It is not hard to realize that musical theater is unique. It is an entertaining blend of acting, music, singing, and often dancing numbers. Even those among us that do not particularly enjoy a night at the theater can find a date at a musical to be interesting and memorable. Theater itself has been around for ages and continues to be a beloved past time. Musicals on the other hand, you may find it remarkable to know, that it was only developed within the past century or so. They use similar resources such as vaudeville and opera to help create their own unique form of theater.
You can still find musicals being performed for audiences across the world with some even being revered for their ability to capture the attention of their viewers through costuming and performance. There aren’t many that haven’t heard of Broadway or London’s West End. There are even schools solely dedicated to teaching the art of musical theater. Whether you are a seasoned musical theater goer, an actor with interest in musical theater, or just like fun facts, this article will give you some fun, historical, or interesting musical theater facts to take with you. There may even be one or two tips on auditioning.
1. A Few Musical Theater Definition Math Problems
When you speak with someone familiar with musical theater or an actor who is involved in them, you may hear a few of these terms: book, music, lyrics. Book refers to the actual parts of the musical that are spoken. Lyrics on the other hand are lines that are sung by the actors. When you add the two together you get libretto. Add lyrics plus music and you get the score.
2. American Musical Theater is Fairly Young
The first true American musicals are considered to be George M. Cohan’s contributions during the turn of the 20th century. Up until that time musicals in America reflected those of Europe. Cohan began to write material that was more American with characters that reflected a more American attitude and music and lyrics that had more native slang and conversationally natural.
3. Not Always Funny Anymore
Up until the Hammerstein and Kern production of Showboat, all American musicals were based in comedy. This opened the door to other writers who chose to perform musicals that had more serious themes. Now you can find an assortment of both types, some with funny and spoof stories while others take a path of a more somber nature.
Most people go to musical theater productions to be entertained. Thus, we often think that the main purpose of their creation reflects that. However, beyond their entertainment value, musicals also give their creators a way to express themselves with many facets including choreography, musical composition, costuming, acting, and set design. Other plays open up certain controversial issues to an audience or challenge cultural and political norms. Some even are just there to represent and record valuable times in history that can be used as a teaching tool.
5. Broadway Is “it”
For anyone interested in musical theater, Broadway is the ultimate accomplishment. It is similar to making it to the silver screen in Hollywood. It is a long, hard road that leads to ultimate rewards. However, you must be extremely professional and can even be dismissed from a production simply for coming to a rehearsal late. Even if you are not aiming that high, it is a good thing to remember to be respectful to everyone you work with and not complain about the parts you are given- you never know who you will run into later down the road.
6. Wearing Many Hats
Having a part in a musical is so much more work than just learning lines and singing them. Most actors not only have their normal rehearsals but partake in vocal lessons, dance, ensemble classes, and stage classes that teach them about what happens behind the scenes. Do not forget the extra practice that goes on at home in your pajamas so that you can learn your lines and practice everything you have learned in all of those classes. It can become very demanding and take up much of your time. Thus, if you hold your social life as a very important aspect in your life, musical theater may not be for you.
7. Hot Date
Though schedules are demanding and shows are important, actors still have lives beyond the shows. If one of the cast, crew, or band needs to leave a few minutes early everyone pitches in and may even sneakily speed through a few lines here and there to cut the show a little short. That way the person with that hot date or important appointment he or she really needs to get to can get there and the audience is none the wiser.
8. Get Used to Auditioning
Any type of theater is going to necessitate you go through many auditions for a role. Musical theater is no different. On average, an actor looking for roles in musicals will audition about nine times over a three month period before they get that all important call back for a role. Also like any other production, the waiting is stressful but once that call gets to the actor, watch out Twitter!
9. Well Rounded
One word of advice you will likely come across as an aspiring musical theater actor is to remain updated on “the now.” In other words read other plays, not just the one you are in so that you can stay well rounded and aware of other plays and opportunities. Also, keep up on current events and music by watching the news and listening to the radio. This keeps you in tune with what everyone is into and how to convey that appropriately in auditions or on stage. After all, your audience is there to be entertained and you are there to entertain them. Being up to date on all of these little things can help you be a well-rounded actor and someone memorable to watch.
10. Take Care of Yourself
If you have ever worked a job that has serious demands on your time you may have already experienced the neglect for your own well-being that sneaks up on you. Your health is so important every day but for your career too. Your voice and your body are your tools so you should be sure to maintain them. If you damage your assets, you cannot perform. If you are always getting hurt or getting sick because you aren’t taking care of yourself properly, you may find you do not get many parts because you are deemed unreliable. Thus, learn to eat healthy, work out, and take a day to rest now and then.
11. Funny Fact
Many of us have heard the song, “My Funny Valentine.” Often, you can hear it played around Valentine’s Day. The song rose to popularity after the character Billy Smith, in “Babes in Arms” sings it to another character. Though it has become synonymous with the holiday, most people do not realize it actually has nothing to do with it. In fact, the character it was being sung to was named Valentine – thus the lyrics.
12. Another Fun Fact
The beloved play, “Orphan Annie,” may just become more beloved after you learn this fact. The dog used to originally play Sandy was rescued from the pound and turned into a Broadway star. Since then every dog brought to fill that role has also been a pound rescue pup! How appropriate and sweet!
13. Broadway Records
Plays that become popular and make their way to Broadway often remain in the theater for years. Here are a few facts about some of them:
- The Phantom of the Opera – Probably one of the best known and iconic plays on Broadway. It has reached beyond the 10,000 performance mark and is considered to be the longest running.
- The Jersey Boys has won four Tony Awards
- Cats was first performed in 1981 and remained the four longest running musical on Broadway until 2006 when The Phantom dominated that title. Its final run was in 2000.
- Moose Murders is the musical that hold the shortest running play title. It never made it past its first performance after being torn apart by critics. Many other plays are measure on a “badness” scale by comparing it to this one. It joins others that did not make it past opening night including: Glory Days, Brothers, Frankenstein the Musical, and probably some others I am missing. Who knew there were so many!
Musical theater remains a loved pastime for many. The actors on stage seem to be having such a good time that we forget how much work is put into a single production. If your dream is to grace the stages of Broadway, it is a good idea to remember to remain healthy, well-rounded, and audition like there is no tomorrow. Be ready to wear an assortment of hats that necessitates you learning many different skills. Above all else- have fun with it.
What is your favorite musical theater production? Do you have any fun theater facts? Please feel free to leave any comments or tips for aspiring actors fans of musical theater below.