Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tips for the Young Theatre Connoisseur

One thing I love about BroadwaySpace is seeing how many young people there are on the site, writing about their favorite shows and stars—Idina Menzel and Wicked, Legally Blonde on MTV, or Spring Awakening. Some of these are kids who live far away from New York and may not have enough money to actually attend a Broadway show or tour, but the budding passion is there—perhaps birthed by the movies of Hairspray and Dreamgirls, or by seeing Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, aided by Rent and Les Miserables.

I was young myself with the bug bit. I was a senior in high school when, in 1994, on a whim, I ended up attending the tour of Hello, Dolly! starring Carol Channing. No, it wasn’t rock music, and there were no songs I had heard before. It was simply a great story told with great music, utilizing all the dazzling spectacle of Carol Channing, who was more awe-inspiring than any falling chandelier or landing helicopter could have been.

In the week after seeing the show, I generated the idea for writing what would become my first musical.

Like a lot of the fans spawned by shows like Wicked, I knew musical theatre was a magical art form like no other, one I wanted to see more of. For me, Hello, Dolly! was followed by Kim Huber in Beauty and the Beast, Ralph Macchio and Roger Bart in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and Cloris Leechman in Show Boat.

So, for those young people who are like I was, finding themselves falling in love with something so amazing, those out there seeking to replicate the great experience you had at Wicked or Rent, I offer you some tips.

1. A big step for me was checking out the library. If you live in a community where they have a larger library, check out the selection of Broadway CDs. This was how I learned tons about musicals. I’d look through the CDs on the shelf, look for ones that had stars I knew (Julie Andrews in The Boyfriend for me, perhaps Idina Menzel in See What I Wanna See for you), had composers I liked (the Mary Poppins duo Richard and Robert Sherman’s Over Here for me, perhaps Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell for you), or told stories I knew a little about (Cats for me, perhaps Aida for you).

Maybe even do an Internet Broadway Database search for your favorite Broadway stars and see what other shows they might have been in and check out those recordings.

It didn’t take me long before I was sampling CDs just to see what they were like. Honestly, I’d skip over the slow songs (I was a teenage boy, who needed ballads?!?) and get to the comedy numbers, like Rosalind Russell singing “One Hundred Easy Ways” in Wonderful Town or the big, energetic dance numbers like Angela Lansbury’s “That’s How Young I Feel” from Mame.

What I would later enjoy doing, and I would highly recommend for you, is to give each song a chance. If you listen to the songs and the plot isn’t clear (which it may not be), trying reading the synopsis in the liner notes. That’s really helpful. Your experience then becomes like listening to an audio book and gives you a full feeling for what’s going on as you hear each song.

Honestly, I discovered so many great songs and musicals through the library, shows whose CDs I would later buy for myself. Plus, I learned so much. I am still building on the foundation of knowledge of shows I learned from the library.

Also, I should add, that if your library doesn’t have the CD to a show you want to hear, check and see if they have it at another branch or can get it through interlibrary loan.

2. Many of the teens I know love to buy music, either CDs or through iTunes. If you really like shows, peruse the CD racks at Barnes and Noble or listings on iTunes. I love grabbing a CD from a show I’ve never seen and experiencing the story that way. I’ve actually learned many of my favorite scores from such CD-buying stops—Big River, Marie Christine, Jane Eyre, Bernarda Alba, Assassins, and so many more.

Again, if you can understand the story through the music, it’s like getting an audio book, one you’ll want to listen to again and again.

Many stores carry Broadway CDs, though the best selection I have found is at Barnes and Noble bookstores or Borders bookstores. Best Buy and Circuit City do have some Broadway CDs, but it’s usually a more superficial selection. Perhaps there are other stores to check out in your area.

(Note: Most people would agree that the Original Broadway Cast Recording of a show is going to be superior to the soundtrack. The choice is yours, but most soundtracks are missing songs from the show and have performers with weaker voices.)

3. Check your library to see if they have any Broadway shows on DVD or video to check out. It’s harder to find shows that are recorded directly off the stage, but they are out there. Check for Wicked alum Coleen Sexton in Jekyll and Hyde; Rachel York and Brent Barrett in Kiss Me, Kate; Bernadette Peters in Into the Woods; Angela Lansbury in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; Cathy Ribgy in Peter Pan; and Hugh Jackman in Oklahoma!, all of which make for great viewing.

4. Attempt to expand your horizons. Whether it is attending a show or checking out a CD, try to get beyond the shows you’ve seen. There’s much merit to Wicked, Rent, Spring Awakening, Hairspray, and Legally Blonde, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by many other shows.

When it comes to CDs, maybe try The Color Purple, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Disney’s Aida, Urinetown, Ragtime, The Scarlet Pimpernel, or Titanic for a start.

5. Get involved in the theatre program at your school. Even if you can’t sing or act, you can help move couches, paint trees, or sell tickets. As a former high school director, I can attest that getting involved in the theatre program at your school can be so great. I had kids who didn’t really fit in anywhere make really good friends backstage or while dancing in the chorus.

Plus, it’s really fun.

So, now here’s where I call on my readers. Whether you are a fan of 60 or 16, what recommendations would you add for the young theatre people out there? You can leave a comment below anonymously (you don’t have to have a Blogger account).

the Broadway Mouth
January 9, 2008


Anonymous said...

Coleen Sexton is spelled with one L. Just to let you know.

Broadway Blog said...

Oh, thank you! I'd better go back and make sure I fix that in past blogs. Women that talented deserve to have their names spelled correctly.

Anonymous said...

Coleen is amazing.