Filichia Features: What to Remember in 2019

Filichia Features: What to Remember in 2019

By Peter Filichia on January 03, 2019

The second book of the three-volume set will most interest producers and directors of musicals.

Although the entire set of The Oxford Handbook of the American Musical offers many assets and pleasures, we'll concentrate on Volume 2: Media and Performance in the Musical.

Here you'll find inspiration and solutions for what you'll want to accomplish in 2019.

Most musical theater enthusiasts will know the shows and songs cited by the 13 contributors. Those who don't can become acquainted with them thanks to an accompanying website "which includes nearly 200 audio, video, image or text examples to illustrate or augment the discussion."

Who could ask for anything more?

Tamsen Wolff gets Volume 2 off to a fine start by reminding us that "Watching a large group of individuals performing in uncanny unison is often particularly thrilling for audiences" which "is not limited to one demographic."

David Savran points out that watching isn't all an audience can do: "One goes to Mamma Mia! to dance in the aisles."

Wolff believes that "Many people respond to the idea of imagining themselves in the role of the singer - publically or privately." So in 2019, one of your New Year's Resolutions should be to court those who haven't yet had the nerve to audition but have thought or dreamed about it.

You might have a head start with Rent. As Wolff says, its audience members have traditionally had "an understanding of themselves as an extension of the show's characters." Make the leap to get them onstage.

In Mitchell Morris and Raymond Knapp's chapter called "Singing" they revealed a fascinating fact: "Those living in high altitudes usually have greater lung capacity than those born and living in sea level."

And what United States city has the highest altitude of all? Leadville, Colorado, where some of The Unsinkable Molly Brown is set. Those who direct the 1960 hit in The Centennial State may have more baritones who are right for Johnny Brown than they might have assumed.

Contributor and co-editor Stacy Wolf would agree, for she believes that "Male roles are less typecast by vocal range than women's."

For those planning to do a Sweeney Todd, Morris and Knapp remind us that Signor Pirelli "is a fake Italian" whose "style of singing is distinctively foreign -- Italian opera, and a very bad imitation at that."

Hence Stephen Sondheim gave Pirelli "caricatured diction and gracelessly set-up high notes." As a result, this may be one time when you don't have to obsess about an actor overdoing it.

John M. Clum cited what bookwriter-lyricist Lynn Ahrens said during the casting of The Glorious Ones. She and the staff weren't solely looking for people who could act and embody each role. Equally important was "whether or not the actor understood the specific world we were trying to create."

So if you have a new concept for a musical, make your intentions known from the outset. That'll head off cries of "But it's never been done that way!"

That may frustrate you. But remember Barbara Wallace Grossman's quote from 21-time Tony-winner Harold Prince: "You must listen to everybody."

And yet, heed Arthur Laurents' advice, who staged three Broadway revivals of his own Gypsy: "The goal of a revival is to add a fresh take on the material while not losing what made the original worth reviving. The key is to look at the material with fresh eyes rather than merely the desire to do something different."

However, if you are the director, you must also remember the belief held by Martin Charnin, the brains behind Annie: "A musical is an armada, a large fleet with many ships. The director must bring them into port at different times."

Perhaps the simplest and most inspiring quotation comes from Arthur Laurents: "The desired answer is to make an audience want to see more theater."

You bet!

While Volume 2 offers the most advice, Jennifer Chapman makes an important point in Volume 1: Histories of the Musical.

"The 1920s were a time of debate and change for secondary school curricula," she writes. "Early advocates of high school theater production and study argued that it benefited students' moral, social and academic development" and that it would "teach life skills that would make students better Americans. By performing good citizenship and ethical decision-making in dramatic enactments, students could rehearse the roles of their future adult selves."

Plenty of plays and musicals from the '20s may be dated. That statement certainly isn't.

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