Although I have performed in everything from seventeenth-century opera to recent shows which began life on Broadway or the West End, it is particularly exciting to get to sing something which nobody else has sung before. New works I’ve performed in include the Christmas oratorio Prepare the Way by Phil Hornsey and the musical Behind Closed Doors by Stephen Clee.
Last year, I was contacted by Ethan Lewis Maltby, who I know from performing in the ensemble of his musical Courtenay. He was recording material from 3 of his shows, and asked me to participate in two of them. Firstly, B Musical, a science-fiction piece about the alien invasion of a small town. And secondly, Apparition Smith, a 19th-century tale about a group who put on fake séances. The material from B Musical had been recorded before, though the show has yet to be performed, and the pieces from Apparition Smith were as yet unheard.
This was exciting – it was great (and rather flattering) to be asked to take part and exciting to sing something new. I therefore spent some time learning the music and a few evenings recording it. Recording is an unusual experience – there is no audience to play to and the environment is a strange one. Unlike in live performance, there is nothing you can do to hide, but you can go back and fix even the slightest error, and do it as many times as is necessary to get it just right. Of course, this didn’t mean that I didn’t get annoyed with myself when things didn’t go right – quite the reverse! There were bits of the section I sang in B Musical which made me more and more cross with myself as I struggled to get them right. Ethan and Jenna (the lyricist for Apparition Smith, who also did the sound engineering – a skill I am in awe of) were very patient, but I dread to think how many attempts we must have made.
A little while later, the results of everyone’s work were released, and sound great! They have been made available on-line, and I really hope that they lead to the shows being picked up for production – I would be happy to see any one of them on the stage. Each has its own website:
- Apparition Smith. The tale of Nathanial Smith, a charismatic conman who travels 19th-century Britain setting up fake séances. I can be heard on the tracks ‘The Legend of Apparition Smith’ as a Legend-Teller and ‘Setting Up For a Séance’ as Ed.
- B-Musical. A comedy about a typical American family who have to deal with the somewhat unexpected arrival of aliens in their community. I play the part of Pa, and can be heard on the tracks ‘Strangeness About’ and ‘Tantrum’
- Courtenay. The true story of the remarkable Sir William Courtenay and of the last battle fought on mainland English soil. I don’t sing on this one, but you won’t regret checking it out!
If you’re curious about what singing librarians sound like, have a listen. If you like checking out new writing in musical theatre, have a listen. If you… well, just have a listen. Ethan and his lyricists are talented people, and their work deserves to be heard and seen. The three shows have very different sounds and styles and offer proof (if proof were needed) that there is great work in British musical theatre going unheard.
If you are particularly pressed for time, I am most pleased with ‘The Legend of Apparition Smith’. Most unusually, I can listen to that track without feeling embarrassed about hearing my own voice. You could possibly even say that I’m proud of my work there – an astonishing feat worthy of Apparition Smith himself!