s been cut; hence the awkward transition at 71. In that fermata is a bit of dialogue that doesn’t appear in the score:

Janet: “And then what happened?”

Robert: “Well, then…we kissed.”
Robert’s part at 74 lies in a potentially tricky place for a tenor. Head voice, or a light mix is the way to go here. This number is much better with the skates and the blindfold. It’s a daunting task, but one well worth the hours and hours of rehearsal time.
9A. I Sure Did!
I have no idea why it’s titled this way; it must have been an earlier draft of the cue line. The real cue now is, “Oh, no! What have I done?” Then it’s kind of a keystone cops vibe until around 12.
9B. Kitty, The Incomprehensible
This underscore is easy, but the score hasn’t been edited since the whole scene was rewritten. The cue line is all wrong now. The script has it right:
Kitty: “…and don’t forget to shave your legs”
In the parts, the winds share the figure in the piano right hand. First it’s flute, then clarinet. If you didn’t hire all the books, just tell the players you do have to repeat that figure.
10. Toledo Surprise
I’ll be honest and say that this is the number that kept me up nights. There’s one part which runs like clockwork after you teach it well, but it’s not easy to teach or play. You’ll know it when you see it. This is one of the numbers where you miss reed 4 if you didn’t hire it. The Bari sax part is priceless. The cue to this number is the SECOND time Feldzieg says “One more time!” We tried it cold, but I wound up giving Feldzieg a bell tone D flat to start, because the Dadadadadada needs to be in the right key. If he cues the MD to give the bell-tone, it’s funny. This is yet another case where the actor is potentially giving the tempo for the next section in the clear before the orchestra comes in. Be aware of that upbeat phrase being too slow or too fast. I’ll point out that the rhythm for the melody in the cast recording is not what’s notated in the score. Most of the time it winds up being Quarter, eighth eighth, instead of Eighth Quarter Eighth for the figure that begins in measure 3. I gave in; the way it’s written winds up sounding fussy. I moved the G flat in measure 18 down an octave. Can your gangsters hear harmony? Have fun with 21. If not, don’t be a hero. Have them both sing the bottom line. Again, at 35, you can drop that G flat down the octave if it’s just too high. At 36, my drummer and I checked in with each other to establish the tempo for the next section. If things had dragged at all, we fixed it there. In 36, the dialogue is:

Feldzieg: “You boys are naturals.”

Gangster # 2: “Honest?”

Feldzieg: “Keep it up, I’ll go work on the contracts.”

Gangsters 1 & 2: “Hey!

Feldzieg: “A-5-6-7-8.”

That 5-6-7-8 is your cue out of 58. Observe the subito piano in 61, so that you don’t cover up Kitty’s line:

Kitty: “Mr. Feldzieg. Oh, what’s going on here?”

Feldzieg: “Kitty, I’m developing a new act.”

Gangsters: “TOLEDO SURPRISE”

Then around 91:

Kitty: “You mean you’re putting gangsters in the show and you won’t put me in? They’re not even in the union.”

Feldzieg: “Shh. You got it all wrong. The new act—it’s for you, Kitty. And these boys are your back up dancers.”

That’s your cue to get out of 98.

Kitty: “Back up dancers? Holy cats!”

That’s your cue to get out of 98A. Ideally, Holy is on a downbeat, cats is on a downbeat, and you’re right out into 100. By the way, at 100, the new Half note is the old quarter. It isn’t marked. Tell your band the PRISE of SurPRISE is on the downbeat of 108 and we’re off in tempo. The original cast album has more music after 116. Don’t let them rehearse to it; it’s not in the score. In measure 126, go on after “What a wonderful, wonderful tragedy!” If 145 and 150 are low or inaudible for your Feldzieg, you can put 145 up and leave 146 down, or put them both up the octave. The section between 147 and 162 had a tendency to rush when we did it. Don’t let the train slow down at 187-188 either; Strictly in tempo. Watch some youtube versions to see what to do in that moment. It’s an opportunity for a good laugh! Which brings me to 218, the crazymaking record skip section. Let’s hope I can make this clear to you; it’s potentially very confusing. I found 218 much easier to think about from the pianist/singer perspective as a bar of traditionally subdivided 9/8. In other words, THEN you GOT a TO-le, with three strong beats. I rehearsed it that way, only playing the top notes of the right hand and the left hand. Then after the 7th time through, (and you need to drill it into their heads that it’s 7 times and out) I really whacked that full chord on the downbeat of 222, which I thought of in conjunction with 223 as one long bar of 7/4. You mustn’t slow down at all in 223. Then 224 is in cut time, really. After some confusion, this made sense to everyone. It did not make sense to all my pit members, particularly the drummer and the percussionist, who preferred to think of it as it actually is, namely 2+2+2+3 eighths. The drum book certainly is that way, basically a bar of 4 with an extra eighth. I still feel the subtlety of that beat distinction will be lost on most casts, who will almost certainly not be paying any attention to your beat pattern at that point anyway. In practice, I wound up just giving a strong head nod on the downbeat of 218 each time, I carefully counted to 7 times through, and gave my drummer instructions to really whack the snare on the downbeat of 222. Hey, as long as it consistently works, any solution to that measure is legitimate. My hat is off to you! It’s an applause segue into the next number, BTW.
10A. Act One Finale
Okay, here’s another place where the original cast recording will lead you astray. On the recording, 10-13 are double-timed. It took us a while to figure out what was going wrong there. Also, it isn’t clear in the script or the score, but context clues tell us that the dancing should continue briefly from measures 1-6. (otherwise the lines don’t make sense) By the way, the script has an “Oh, Robert” before Janet’s cue line.

Should you add an intermission? No! The monologue isn’t as funny with an intermission, the show is only an hour and 45 minutes long, the second act isn’t long enough to justify an intermission, and your need to sell candy isn’t great enough to mess up the flow and the proportions of the show. Okay, I’m off my soap-box.

11. Message From A Nightingale
So the whole point of this number is that it’s horribly racist. So there’s no point in backpedalling on it. Gotta go whole-hog, with the ‘Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting’ style parallel 5ths and the gong and the horrible pronunciation and all. Make sure Man in Chair gets all the way out of the room before you start playing or it doesn’t make sense that he doesn’t come back on to stop it. There was evidently some business at 17, but we just had an entrance, so I made no tempo changes and played straight through in tempo from 16-18. There are a number of ways you could sing the section starting at 10, but a Julie Andrews delivery is quite funny, if slightly anachronistic. When Man In Chair runs in from offstage, he interrupts measure 37, preferably with a record-scratch sound cue. In rehearsal, I always had to play that F+7 chord much too long, and sometimes wound up playing a Bb chord just to keep it from sounding wrong. But when the band showed up, we put that TamTam at 36, and the ringing went on so long, the F+7 chord seemed just right.

12. Bride’s Lament
This was another number that struck me as out of place in a 1928 musical, (mad scenes aren’t really the thing until Rose’s Turn from Gypsy or maybe Lady In The Dark at the very earliest) but when you realize things start going off the rails when Man In Chair starts drinking, everything starts to make sense. Once again, the number begins with a colla voce verse. It shouldn’t be too self indulgent, but it should have room to breathe when the audience laughs. (and they will if they have a pulse and speak English) The opening instrumental should be slow. There’s a lot of dialogue to get through, not all of which is in the score, by the way. The underscore at 30, though, should be faster, piu mosso as marked. At 45, you also need to be moving ahead. At 84, the left hand of the piano is initially hard to play, but 15 minutes with the metronome will put you on the right track. Drill 90-94 until it’s solid as stone with your Janet. You need to say “ding” or something for the triangle note at 105, or Janet will blow through it in rehearsal. I also recall that it wasn’t in the drum book? Triangle parts are in both books, so you never know where to cue them. The section beginning at 109 is so fun, but it helps to know a few things ahead of time. Look at that harmony part at 114, it’s strange at first. There is a monologue at 110 that isn’t in the score. That means your chorus will have to be at a lower volume than you will probably like. I was all ready to have them going full bore until I found out about the monologue. This is what Janet says:

“Oh Robert! What a fool I’ve been. A hapless fool! I know now that I love you, but I’ve thrown it all away! I love you monkey… but is love enough Is love ever enough?”

Clearly you want people to hear that. There is also some business with cymbals there. The score indicates measure 123, but we put a few more in. The sooner you can get them in rehearsal, the sooner you can be aware not only of how to get them to play together, but how LOUD they’ll be. If you have any say in the matter, recommend cheap, small cymbals. The reed 3 book has a concert D flat in the and of 4 of measure 117. Should be a concert D natural. The last measure should clearly be a half note fermata in the vocal parts. They ought to cut off at the button.

13. Vaudeville Entrance
I had this number starting at the moment Man In Chair yanks the phone cord out of the wall.

14. Love is Always Lovely
The cue to start this number is “That’s just the nature of love” During measure 8, this exchange happens:

Underling: But Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy, madam.

Tottendale:Oh, I never read reviews.

At measure 17, this exchange happens (also not in score):

Underling: Might I remind you, madam, that Anne Boleyn lost her head.

Tottendale: Yes! She was in love!

That’s your cue to go on. I found that one difficult to time. The score says “Love was good for Eve and Adam”, but I’m pretty sure it should read “good to Eve…” Underling is supposed to say “Here we go again” after “…Adam” and before “..and Samson and Delilah too.” Before he says “May I pose a question Madam?” he says “good grief!” on beats 2 and 3 of measure 22.
At 27 there are some funny sound effects in the percussion book you should make the choreographer aware of, or they’ll be quite a surprise! At 45, I had Tottendale on the top line, and Underling on the bottom. I suppose it works either way. In the vamp at 46, this line happens in the repeat before she sings “Love sneaks up behind you”:

Underling: “Oh. I found that quite taxing. Excuse me, madam, while I pour myself a glass of ice water”

At measure 60, I had Underling on the top line, and Tottendale on the bottom. The original Broadway cast recording has a different ending here. If you need a scene change, you can go back to 58 for it.
14A. Incidental
In our production, we decided this underscore wasn’t on the record. Our cue line was “for the benefit of the young people.” It’s all about the trombone gliss in, people.
15. Accident Underscore
Much of the scene this underscores was apparently cut. Now the dialogue ends earlier. I cut it when Feldzieg enters with Kitty.
16. Kitty, The Incredible
The cue here was when Feldzieg says “MY mind” the second time. I had the band cut to Measure 5 on Kitty’s cue. (wherever they happened to be in the measure)
17. Wedding Bells #2
The first chunk of this number really only exists to cover the costume change for the girls to get into their wedding gowns. (I have that on the authority of the writers) Since we didn’t have 4 dressers backstage, I wound up writing and scoring another 45 seconds of music for George to tap to. No, I won’t send it to you. The cue in is “Hip Hip Hooray!”  Also, it should be played in cut time, even though it’s written in common time. The score at measure 4 says “That’s George” instead of “He’s George” again, which I like better. As I recall, the Original Cast Recording has much more harmony. If you want to transcribe that and teach it, you’re welcome to, but I don’t think it adds all that much. At 24G, I cut out the middle note of the ladies part, and the high a out of the second half note in the men’s part. At 24H, George says:

“Minister you may begin…Oh no, I forgot the Minister!”

That’s your cue to go on. I don’t know how your production will solve the problem of the plane coming on stage. But the tempo of 25 is determined by how long that transition takes. At measure 50, write Tempo Di I Do I Do in your part. You’re establishing the tempo of the next number there. Make sure your dynamic drops under that dialogue. 54 is the only place in the score you may miss the 3rd trumpet.
18. I Do, I Do In The Sky
The cue to start the number is “Wait! I Got it! Trix!”  Be careful when you teach the section from 21 to 28. That melody line is tricky, and you don’t want to learn it wrong. Trix is missing an “I” on the last beat of measure 48. Write in courtesy natural signs in the men’s part at 59. That passage that begins there is fun to play, but don’t go on autopilot; it changes slightly at 62 and 64. Don’t be intimidated by the power failure at 90. It’s actually really easy. A small, but important point: The singers aren’t wind up toys, so they shouldn’t flop over on the ground when the power goes out. They just drop in pitch and stop. Then when the Super says: “Here we go!” and the lights come back up, they start scooping up and you cue them for “SKY!”

19. Finale Ultimo
The cue for this number is: “…a little something for when you’re feeling blue. You know?”  In an ideal world, Man In Chair remembers that pitch and just starts singing. (You can’t really get it from the previous number, which is in A flat, not C, and which in any case has a monologue between) I turned down the volume on my synth, struck the G and turned it up just loud enough to be heard. The uke chords at measure 8 are Dm7, G7, Dm7, G7, Em7, A7, Am7, D7. In standard gcea  tuning, those chords are (sorry for my lousy cutting and pasting):
If Robert can’t sing the low notes in 16, you can either throw the whole phrase up the octave, (not the best option) or sing these notes in measure 16: G, F, E, D, C, D, E, F. Your cast will likely want to breathe between the first and second beats of 45. Take an 8th rest before “will” and let them do it. At 50, I moved the 1st tenor part up into the alto, cut the Bb out of the first chord for the guys, cut the Ab out of the chord on beat 3, and cut the Bb out of all 4 men’s chords in 51. The script has the second word of 51 as tumble, but I think crumble, as written is funnier. At 52 you may want to explain to the band that the chorus comes in on 2. Otherwise they’re likely to misread your chorus cue as a cue to them. On the last note, I played the chord and told the singers, “Pick a note that feels right and comfortable and loud”. After all, every note in the D flat major chord is there, and there’s bound to be a Soprano and a tenor pulling that high A flat.
After the number, Man in Chair says, “Goodbye Everybody!”, which is your cue to play the:
20. Bows
You’ve played this before, but the section at 15 is in a different key than before, so don’t let your fingers go on autopilot. If you need a repeat, you can repeat 25-32. It took me awhile to trust the slower tempo of 51, but if everyone is digging in and the trumpet is really playing out broadly, it does work well.
21. Exit Music
I’m pretty sure this got faster every night. It’s a good chunk of the overture, really. Don’t wait until opening night to look at 28-30. It’s not quite the same as the overture, and the differences can throw the band off when it re-enters.

Instruments You Should Get For Your Pit
This is a dance show. You need a pianist, a drummer, and a bass player.
The reeds do a lot of work. Reeds 1 and 2 are most important, 3 is good, but less important. You only miss Reed 4 during some of the Bari sax work and a few Bass Clarinet place.
Trumpet 1 and Trombone are very helpful.
Trumpet 2 helps round out the sound, but has very few exposed parts.
We did not hire a trumpet 3, and I only noticed 2 places where an exposed 3rd trumpet part was missed. I didn’t even bother re-assigning them, I just played them on the piano.
I didn’t hire keyboard 2, and didn’t miss it.
The percussion book adds a LOT of color and silliness, but it’s very very hard, like all the mallet books orchestrated by Larry Blank. My percussionist Mark Cristofaro programmed the changes into his Malletkat, and it really made a lot of the show pop, but again, the mallet work is very hard, and if you have a player who isn’t great, or isn’t committed, don’t bother using the book.

3 person pit:
Piano, Bass, Drums

6 person pit:
Piano, Bass, Drums, Reed 1, Reed 2, Trumpet
9 person pit:
Piano, Bass, Drums, Reed 1, Reed 2, Reed 3, Trumpet 1, Trumpet 2, Trombone

Then add, in this order:

Percussion
Reed 4
Keyboard 2
Trumpet 3

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Hail To The Chief: Top 22 Presidents in Musicals

October 29, 2012

UPDATE: I’ve added the Hamilton Presidents in, finally! And now there are 22.

In honor of this crazy election season, here are 22 presidents appearing in musicals. Herbert Hoover, although mentioned in Annie, Assassins, and Follies, does not appear, so he doesn’t make the cut. It turns out presidents are popular fodder for musicals. Many major writers in the 20th century found presidents interesting enough to write them into their shows.

22) Stephen Decatur Henderson.                                

What’s that you say? Not a real president? Well, he’s the star of Mr. President, Irving Berlin‘s very last musical, about a president who loses his re-election bid. One of his songs is entitled It Gets Lonely In The White House. But as a musical president, he actually has plenty of company, as we shall see.

21) Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ike is the only president to appear in Michael John Lachiusa‘s seminal First Lady Suite. He’s also mentioned in the musicals Jamaica, Merrily We Roll Along, and Finnian’s Rainbow.

20) William Howard Taft

This 300 pound president, who once needed to be greased with butter to get him out of a White House bathtub, only appears in one musical as far as I can tell; the underrated Teddy and Alice, which we’ll run into a few times in this list. (three presidents appear) The music in the show is adapted from John Philip Sousa. Taft is also mentioned in Parade.

19) James Monroe

James Monroe appears in Leonard Bernstein‘s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a number of other presidents. Actually it might be more accurate to say he appears as a number of other presidents, since the same actor plays all of them. He sings a song called The Little White Lie, about America’s trouble dealing with the institution of slavery. In that song, with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Eliza Monroe sings:

You knew when you were Washington

How wrong it was to do it.

You knew when you were Adams.

You knew it. You knew it.

As Jefferson you knew it!

As Madison you knew it!

And now that you’re Monroe,

You surely ought to know!

Does anybody else hear the music from You Did It from My Fair Lady in your head while reading that? Don’t worry, Bernstein’s music makes the sing-songy lyric something special.

18) Harry Truman gets props for actually appearing in a musical, making a cameo appearance in a performance of Irving Berlin‘s Mr. President in Kansas City in 1964. Unfortunately, he had to be rushed out of the performance via ambulance when he had an attack of appendicitis. A Truman lookalike appeared breifly at the end of Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, in which Ethel Merman played an ambassador.  Truman is also a character in a musical that rehearsed for a Broadway opening, but never actually opened, called Senator Joe. A musical about Senator McCarthy, it was improbably written by Tom O’Horgan, who had directed Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. It seems to have been something of a rock musical. If that sounds intriguing to you, head on over to you tube and type in Senator Joe First Act Finale. There you’ll hear a bootleg of part of first orchestra reading. Makes you want to hear what Truman sounded like…

17) Ulysses S. Grant appeared in a 1945 flop, Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston. He was played by Norman Roland, who would later get a bit part in the original production of Candide. Grant is also mentioned in Redhead, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and What Makes Sammy Run?

16) Rutherford B. Hayes appears in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where he takes the oath of office accompanied by an obbligato of the departing and future first ladies.

15) Calvin Coolidge appears in the 1968 musical How To Steal An Election, where he sings a song entitled Charisma. The soundtrack can only be heard on vinyl,  but for presidential music buffs, it’s worth trying to find it, because it combines new songs with real historical campaign songs. 

14) James Madison appears in act 2 of Hamilton. He’s consistently in ‘the room where it happens’, but you kinda miss Hercules Mulligan.

13) John Quincy Adams appears in the 1919 musical Happy Days, but I get the impression it was a brief appearance, since the cast also included Napoleon, Henry the 8th, Madame Butterfly, Little Red Riding Hood and Sappho. He gets better play 9 decades later in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. (Martin Van Buren appears too)

12) You’d think Ronald Reagan would appear frequently in musicals, being such an iconic figure. As far as I can tell, he appears only as a voice in Doonesbury, and in the aforementioned Senator Joe. He’s also mentioned in Assassins and Falsettoland. But Reagan appeared in the 1943 film This Is The Army, which had an Irving Berlin score, and that has to count for something, even though he doesn’t sing.reagan-leslie

11) Richard Nixon appears with the others in Senator Joe, and Vintage 60, which ran 8 performances. He is mentioned in Merrily We Roll Along. He’s also a major character in the John Adams opera Nixon in China, but that’s off topic.

10) Gerald Ford appears as a character in Assassins. I figured it was only right to put him after Nixon on this list.

9) William McKinley appears as a character in Earl Carroll’s Sketch book of 1935, where he was played by Arthur Griffin, who originated the Doctor in the first production of The Skin Of Our Teeth in 1942. McKinley is also referred to in Assassins and Ragtime, in both cases referring to his assassination.

8) Thomas Jefferson appears as a character in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and in 1776. In 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he sings an ingenious March, The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March. I can’t get enough of this quirky tune.

In 1776 he sings quite a bit: Here are some clips from a very good production:

Of course, Jefferson is also portrayed spectacularly by Daveed Diggs in the original cast of Hamilton

7) John Adams also appears as a character in 1776 and is mentioned in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, although Abigail Adams gets the big song of the evening “Take Care Of This House” He’s also referenced in Hamilton. Here is a cut number from the show, which will remain on this page until the link goes dead:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUI8b17YGx8

6) Andrew Jackson is the president most recently incarnated in the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Not your grandma’s musical president, to be sure:

He’s also mentioned in the musical  Jamaica.

5) John P. Wintergreen is the hero of the Gerswhin musicals Of Thee I Sing and Let ‘Em Eat Cake. This makes him one of the only characters in a musical to appear in a sequel, but that’s not the only great thing about John P. Wintergreen. The original Wintergreen and his Vice President Throttlebottom (yes, you read that right) were played by the legendary William Gaxton and Victor Moore before they appeared in the original Anything Goes.

gaxton-moore

Wintergreen has the best campaign theme song ever:

“He’s the man the people choose

Loves the Irish and the Jews”

4) Teddy Roosevelt is the title character of Teddy and Alice, where he was played by Len Cariou. You old timers don’t need me to remind you he was in Sweeney Todd,   A Little Night Music, and Applause. For you kiddies, he’s on TV in Blue Bloods, as the old dude. Teddy also appears in Bless You All, where he was played by Robert Chisolm, who played Macheath in the original 1933 Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera. In 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he sings To Make Us Proud, at the very end of the show. Oh, yeah. He was also in Earl Carroll’s Sketch Book of 1935, and the Gershwins mentioned him in Let ‘Em Eat Cake, the sequel to Of Thee I Sing.

3) Abraham Lincoln appears in Bless You All, as a voice in Frank Wildhorn’s The Civil War, Earl Carroll’s Sketchbook of 1935, and Happy Days from 1919. He is also mentioned in The Producers, Jamaica, and Assassins, naturally.

2) George Washington appears as a character in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where he helps select the location of the country’s capital. I don’t think this is how it went down, but it makes for a good scene. I’m sad that this show flopped so badly.

Washington is an unforgettable character in Hamilton, where he acts as a mentor to Alexander Hamilton and ‘teaches ’em how to say goodbye’

He also appears in Bless You All, Rodgers and Hart‘s Dearest Enemy, Morton Gould‘s Arms and the Girl, Dance Me A Song, and Earl Carroll’s Sketch book from 1935. He is mentioned in Damn Yankees, How Now Dow Jones, Jamaica, and probably innumerable other lyrics.

1) Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the commander in chief of musical presidents. He appears as an important character in Annie and its sequel Annie Warbucks. If that weren’t enough, he is the subject of Rodgers and Hart‘s musical I’d Rather Be Right, which ran when FDR was in office, and starred the legendary George M. Cohan, who wasn’t actually an FDR fan, really.

I'd Rather Be Right.jpg

He’s also a character in Teddy and Alice, Art Carney played his voice in Flora The Red Menace, and he appears as a puppet in Flahooley. He is referred to in Assassins.

Did I miss anybody? Are my facts off? I’m sure you’ll all let me know. And get out there and vote!

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Broadway G4

August 31, 2012

 

I put this video together to show the increasing importance and changing production of the G4.But obviously, it’s also fun to guess the singers! You can join the rabble in making your guesses on Youtube, or you can post them in the comments here. I also welcome comments about how the G4 has changed over the years.