Broadway Vocal Technique
We have all witnessed the horror stories associated with pop/rock singers. They damage their voices and have to undergo treatments, vocal rest, and often miss live performances because of their poor technique. In order for a contemporary musical theatre performer to consistently perform, they would have to develop a healthy vocal technique for this style which addresses the question: How have technology and the pop/rock genre affected vocal technique in contemporary musical theatre? Nearly every style can be found in musical theatre from classical (The Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden), Traditional musical theatre (Anything Goes, Chicago, Annie), and Contemporary/Pop/ Rock (Next to Normal, Wicked, Jesus Christ Superstar.) The idea of the pop/rock musical was introduced in the late 20th century and has been growing in popularity ever since. The average person would just rather see a musical consisting of songs that sounded more like their favorite pop songs on the radio. The shows that are surviving long runs on Broadway and the shows composers are choosing to write are contemporary style shows rather than classical/ legit style. The change in styles is a major factor for the success of the theatre performer.
Matthew Edwards explains the necessity of specific vocal technique because of the use of modern amplification technology.
“Cast recordings now use standard recording studio techniques including Auto-Tune. Live musical theatre productions use sound systems that rival those in use by leading rock bands. Even the Metropolitan Opera uses equalization, reverb and compression in its live broadcasts.
These changes affect the way we hear the voice.”
(Matthew Edwards. "Musical Theatre Requires New Styles of Voice Training.")
From Edward’s statement, the idea of a powerhouse Broadway musical theatre vocalist is changing because of the use of microphone technology. Performers no longer have to project enough to sing to an entire Broadway theatre over a band. The following essay examines the effect of modern microphone technology and the introduction of the pop/rock genre on the vocal technique of the contemporary musical theatre performer. Beginning with an investigation of recent success on Broadway, the investigation, firstly, will tie correlations in Broadway success with specific genres, and then explain compare classical and contemporary vocal technique and the controversy behind each. Lastly, the effect of new microphone technology will be investigated.
II. Success on Broadway
According to CNBC.com, the top grossing musicals of all time on Broadway are Wicked grossing $467.6 million with 2,716 performances, The Lion King grossing $699.1 million with 5,197 performances, and Phantom of the Opera grossing $770 million with 9,283 performances. Although Phantom of the Opera, a classical style show, is still the top grossing and longest running musical of all time, the next top musicals are both contemporary style. These shows have surpassed both Beauty and the Beast and Les Miserables, classic/ traditional style shows, at numbers 4 and 6 on the list.
Matthew Edwards analyzed the box office sales for the 2012 season and compared the numbers for 4 main musical genres: “Pop/Rock (those primarily consisting of pop/rock style music), Contemporary (musicals that combine traditional and contemporary styles often with some pop/rock influence), Traditional (those that are written in the Tin Pan Alley style that evolved in the early 20th century), and Legit (those musicals which rely heavily on the “legit” or classical voice).”
“As you can see by the chart, for the 2012 season, the Pop/ rock style musicals grossed the most, followed by contemporary, then traditional, and ,lastly, legit. Compared with the numbers for the 2009 season, Edwards concludes, “The percentage of pop/rock has increased from 35% to 42%; Contemporary musicals have...
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