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So You Want to Produce a Musical (5): The Question of Rehearsals (Music)

Nov, 2004

So now rehearsals are ready to start. But not until you have had a long planning session with your crew and cast. For starters, you absolutely must know which sessions this player or that cannot attend. If you have to take their bank accounts into custody, they must swear a blood oath that they will show up at all other rehearsals—barring, of course, emergencies.

 Also be very sure that (say) a 7 PM call means WE START AT 7 PM! How often do people show up only to find that the Director is not quite ready for them? Little by little, they start to arrive later and later to avoid the boredom of sitting around doing nothing. I would suggest that the crew arrive 30 minutes earlier to sort things out with the Director so that all is ready on time.

Should the dancers also be part of the chorus, it is only common sense that their rehearsals cannot be scheduled with those for the singing ensemble. If you have two rehearsal spaces, each with a piano or at least pre-recorded music, that is a Very Good Thing. But most groups do not have this luxury. In any case, as was mentioned earlier in this series, all the musical numbers should be down pat before blocking the dialogue scenes even begins.

I have found it very profitable to meet with the speaking characters as early as possible after they are cast and go over the dialogue without any blocking. This is where we begin to establish each character, set up relationships between the characters, and stress the need for good enunciation and projection. Many of them might be in other shows and wish to save their voices during rehearsals. What happens all too often is that they forget to project during the actual performances. But we humans are only human, and compromises must be made.

In a good musical, the songs should serve some dramatic purpose, even if that purpose is only to show an insight into the character. For example, Liza Doolittle feels very good about herself before she sings “I Could Have Danced All Night.” She does not change during the song; she merely uses it to express her emotions. It was “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” that established her character earlier in the show. But a good director will have the song burst out of her at that moment as an INEVITABLE reaction to what she is feeling. Having her walk downstage, face the audience, and begin to sing because that is where the song goes does nothing for the play, her character, or the audience.

During the blocking rehearsals, then, careful attention should be paid to whom each song is sung. Does Liza sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” to herself, to the servants around her? I have always truly detested having such songs delivered to the audience. I think musicals should preserve the “fourth wall” as much as do non-musical plays. (Exceptions are, of course, numbers like “Comedy Tonight” which are meant to address the audience.)

There should also be a different approach to songs that are supposed to be songs (such as the show-within-a-show numbers in “Kiss Me Kate,” “Show Boat” and “Pal Joey”) and songs that are supposed to be dialogue (“If I Loved You,” “Some Enchanted Evening” and “I Could Write a Book”). In the latter category, the delivery should be quite different when the song is being sung to another character or as a soliloquy. In the case of a soliloquy, should it be delivered to the audience or to oneself? (A singer could be facing the audience but not addressing it to them directly, you know.)     

Many directors for local groups have had little professional training, if any at all, in the art; but a good deal of attention should be paid to fine tuning characterization. This is probably the most neglected aspect of amateur productions. “After all, it’s only a musical! After all, it’s only community theatre!” Does this mean the acting has to be rotten? Perhaps, if the Director is not overly territorial, someone can take the actors aside and go over line-readings for pacing, volume, enunciation, believable reactions, and so on.

And one thing that I have experienced in local theatricals. After the show and the “How wonderful you were” compliments, the entire cast should get together and go over what was poor about the production and how the next show could be so much better. (I live in a dreamworld, it seems.)

            In our next article, I would like to pay closer attention to other matters about how to achieve optimum dramatic effect in something that is “only a musical.”

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