Tag Archives: sa-characters

Dolly staircase

Secretary Hamilton, Have You Met Mrs. Dolly Levi?

Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes
Photo Credit Julieta Cervantes

I hit the Broadway ticket jackpot recently — well, two of my friends did and I was lucky enough to reap the benefits. In one week’s time, I got to see two of the hottest shows on Broadway in 2017: Hamilton, still one of the most in-demand tickets as it approaches two years on Broadway, and the revival of Hello, Dolly! starring Bette Midler, which broke all first-day Broadway ticket sales records last September. Hamilton and Hello, Dolly!–complete opposites of the musical theatre spectrum, one would think. A month or two back, I wouldn’t have thought that I would find correlations in such different shows and relevance in our current political climate, nor would I see how much we need both of them today in the growth and influence of musical theatre itself.

A friend texted me a few weeks back to see if I was busy one evening, telling me he won a ticket lottery for Hamilton. I thought he was kidding. I bailed out on a board meeting that night (though my co-members were all for it — come on, Hamilton!) so I could go. Our seats were in the front row, all the way down to the right. I could hear the actors singing both live and through the monitors; I was almost hit with flying beads of sweat several times, I was that close. Now I am not a Hamilton obsessive. I’ve listened a few times to the Original Cast Recording, watched some YouTube clips, and I have looked through quite a bit of the big HamilTome (look it up). But I haven’t actively memorized any of it. But it didn’t change the fact that that night, I was excited — the spontaneity of getting to go; the proximity to the virtually bare stage; the ground-breaking elements of this musical presenting American history; and finally being in the room, yes, the room where it happened.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

And the show didn’t disappoint. Even though there were at least three understudies on for major roles, and I don’t know how many were even left from the original cast, it didn’t matter. The cast was uniformly excellent, powerhouse performers communicating in fast rap, jazz riffs, and hip hop-infused choreography. The audience members were on the edges of their seats, resisting the urge to snap their fingers along with the opening number, but roused to thunderous applause time and time again as the biting lyrics coincidentally hit points reflected in today’s news, delivered with precision by the cast. The clean simple lines of the off-white knickers and corsets/vests that the ensemble members wore, the bare brick walls and wooden staircases and platform, and the way in which the central turntable kept the scenes transitioning seamlessly let the sung-through music and lyrics tell the story with minimal distraction. The show was an ensemble piece for the most part telling the story of Hamilton AND Burr, often with all actors on stage, many in multiple roles, weaving this story of the founders of our nation. It was a period piece in a most modern fashion.

For Hello, Dolly! a week later, the story was a little different. A friend went (at 4:00 AM) to queue up for standing room tickets for the Wednesday matinee. And she managed to get a pair for us. This time we were in the far back left of the orchestra–most theaters actually have numbered tags along the back wall where you can lean–almost the exact opposite of where I had been seated for Hamilton. A grand red drape with the simple show logo hung across the proscenium arch. Now I’ve listened to both the Broadway and film recordings of the show and have seen Dolly several times since childhood. It’s one of my favorites, and I know pretty much every word. As the more than 50-year-old overture started to play, I could see heads swaying in front of me as familiar strains washed over the excited crowd. Finally the grand drape opened on colorful, vaudevillian backdrops with sets dressed in the cheerful clutter of a hay and feed store or the purples and pinks of a ladies hat shop. Singers and dancers whirled across the stage in bright suits and dresses, or literally galloped around a staircase as actors farcically popped in and out from behind curtained restaurant booths. Subtle and modern, it was not. But it was glorious, and in the center of it all was a mega-watt force of Bette Midler, a leading lady of the highest caliber in a show designed for a star. Standing in the back, I was hard-pressed not to sway and dance myself bouncing on my heels during my favorite number, the brightly hued “Put on Your Sunday Clothes,” and regretting a little that I was already standing as the audience leapt to their feet in a mid-show standing ovation after the title number. It was magical.

Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

But here’s what I realized in the audience that day. We need both the Hamiltons and the Dollys in this world. We need the gems like Hello, Dolly! that stand up through the wear and tear of decades and shine that much brighter when brought into the light and are given glittering new productions, and we need the spare and edgy, forward-thinking modern musicals like Hamilton, because without one, the other cannot exist. Listen to Hamilton and you hear allusions not just to rap artists, but to Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics from South Pacific. And it’s not just a matter of building upon what came before, it’s letting the air come back into the older shows and hearing the script and lyrics in the context of today, while celebrating the traditional structure and staging of a Golden Age show. Besides the title tune and Bette Midler’s initial entrance, the most vocal audience response at Hello, Dolly! was to the line, “Money… pardon the expression… is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around encouraging young things to grow!” Cheers, applause, and woots! The reaction was as visceral as if it had been one of the pointed cabinet rap battles in Hamilton, with its witty revolutionary barbs that reflect in today’s politics.

Do I have a type of show I prefer? Sure, I’m a classic Broadway girl all the way, but there is a direct line from classics like Hello, Dolly! or Fiddler on the Roof to the mega musicals of the 80s like Miss Saigon or Les Miz to Hamilton or the current Broadway darling, Dear Evan Hansen. I think the big question is where will that line next loop around and where will it lead next? And how will today’s theatre students and future actors, composers/lyricists, and directors look to the past worlds of Jerry Herman, Rodgers & Hammerstein, or Cole Porter to become the next Pasek & Paul or Lin-Manuel Miranda? There’s room, and the need, for all of them. We don’t have to choose–and we shouldn’t.

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highschoolmusical.featured image

Top 10 Roles for Teenagers in Musicals

Photo Credit: RichardBH via Creative Commons License 2.0
Photo Credit: RichardBH via Creative Commons License 2.0

When we think of the best roles in a musical for a teenager, our thoughts often immediately turn to shows such as High School Musical, Hairspray, Bugsy Malone, Fame, or Grease. These musicals are brilliant for a range of multi-age teenage roles, with large casts and plenty of scope for principal, supporting, and ensemble parts. They are also immensely fun and frequently performed.

However, what about key roles for teenagers in musicals that are not specifically targeted at 11-19 year olds? Here, we have put together a list of just some of the exciting parts for teenagers out there and how they cater to particular strengths, be it ballet dancing, challenging vocals, or comic timing.

  1. Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family

Starting off with a modern show that opened on Broadway in 2010, Wednesday Addams is a great character role in this comically dark musical. Wednesday, an 18-year-old girl, is smart, temperamental, and impulsive. It is a great quirky, character role, also requiring strong vocals. Her song “Pulled” is an offbeat, comic solo that is exciting for any young actress to get her teeth in to.

  1. Pugsley Addams in The Addams Family

Similarly, Wednesday’s younger brother, Pugsley Addams, is a mischievous adolescent with a dark, macabre sense of humor. He takes delight in being tortured and forms a strong double act with his sister. A real treat for a keen young character actor! This role requires strong, comic timing and his solo “What If” reflects this.

  1. Chava in Fiddler on the Roof

Depending on the playing ages in this show, Chava’s sisters Tzeitel and Hodel are often played by actresses older than teenagers. However, Chava is the youngest daughter, and she must have a sweet innocence about her that is truly captured by a late teenager. Leaving her family and religion to follow her heart, the actress playing Chava must be a strong actress and dancer, as she features heavily in the dream ballet, “Chavaleh (Little Bird)”.

Photo Credit: Linda Hartley via Creative Commons License 2.0
Photo Credit: Linda Hartley via Creative Commons License 2.0

 

  1. Billy in Billy Elliot

The role of Billy is a dream part for any teenage boy who is an all-rounder, but excelling particularly in dance. Although, at the beginning of the show, Billy cannot dance at all, by the end he must be able to perform complicated ballet and tap routines with assurance and a definite wow-factor. There are several dance solos, as well as singing solos, and the musical is carried by this talented teenager. Natural comic timing is also a must, as is a convincing northeast English accent (check out our YouTube clips of the show, or look up clips of the recent Sting musical, The Last Ship).

  1. Michael in Billy Elliot

If you’re going to look at the role of Billy in this heart-warming, funny musical, you should also think about the role of Michael. Like Billy, Michael must also be a talented dancer, performing dance duets with Billy (check out “Expressing Yourself”, it’s a hoot!). Michael is the supporting, comedy foil and his comic timing and performance must be spot on. Like Billy, a convincing northeast English accent is needed – a good challenge for any strong performer.

  1. Tobias Ragg in Sweeney Todd

Although the age of Tobias (Toby) varies between teenager and young adult in differing productions of this classic Sondheim musical, since the 2007 Tim Burton film, it is more commonly played by a mid-teen in modern productions. Toby is a victim of circumstance and deeply affected by the death and gore he sees around him. He must have a strong tenor singing voice and effective stage presence to wreak his revenge on Sweeney Todd at the end of the show.

  1. Liesl Von Trapp in The Sound of Music

Liesl is the eldest daughter of Captain Von Trapp and has a playing age of 16. She encounters the common problem of many teenagers—believing herself to be in madly in love, but is she really? Liesl must show responsibility and authority with her brothers and sisters, yet portray a naivete and innocence in her relationship with Rolf and her understanding of the grown-up world. Liesl is a strong singer and dancer

  1. Fredrika Armfeldt in A Little Night Music

Fredrika is a great part for a young to mid teen with strong, confident vocals that reflect her innocence and youth. She is inquisitive and intuitive, enjoying touching scenes with her grandmother, Madame Armfeldt. She misses her actress mother, who is touring the country, and her naïve take on the world of an actress is reflected in the song “The Glamorous Life”. This song is often sung as a solo for auditions/performances (great choice for a young female teen), but within the musical it features more characters.

Photo Credit: Siena College via Creative Commons License 2.0
Photo Credit: Siena College via Creative Commons License 2.0

9 & 10. Jack and Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods

This fabulous musical offer great opportunities for two interlinking teenage lead roles. Jack, reluctantly instructed to sell his beloved cow, Milky White, must deal with the wrath of the giant when he plants the magic beans given to him by the Baker. Meanwhile, Little Red Riding Hood learns about the dangers of her innocent, friendly nature when she meets the cunning wolf. Both roles are incredibly fun and fast-paced. Like most Sondheim musicals, they require strong vocal ability and the two characters have solos, but also complicated multi-vocal arrangements.

Bonus Extras!

Baby June & Baby Louise in Gypsy

If you are slightly younger than the ages required for the roles above, why not look at these parts?

The roles of Baby June and Baby Louise are great, fun roles for two talented youngsters. The playing ages are 8-10 and 10-12 respectively and perfectly suit young, cherubic looking teenagers. The eldest sister Louise loves her sister deeply but is painfully shy as a performer. This needs to come through in her performance and the role requires strong acting skills, as well as confident vocals and (deliberately wooden) dancing.

In contrast, Baby June is a confident, extrovert performer, having been groomed extensively by her mother. She loves her sister but knows that her role is to get out there and perform. Vocally, she needs to have a strident, babyish voice, and the stage presence to lead a staged, dance routine. Baby June also needs to be able to perform gymnastic tricks.

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Top Ten Lists of 2016

Happy New Year from StageAgent!

As wittop-95717_1280h so many other blogs and websites these first weeks of 2017, we thought we’d take just a few minutes to share our Top Tens of 2016. We’ve seen a lot of changes to the StageAgent site, increased the number of new and updated guides featured on the site, and had some record-breaking traffic this year. And we are looking forward to many new and exciting things in the New Year! So without further ado, here are some 2016 Top Ten Lists, based on the highest number of unique pageviews in each category for the year. Some of the results may surprise you. Read on!

 Top Ten Musicals

  1. Into the Woods
  2. Hamilton
  3. Guys and Dolls
  4. The Addams Family
  5. Beauty and the Beast
  6. Little Shop of Horrors
  7. West Side Story
  8. Anything Goes
  9. Hairspray
  10. Legally Blonde

 Top Ten Plays

  1. Almost, Maine
  2. Rumors
  3. Steel Magnolias
  4. The Diary of Anne Frank
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird
  6. The Laramie Project
  7. Buried Child
  8. Proof
  9. Clybourne Park
  10. The Foreigner

 Top Ten Characters

  1. Miss Adelaide from Guys and Dolls
  2. Anybodys from West Side Story
  3. Sarah Brown from Guys and Dolls
  4. Wednesday Addams from The Addams Family
  5. Alice Beineke from The Addams Family
  6. Reno Sweeney from Anything Goes
  7. Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors
  8. Hope Harcourt from Anything Goes
  9. Olive Ostrovsky from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
  10. Vivienne Kensington from Legally Blonde

Top Ten Blogs

  1. The Do’s and Don’ts of Audition Style
  2. Five Great Musicals with Small Casts
  3. Great Musicals with Large Casts
  4. How to Prepare for an Audition
  5. How to Warm Up and Prepare Before Singing
  6. How to Find the Perfect Monologue
  7. New Monologue & Song Recommendation Tool
  8. Hamilton Hype: Why We Are Obsessed
  9. Top 10 Musical Theater Composers
  10. Understudy, Standby, Swing

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Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License

Choosing the Audition Song That Lets YOU Shine

So you’re going to audition for a musical. You’ve got an appointment (or the strength and spirit to wait in line), and you are going to do your best to make your musical theatre dreams come true. You have your headshot and resume all ready to go and now all you need to do is to choose a song. Here are a couple of questions you can ask yourself to help along the way:

What show am I auditioning for?

It’s important to tailor your material to the specific audition at hand. You wouldn’t sing the same song to audition for Carousel as you would for American Idiot, would you? Think about the style of the score and make sure that you are showcasing your voice in a way that shows those casting that your talent would be an asset to this production. Pick out three to four songs in the right style so you have a couple to choose from.

Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License.
“You’re a queer one, Julie Jordan.” Maybe more than we’ll ever know. Photo Credit: Grant Mitchell, Creative Commons License.

What question can help you narrow down your three or four songs to one? What character am I auditioning for? Think about the qualities of the character you want to play and figure out which song best brings out those qualities in you. Is this character sexy? Meek? Loud? Quiet? Stylish? Clumsy? For example, if you’re auditioning for an nerdy, meek character, you might sing “Grow for Me” from Little Shop of Horrors. If you’re auditioning for a seductive character, you might sing “Whatever Lola Wants” from Damn Yankees.  Choosing a song that highlights your qualities that liken you to the character will make it easier for the folks behind the table to see you as that character. You can find hundred of audition songs to choose from on the StageAgent Audition Song Database!

Next is a crucial question that many overlook: Do I like this song? If you don’t like the song you won’t want to practice the song and you probably won’t do your best job performing the song. It’s that simple. If you don’t like a song, don’t sing it. Nobody wants to see you feeling bored or uninspired while you’re performing. We want to see you singing your heart out and living your dreams. That’s what inspires someone to hire you and want to collaborate with you to create theatrical magic.

Veronica wants to create theatrical magic with you, but only if you choose your song carefully! She has sequined flowers in her hair which means she is all-knowing.
Veronica wants to create theatrical magic with you, but only if you choose your song carefully! She has sequined flowers in her hair which means she is all-knowing.

So you have a song that you love in the right style that feels like the character for which you’re gunning. Now we come to a more difficult question and that is: Does this song showcase me? If you are a classical soprano and you’ve chosen a to sing a Beyoncé song, you simply aren’t setting yourself up for success. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t work on material that stretches you. It’s great to set goals and to work on broadening one’s skills, but those songs should be in a separate binder from your audition material. Maybe one day you can “Run The World” your way into the audition room, but today is not that day, boo (I can still see your Halo, though).

Just because Ron doesn’t have a halo, doesn’t mean he can’t see yours.
Just because Ron doesn’t have a halo, doesn’t mean he can’t see yours.

Remember that people want to get to know you during an audition. If a song doesn’t quite fit the style or make sense on paper, but you have a gut feeling that it’s the right song and you love it with all your heart, take a chance on that love. Originality and creativity go a long way and have the chance to help you stand out and make a lasting impression.

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Photo Credit: Evan Teich

Keep Calm and Embrace Your Type

When I began to lose my hair senior year of college, I knew my days as a leading man were numbered. But not because of my receding follicles! The diverse course schedule and departmental productions challenged me to discover who I was as a performer. I was more inclined towards bigger, comical choices, but found they weren’t always leading man appropriate. I did not know it then, but my type was at odds with the characters I was playing. College left me wanting those star roles but, glorious locks or not, my natural inclinations would lead me towards much more rewarding experiences.

Photo via Good Free Photos.
Photo via Good Free Photos.

To know your type as an actor is to understand your strengths and how others perceive them. To embrace your type is using this knowledge to power your career choices. Understanding your type is allowing yourself to be the best piece to fit in the overall puzzle. This sense of clarity and self-awareness is essential. There are several factors in identifying your type:

  1. Age: What is the range you can believably play? If you look 17, you’re more likely to play Natalie in Next to Normal than Diana. If you’ve an older look, you’re more apt to play Max Bialystock in The Producers than Leo Bloom.
  2. Gender: This is less definable as cross-gender and gender-blind casting is commonplace. If you’re a fella with the height and gravitas to play Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, then more power to you!
  3. Look: The creative team’s first impression carries huge influence. When you walk in the room—before you even open your mouth—you’re contending with the established character in their mind. Maybe you are too tall/short for the actor you’d be playing opposite. You might not fit into the current actor’s costume. They might be looking for actors with rounder features, yet yours are sharp. We find ourselves asking, what did I do wrong? These factors are completely out of our control. We can’t get hung up on trying to be what we think they want. Be your best YOU! Often, you’ll find the desired “look” stated in the audition notices’ character breakdowns (always triple check). Keep these in mind when auditioning for that dream role:
    • Height
    • Weight
    • Hair length/color
    • Eye color
    • Ethnic appearance

  1. Voice: Your voice goes hand in hand with your look. A tenor won’t sing the bass solo in South Pacific’s “Nothing Like a Dame.” This also applies to the speaking voice. If you’ve a higher, mousy type voice, you might reconsider auditioning for the sultry Chaperone in The Drowsy Chaperone. Are you skilled at dialects? This is a killer feather to have in your cap as so many great, zany character roles require fun dialects.
  2. Personality: The most important factor that identifies your type is…YOU! What kinds of characters do you feel completely at ease playing? Do you possess a natural smarminess or a brash sexiness? This kind of security and confidence could turn an entire audition on its head, despite missing some other qualifiers. The rest of the list means nothing if you’ve no connection to the character.

When it comes to our types, strive to strike a balance between outside and personal perceptions. Like a favorite pair of jeans, you know what kinds of characters fit you best. As our own worst critics, though, we often lack the proper perspective to judge ourselves fairly. We actors are a sensitive bunch and there’s always something we wish was better, thinner, tighter, etc. But, we must also be honest with ourselves. A couple years back I was slated to return to a theatre where I had done summer stock the previous summer. They were doing Kiss Me, Kate and I had my heart set on Fred/Petruchio. He’s in my vocal wheelhouse, and I knew I had the presence to pull it off. Alas, I was to play Gangster #2. Despite a bruised ego, I quickly realized that it didn’t matter how I saw myself, but how the director (generously) thought my type would best serve the production. In retrospect, I had a blast and sharing one of Cole Porter’s best eleven o’clock numbers is nothing to sneeze at either.

Being able to capitalize on our strengths is truly what mastering type is about. This is where outside opinion can be beneficial. Find people whose opinion you trust and get their read on you. You fancy yourself the ingénue, but is it time to consider the quirky best friend? Sometimes it takes that external dose of truth to set us on the right path and while we may not always agree, embracing your type is part of understanding who you are as an actor. The last thing you want to do is waste the casting director’s time (or your own) when you know you’re not right for something. What’s worse, you don’t want to be remembered that way.

Photo Credit: Evan Teich
Photo Credit: Evan Teich

Once you know your type, master it! Become the best ingénue, leading man, or character actor you can be. I’ll find a working actor of my type, see what roles he’s played and then learn bits from those shows. This is a great way to get new material for your songbook. Read plays! This is the source for new monologues of all types. Be a reader at auditions. This topic is worthy of its own article, but is a great way to get ideas from other actors. As they say, “genius steals!” Auditioning with pieces that truly compliment your type shows a level of professional ethic that is often overlooked in theatrical academia. Ultimately, showcasing yourself as a competent performer will put you that much more ahead of the curve.

This clear sense of self-awareness is one of the more important of the myriad tools an actor has in their arsenal. It will help you to narrow down your options and give clarity to your choices. Otherwise, it’d be like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. However, we are not limited to one type over the course of our careers. There’s plenty of room for growth and discovery. After all, that’s what we strive for, right? To continue to grow and learn as artists.

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News, thoughts, opinions and advice for the performing arts community.