Posts Tagged ‘ musical theatre ’

Recording – Apparition Smith and the B Musical.


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!

Murder most musical


Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to see two shows, both of them involving people killing others, and the audience following the killers’ stories.  Whether the victims “had it coming” or simply “looked like plant food”, we weren’t meant to feel much sympathy with them, though the levels of audience sympathy with the killers was very different in each show. 

First, I zoomed up to the capital to see Little Shop of Horrors with three friends.  This show is a particular favourite of mine, so it was wonderful to see a professional production, even if it did heighten my previously-mentioned desire to play the role of Seymour.  The show is on at the rather lovely Ambassadors Theatre and was an absolute joy.  The cast were all very good, which is always a relief in a show with a small cast, as anyone under par stands out like a sore thumb.  The bloodthirsty plant had a new design, which was refreshing.  And, of course, the script and score were as excellent and laughter-provoking as always.

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Lovelorn Tenors Anonymous


There was a time when tenors ruled the roost, a time when they would inevitably get either the girl or a glorious death scene with a stunning aria, a time when they would buckle their swashes, get the star dressing room and break hearts across the world.  That time was the time of opera.  When the musical came on the scene, the tenor was gradually ousted from his position, and the baritone became the leading man.  The tenors still got some of the best songs, but were relegated to subplots, with one defining characteristic – the tenor is in love with someone he cannot have.  Sometimes they try to stake a claim on a more substantial plotline, but Rodgers and Hammerstein showed everyone the way to deal with such demanding tenor characters – kill them!  Off stage. 

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Jason Robert Brown


One of the most talented people writing for theatre at the moment is one Jason Robert Brown.  I tend to get blank looks if I mention him in real life, though I’ve recently discovered some fellow fans of this amazing man.  He not only writes and arranges music, but he plays piano like a demon (a very musical demon) and has an incredible voice with range, depth and passion.  You can tell this from his printed music, full of twiddly notes in the accompaniment and including long, held notes that probably have tenors the world over cursing his name.  Not me, though, as I’ve not yet attempted to learn any of his songs.

In terms of theatre, he’s written a few diverse musicals, none of which I’ve yet seen, though I have tickets to see Parade in September, at the Donmar Warehouse.  Most exciting.  This is his most ‘traditional’ musical, really, and tells the tragic true story of Leo Frank, who was lynched in 1915 for a crime he did not commit.  His other shows are Songs for a New World, which is a song cycle notable for ‘Stars and the Moon’, which has been recorded by a whole host of female artists; The Last Five Years, a two-person musical telling the story of a relationship from beginning to end and end to beginning at the same time; 13, which has a cast of teenagers and centres around a bar mitzvah; and a chunk of the score for the stage adaptation of Urban Cowboy.  They have little, if anything in common, other than JRB’s gift for composing technically challenging, emotionally revealing, passionate music.

Recently, I’ve been listening again to his album Wearing Someone Else’s Clothes, which is just as excellent, passionate and engaging as his theatrical scores.  I wish I could explain what it is about his music and performance which impress me so much, but I must simply say that it’s well worth checking his work out.  He’s often referred to as a successor to Stephen Sondheim, but that’s not entirely right, as Jason Robert Brown has a unique musical voice quite different to Sondheim’s, though comparisons on grounds of composing talent are entirely justified.  Brown has a great website which includes a bunch of his songs that can be listened to on-line.  There’s also a blog, which he often uses to address questions from his fans in a consistently amusing fashion.  Do yourself a favour and investigate this talented man.

Fun and flimsy?


Oh, dear.  Another post that isn’t the promised musings on Rodgers and Hammerstein…  That will come.  It really will.   But before that, my attention was drawn to an article in the New York Sun which discusses the imminent return of Les Miserables to the Broadway stage, a few short years after it left.  The article discusses the various merits of the show, and quite rightly (in my view) praises it for its weight and ‘heft’.  However, the main thrust of the article rather got up my nose. Continue reading

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