musical theatre

6 Reasons to See ‘Beetlejuice: The Musical’ 

While a lot of movies seem ripe for adapting to Broadway–like Frozen, Kinky Boots, and Once–many people were surprised when it was announced Tim Burton’s 1988 dark afterlife comedy Beetlejuice would be turned into a big-budget musical.

Though it may have been a surprise, it was certainly the right choice as Beetlejuice: The Musical has become a hit with critics and audiences alike, racking up an impressive eight Tony nominations earlier this Spring.

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If you haven’t already, here’s six reasons to check out
Beetlejuice: The Musical:

The creepy story

Fans of the film are well aware of the story, but it’s not one you’d normally see on Broadway:

A lonely teenage girl befriends the ghosts of a married couple after her family moves into their home. Scott Brown and Anthony King are well deserving of their Tony nominations for Best Book of a Musical.

It’s devilish fun

Director Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher, Moulin Rouge) takes a leap with this spectacular show that never takes a break from its silly energy and slapstick physical comedy. Capturing the manic energy of Michael Keaton’s original performance and Tim Burton’s direction is no small feat, so it’s no wonder the show has been Tony nominated for Best Musical.

There are visual effects, projections, and puppetry

Awarded for Best Makeup at the Oscars 1989, this visionary show lives up to the original film’s Hollywood special effects. Tony nominations for Best Lighting Design, Sound Design and Scenic Design should tell you that you’ll be in for a treat when seeing the various magical moments offered by this blockbuster musical.

Costumes straight from the film

A six-time Tony nominee for Best Costume Design, William Ivey Long obtains two more nods this year for his brilliant work in Beetlejuice and Tootsie. Original film director Tim Burton built his career on the stunning warped visuals from his own imagination, and Long’s wardrobe work both evokes the unique style while offering something new to a live theatre audience.

It is wickedly cast

Tony nominee and Broadway veteran Alex Brightman (School of Rock, Wicked, Matilda the Musical) is the perfect choice for the fast-talking wild card ghoul, Beetlejuice. After all, it’s not his first time in a Tim Burton adaptation–in 2013 he also performed in the musical adaptation of Big Fish. The stellar cast of Beetlejuice is rounded out by Anne Caruso (Blackbird), Kerry Butler (Les Miserables, Mean Girls) as Barbara, and Rob McClure (Avenue Q, Something Rotten) as Adam.

New and familiar tunes

A musical isn’t worth seeing if the music isn’t great, and the numbers offered by Beetlejuice are fantastic. In addition to new, diverse rock- and pop-based tunes written for the show (Beetlejuice also earned a Tony nomination for Best Original Score), the play also features two classics from the original film–the “Banana Boat Song (Day O)” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line.” So if you haven’t already, now’s the time for you to jump in the line for tickets to see Beetlejuice: The Musical!

8 Broadway Shows You Need To See in 2019

Whether you’re a tourist in town or a long-time resident of New York City, it’s always a great time to see a show on Broadway, Off Broadway, or even Off Off Broadway. The choices are vast, diverse, and there’s something for everyone:

Here are just some of the shows to see with friends and family!

Phantom of the Opera. A masterpiece from the French novel of the same name written by Gaston Leroux and published in 1910, the longest-running musical in history is a must-see, and a must-see it again! Every detail is sharp, specific, and a delight to observe while memorably scored with lyrical and rock opera songs. The Tony Award-winner for Best Musical in 1988 was written by Broadway legend Andrew Lloyd Webber (Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar) and if there’s one to see one when your family comes to town, this may be the one!

Chicago. The second longest running musical in the history of Broadway, this satire on the criminal justice led by two fierce women truly knows how to showcase its choreography. Another classic to discover or re-discover, each and every song will be stuck in your head after leaving the theatre, and dancing in Times Square won’t surprise anyone. The show was adapted into a film directed by Rob Marshall and won the Best Picture Oscar in 2003; the show itself won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical in 1997.

Frozen. Frozen is adapted from the 2013 smash hit Disney animated film, which itself was adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Snow Queen. Disney Theatrical Productions knows what to do to make audiences feel the magic of the story and sing along to its catchy numbers. Director Michael Grandage and choreographer Rob Ashford had already collaborated on Broadway for Evita, and were a perfect team to make alive this tale of sisterhood with superb technical effects, new songs, and the ones we already know so well.

Wicked. The untold story about the witches of Oz, this creative, witty sweet, and fun comedy is for the whole family. One of the most expensive shows to produce on Broadway due to its makeup and scenic effects, Wicked never gets old and puts some of the finest singers in musical theatre on center stage. Indeed, this show helped make household names out of its stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel, who won the Tony Award for her role as Elphaba.

School of Rock. The 2003 film of the same name, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Jack Black, was a smash hit when it came out, so it was only a matter of time before producers brought its dynamic, rock ‘n’ roll vibes to Broadway. The show stars a strong cast of talented children headlined by a charismatic lead, and is passionate, touching, and just a whole lot of fun.

Jersey Boys. Inspired by the lives of the celebrated doo wop group Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, this lively show mixes comedy and drama with classic golden oldies. First starting on Broadway before moving Off Broadway, Jersey Boys was adapted into a film by Clint Eastwood in 2014.

Kinky Boots. Adapted from a British movie from 2005, this fresh and energetic show is an LGBTQIA+ story with an uplifting story, vivid colors, and strong characters and includes songs from activist-singer Cyndi Lauper and lyrics by Harvey Fierstein (Hairspray, Mrs. Doubtfire). Kinky Boots is closing on April 7, so now may be your last chance to see it on Broadway for a long time!

Stomp. Stomp is a British creation from the city of Brighton founded in 1991 that toured the world and has been performed Off Broadway since 1994. With no dialogue, this percussion celebration is a journey through unique sounds: matchboxes, zippo lighters, push brooms, and garbage cans to name a few. Each number is precise, musically innovative, and a heck of a good time.

The Difference Between Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off Broadway

Many consider New York City to be the Cultural Capital of the World — there are countless things to do for both tourists and native New Yorkers alike. But nearly everyone visiting the Big Apple makes sure they catch a show. While Broadway is obviously the flashiest of the options out there, there are also Off-Broadway and even Off-Off-Broadway productions. But what do these labels mean exactly?

The answer is surprisingly simple. What gives a show its designation as Broadway, Off-Broadway, or Off-Off-Broadway isn’t its production value or budget, or a measure of its success. It’s actually mostly related to a show’s seating capacity!

Broadway

Off-Off-Broadway

Off-Off-Broadway theatres have 99 seats or less, so are obviously smaller venues than their more well known cousins. There are around 120 Off-Off-Broadway theaters in New York City at any given time, with many located in the city’s more artistic neighborhoods, like the West Village.

Often these shows will have cheaper ticket prices, and closer access to the actors after a performance. Because it’s easier to take financial chances with smaller productions, Off-Off-Broadway shows are also more likely to be avant-garde or experimental than more mainstream venues. They can be more traditional plays and musicals however, and give theatre-goers a healthy amount of options throughout the year.

An example of an Off-Off-Broadway production is Benten Kozo, directed by Jim Simpson, an Obie award-winning production that ran for over six months.

Some Off-Off-Broadway theatres:
HERE Arts Center, The Kraine Theater, La MaMa E.T.C.


Off-Broadway

Off-Broadway theatres can be significantly larger than on Off-Off-Broadway, and can hold up to to 499 seats. With fantastic original stories, musical revivals, and even performance art shows, many shows that begin on Off-Broadway can jump to Broadway if successful enough and warrants larger audience capacity — a famous example being historical musical, Hamilton.

Well-known stage performers can also be prominent in the Off-Broadway scene, not just limiting themselves to larger Broadway shows. Many performers tend to go back to the intimacy of a smaller theatre where an audience can be engaged more intimately with a production and its cast. There are roughly 85 Off-Broadway theatres in Manhattan.

Stomp is an enormously popular production that began in the United Kingdom and has been running in the East Village’s Orpheum Theatre for years, and is a unique example of the varied types of shows you can catch on Off-Broadway.

Some Off-Broadway theatres:
Cherry Lane Theatre, SoHo Playhouse, Minetta Lane Theatre

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Broadway

Broadway shows have the strictest guidelines to earn their moniker. In addition to having 500 seats or greater, they must be located in the Theatre District (around Times Square in Midtown, Manhattan) as well as in venues certified by The Broadway League, the trade association for the Broadway industry.

Because of their prime locations, Broadway shows have a greater chance to attract tourists and other theatre-goers, and as such, have long since been known to have much larger budgets and production values than other musicals and stage shows in New York City. Similarly, they can also attract larger stars, as well as adaptations of famous films and other works whose rights may be expensive to procure.

Examples of famous Broadway shows are nearly countless, with The Phantom of the Opera being the longest running show on Broadway to date.

Some Broadway theatres:
Gershwin Theatre, Winter Garden Theatre, Ambassador Theatre

What Life as a Swing, Understudy, or Standby is Like

In theatre, we have what we call: a swing, an understudy and a standby. Three distinct, respected functions. There can a handful of these actors in the same shows for the lead roles, depending on the budget and the roles’ physical demand. Knowing that Broadway shows run eight times a week, it is very important that someone will be able to rock that stage no matter what.

In major Broadway productions, you can usually find performers hired to learn the track (the choreography and lines of a particular role) and ready to jump in at any point during the show if needed.

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A swing wears at least two hats. They can “swing” between two parts in the same show. Lots of ensemble members right now on Broadway are swings to one of the lead roles and perform an ensemble track on a regular basis. Some are ensemble members and can be noted as swing to one of the major lead parts.

An understudy learns the track for when the primary performer is absent. Usually, if the said name is famous, another big name can be called as an understudy for that specific replacement. They are then aware in advance when they will perform.

A standby, literally, is always ready to go on at any time. For example, in the first act, you may applaud one lead but applaud a different performer for the same role in the second act. If a standby isn’t there for such an occasion, the production can ask a swing. A standby has to be backstage at all time, warmed up, made up, and costume-ready so that the show can move on smoothly if the original actor cannot perform their role.

Backstage

It is important to know that after the previews, all shows are “frozen,” which means that the blocking and choreography are locked. Therefore, each performer who learn each track must be very thorough and respect the writer, director and creator’s visions, not deviating from what has been locked.

Each of these jobs are crucial to the theatre industry — just as crucial as the primary leads and no swing, understudy, or standby is less talented whatsoever. Many will go through months of long auditions and are cast on the same criteria as the leads.

The beauty of a company is that initially, everyone knows the track of one another. There are of course official swings, understudies, and standbys though. The quality on stage is delivered to its best no matter who performs.

Who Are We Rooting For at the 2017 Tony Ceremony?

The 2017 Tony Award Season is going to be a blast.

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While “A Doll’s House Part 2” imagines a sequel to the famous Ibsen play, “Groundhog Day,” based on a film of the same name, is a romantic comedy about a man stuck in a time loop. Meanwhile, “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” a musical based on Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is leading the show with 12 nominations.

So who are your expected winners? Below are our predictions in the top categories for this year’s Tony Awards.

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1.  Best Play: Our guess is that it’s going to be “Sweat,” which is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play by Lynn Nottage and takes a cold hard look at working-class America. However, “Oslo” may be a close contender for this award.

2. Best Musical: We’re torn between two choices — “Come From Away” and “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” but we’re willing to place a bet on the former.

3. Best Revival of a Play: Set in a gypsy-cab station, we think “Jitney” was one heck of an amazing ride and we’re hoping it will bag this year’s Tony.

4. Best Revival of a Musical: We think it’s going to be a close call between “Hello, Dolly!” and “Falsettos” but we’re slightly biased towards “Falsettos.” 

5. Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play: We think Kevin Kline did an amazing job as Garry Essendine in “Present Laughter.” 

6. Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: As much as we love Cate Blanchett, we have a feeling it’s going to be Laurie Metcalf for her fantastic role in “A Doll’s House, Part 2” as Nora Helmer.

7. Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical: For this, our heart simply goes out to Josh Groban from “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.”

8. Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical: Both Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone stole our hearts with their mesmerizing performances in “War Paint,” so we’re hoping it might be a draw, though we suspect Bette Midler from “Hello, Dolly!” is going to be stiff competition.

9. Best Direction of a Play: We think it’s a tough choice between Sam Gold (“A Doll’s House, Part 2”)  and Ruben Santiago-Hudson (“Jitney”).

10. Best Direction of a Musical: We’re rooting for Christopher Ashley for all the little ways he made “Come from Away” such a captivating experience.

11. Best Book of a Musical: In our opinion, the award for the best librettist should go to Steven Levenson for “Dear Evan Hansen.” 

12. Best Original Score Written For Theatre: We really hope its Dave Malloy’s heart-wrenching score for “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812.” 

Do you agree or disagree with the above predictions?

In fact, we will be live-streaming during the Tony Awards ceremony, so follow us for live updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and see how many of our predictions came true!

The 4 Top Grossing & Longest Running Current Broadway Shows

No trip to New York is complete without seeing a Broadway show. The most famous theatre district in the world, Broadway is a 13 mile strip in Manhattan that is full of culture, lights, and theatre magic. The most popular shows on Broadway are the musicals, to the point that the very word “Broadway” has become synonymous with the American style of musicals made famous by the Great White Way. There’s no business like show business, but what many don’t realize is that show business can be big business.

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Here’s a list of the highest grossing, longest running, and most significant Broadway shows going on right now. We only included shows that are still going: unfortunately, “Mamma Mia” ended its first run in 2015, so it barely missed this list. However, it is the most popular “jukebox” musical of all time (a musical that uses popular music). If you want to see the longest-running Broadway shows to date, check out Playbill’s comprehensive list

Here are 4 current shows that embody the spirit of Broadway, and are also busting box office records:

Wicked

There haven’t been very many new Broadway shows that have crept their way onto the list of the longest running and highest grossing Broadway musicals. “Wicked” is not only an exception to this rule; it’s gross has been exceptional. Debuting in 2003, the story of the Wicked Witch of the West’s untold and ill-fated friendship with Glinda the Good Witch and how she came to become one of our culture’s most famous villains has made over a billion dollars. And as long as it’s run continues, it’ll soon unseat “Mamma Mia” to become the 8th longest running Broadway musical of all time. Currently, “Wicked” sits at 9th place for all time.

Chicago

The only show on this list to spawn a film adaptation that went on to win Academy Award for Best Picture, the revival of 1975’s “Chicago” has been running ever since it reopened in 1996. This makes it the second longest running Broadway musical of all time, and the longest running show to debut on Broadway. Like many Broadway musicals, it had its origins in a different medium: a non-musical play written by reporter Maurine Dallas Watkins about a pair of female murderers: the star Velma Kelly and her rival, the fame hungry Roxie Hart, as they try to make themselves famous while awaiting trial. The original show was choreographed and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse, who dramatized this busy portion of his life in the 1979 film “All That Jazz” (he was also directing a film based on the life of Lenny Bruce, entitled “Lenny”).

The Phantom of the Opera

The story of “The Phantom of the Opera” is an odd one. The Gaston Leroux novel had already been adapted twice into film with Lon Chaney and Claude Reins portraying the title role, respectively, when Andrew Lloyd Webber crafted the definitive stage version of this tale about a soprano’s obsession with a maimed and musically gifted recluse who lives under the Palais Garner. Now,  “Phantom” is synonymous with Broadway — and with good reason: it’s been running since 1988, which means it currently holds the title of the longest-running musical in the world. Not only that, but “Phantom” was also the most financially successful musical until it was surpassed in 2014 by…

The Lion King

“The Lion King” is truly a dynamo in the world of Broadway. It launched the career of Julie Taymor, who went on to become the first woman to win a Tony for directing for her work on the show. She also won a Tony for the costume designs and even helped with the script. “The Lion King” is based on the Disney blockbuster, which follows the coming of age, framing of, and triumphant return of the rightful king of the Pride Lands, Simba. “The Lion King” may only be the third longest running Broadway show, but it’s the highest grossing, which is incredibly impressive when you consider it started its run nine years after “The Phantom of the Opera.” Boasting innovative puppet work and the music of Elton John, “The Lion King” on stage stands alongside the film as an inspiring example of what each respective medium can do.

Have a great experience with one of these shows or want to talk about your favorite show? Sound off in the comments! And learn more about musical theatre at NYFA!

NYFA Alumna Niki Landella: In Her Own Words

By Niki Landella

My experience at the NYFA was without a doubt one of the best things I have ever done for myself, for my spirit, for my artistic process and for my personal and professional development.

I only spent four weeks there and I am an entirely different woman as a result.

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Photo provided by Niki Landella.

Picture this:

Picture perfect facilities, the Statue of Liberty in the distance and an amazing view; state-of-the-art equipment, people from all over the world in one building studying with you, every single teacher with credentials which, when mentioned, could easily be mistaken for name dropping — but none of that is what really makes NYFA special.

For me, the best part about NYFA was the souls I encountered and the depth of the humans with whom I had the privilege of interacting. My experience was one of absolute respect and dignity.

Each and every teacher encouraged me to trust myself more, and I think this has something to do with the success that they have already experienced in their lives. There is something about people who have already experienced legitimate success in their careers — they don’t need to put you down in order to get a sense of significance. I think because they had already experienced professional fulfillment, their teaching process was free of the subconscious agendas I find many teachers in the arts have. I speak as an individual who has grown up in the arts and has been in the arts for 15 years.

No NYFA teacher ever motivated me through shame. I found myself doing things I had struggled with for years, just because my NYFA teachers had the necessary patience with me. I absolutely blossomed under their nurturing.

In improv class I was taught to listen to my own inner compass.

In Meisner I was taught to listen to others.

In dance I was taught to give myself the dignity of my process in getting to know my body. In singing I learned to trust my own voice.

In lab classes I also learned to respond to my own inner stimuli.

Music teachers all gave me the comfort of knowing that, with enough patience, I am capable of understanding what I once thought of as a complex art; to trust that there is music inside of me, and that they would be willing to help me unlock it.

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Photo provided by Niki Landella.

There’s something indescribably beautiful and empowering about the culture of respect under which I found the New York Film Academy to operate.

Then there are the classmates. I know it may sound like a luxury to have global classmates, but picture this: You’re sitting in music theory, and an Italian word like “Acapella” comes up. Your actual Italian friend from actual Italy who is sitting next to you says, “In my language that word means ‘in the chapel,’ because acapella music was first sung at church,” and then the music teacher responds and gives you all the historical data on that.

Now imagine how many of these little serendipitous moments you have every day, which add so much to your store of knowledge and such depth of calibre to your education in a way that few schools are able to provide on this globe. And I say that as someone who has lived on three continents.

Then there is just something about New York. In the arts at least, New York is where the best of the best go to refine themselves. When you are in New York you are swimming with the big fish and you have an unparalleled wealth of resources at your fingertips.

My short time at the New York Film Academy was worth every penny, every drop of sweat that went into getting there — and then some. I would recommend a course at the New York Film Academy, at any of their campuses, to any individual who considers themselves serious about being a storyteller in any field. They source the best of the best, they give you their absolute best every day, and all they ask for in return is that you give your best. There is a culture of excellence coupled with a culture of respect. There is absolutely no way one can walk away from such an experience without being deeply enriched.

New York Film Academy would like to thank Niki Landella for taking the time to share her story about her wonderful experience in our musical theatre program. We are so glad to have you in our community, and can’t wait to hear about your next adventures!

 

How to Adjust Your Singing Voice for Different Microphones

We all have an idea of how our voices sound, but the idea doesn’t usually match the reality. Most people are surprised and even sometimes horrified by hearing themselves in a recording. In fact, only 10 percent of the people in the world are able to recognize their own voice when it’s played. But if you’re a professional singer or hoping to become one, you’re probably used to hearing yourself and have taken special steps to improve your vocals. Nevertheless, you’ve noticed that your voice doesn’t sound the same in different microphones, and sometimes the results can be quite alarming.

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So the first thing to realize is this: different microphones are manufactured and calibrated to suit a variety of needs. The type of microphone to use will depend a lot on your genre of singing, the accompanying musical instruments used, location, and the result you’re aiming for. As the world’s only musical theatre program that creates fully-produced, original movie musicals, NYFA’s Musical Theatre School offers students the opportunity to record their vocals in state-of-the-art, professional studios. But what if you’re looking to do your own project on the side, or have booked an outside job? This guide will help you adjust your singing voice across different microphone and help you determine the best ones to pick for your next recording session.

1. If You’re Using A Condenser Microphone

If your music is focused primarily on your vocals or acoustic instruments, this is the microphone for you. However, a condenser mic is more prone to sibilance, so when you’re singing something which has a lot of S and F sounds, you can either use software to mask it or sing at an off-axis angle. Alternatively, you can do the “pencil trick,” which basically involves tying a pencil over the mic’s diaphragm with a rubber band that splits up and diverts the high frequency vibrations.

2. If You’re Using A Dynamic Microphone

This is a cheap, all-rounder alternative to the former that is good for vocals, drums and even recording guitar amp. However, one of the chief drawbacks is the “proximity effect.” This means that if you sing too closely to the mic, there’s a perceptible low-end boost in the frequency response. You can counterbalance this to some extent by using a pop filter or omni-directional mics.

3. If You’re Using A Ribbon Microphone

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These are extremely expensive and extra sensitive and are perfect for those who want to bring a vintage vibe to their music. If your music involves piano, strings or woodwind, or if you’re singing in a choir, this is your best choice.

Whether you’re recording your voice for a music project or for a musical film, there are two more very important things you can do to improve and adjust your voice for the mic…

4. Work With a Vocal Coach

As you already know, hearing your own voice is vastly different from the way others hear you. Getting a trained vocal coach to oversee your singing lessons is very important, as they can help spot new areas of your vocal work that need attention, and direct you to new techniques and skills. Not only will a professional vocal coach make sure you hit the right notes, you’ll also have an objective, outside perspective to help you practice better posture and breathing as well as how to adapt your techniques when you’re singing in a studio or live.

5. Control Your Vibrato

Most of us tend to have a natural vibrato, but professionals must learn to control and harness vibrato at the right time for best results. A vibrato can be similar to having an accent, and with regular practice you’ll be able to control and manipulate the rhythms and add more style to your singing.

Finally, remember that singing is a performance. For any show to be successful, your emotions must be real and you must enjoy what you do. Happy singing!

Ready to up your vocal game with some formal training and hands-on experience with real-world projects? Check out NYFA’s musical theatre programs.

Movie Musical Icons and Why They Continue to Inspire Us

What is a movie musical icon?

In the performing arts world, musical theatre is timeless and classic. No wonder movie musical icons continue to inspire us!

Movie musicals combine acting with singing and dancing in order to give life to a masterpiece. A good musical can withstand the test of time, regardless of what time period the musical itself is encapsulating.

The same applies to the stars that play leading roles. Performers like Judy Garland are essentially immortal in the grand scheme of our cultural memory. Plotlines needn’t be complex for a musical to be entertaining or successful. Performers get to show off all aspects of their talent, which is what makes them so inspiring!

How does a musical theatre icon inspire us?

Musical theatre icons inspire us with their fantastic performances. To become an icon, their musical theatre presence has to be so great it makes a lasting impression. All it takes is one strong performance to become elevated to icon status in the public eye.

For instance, Tim Curry is an established actor who has played a lot of roles, yet most people remember him wearing a garter belt. Thanks to playing the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the most prominent image of him is a lipstick-toting transvestite from space.

But a role doesn’t need to be outrageous to stand out. For example, Ryan Gosling is also a well-established actor, who this year showed a new side as a jazz pianist in the award-winning “La La Land.” Will his performance join the iconic musical theatre performer hall of fame? Only time will tell, but we already know his performance is part of what has brought movie musicals back into the spotlight.

How do icons become icons?

Musicals require multidimensional talent. Acting talent alone does not suffice in musical theatre, or musical films. Performers must also be able to sing and dance in order to bring the musical to life. Being talented in one of these fields is enough to wow audiences. Excelling at all of them, all at once is absolutely exceptional!

How can someone not fall in love with Emma Stone when watching her sing, dance, and act as Mia Dolan in “La La Land”? Many of us can relate to Mia Dolan, a barista who aspires to be a successful actress. Stone brings that relatable character to life in the most spectacular way, which may propel her to icon status as well. That’s why the New York Film Academy aims to sculpt students into “triple threat performers” that are bound to impress critics.

How can you become a serious musical theater performer?

If you want to follow your dreams to become a serious musical theatre performer and inspire others, why not make it happen? The only way become successful is to get out there and perform musical theatre roles. Come to NYFA to learn the skills you’ll need to pursue your dreams.

The New York Film Academy trains students in fully-produced movie musicals to showcase their talents and prepare them for the rigors of delivering a stellar performance both on stage and on screen. Students also gain experience by working with industry professionals such as casting directors, agents, producers, experienced teachers, and more. Joining the 2-year program will give students tons of filmed, on-screen experience for auditions and later reference. 

Learn more about musical theatre and film performance at New York Film Academy. Who are your favorite musical theatre icons? Let us know in the comments below!

Study How to Make Movie Musicals Like “La La Land” at NYFA

As BroadwayWorld.com recently put it: “La La Land isn’t the only vehicle opening the door for a new era of movie musicals. NYFA’s original productions feature Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart (Hamilton, Aladdin), Tony Award nominee Charlotte d’Amboise (Pippin, A Chorus Line), Jen Perry (Kinky Boots) and others.” With “La La Land” breaking Oscar-nomination records, movie musicals are in the spotlight. And NYFA is the only school in the world where students can learn to perform in professionally produced original movie musicals. It’s not only an option but an explicit opportunity, and we a write up in The Huffington Post to prove it. 

Mike Olsen, who chairs NYFA’s musical theatre program, stresses that making movie musicals at NYFA is an incomparable experience: “Imagine being a student of musical theatre and having a team of professionals gather to collaborate with you on the creation of an original movie musical,” he says, “Where the character you portray is written for you, the songs are devised around your unique sound and capability, the movement and dance elements reflect your personal wheelhouse, and the whole endeavor is a highly professional journey that culminates in a fully edited, professionally engineered final half-hour movie musical that gets submitted to festivals across the country.

 

 

“No other training academy has our unique capacity to bring filmmaking and musical theatre together to create such a practical and highly professional educational experience,” Olsen continues. “We are on the cutting edge of this and if I were a young musical theatre talent, and while this popularity swells, I would jump at the chance to get this valuable training.”

Today, the critically-acclaimed movie musical everybody’s talking about in Hollywood and beyond is, of course, “La La Land.” The movie made headlines once again after scoring 14 Oscar nominations.

“While this has been percolating recently in our culture, the recent film ‘La La Land’ has tipped the scales,” says Olsen. “Film producers are now putting movie musicals in their top priority file. As America experiences a new renaissance of the movie musical, it is an exceptional piece of good fortune that the musical theatre program at the New York Film Academy is on the cutting edge of training young talent to meet this new demand.”

Olsen isn’t the only one to point out the cultural relevance of movie musicals. New York Times writer Manohla Dargis recently penned a piece about how “La La Land” gives musicals new importance.

At NYFA, students can merge stage talent with the technical training necessary to bring an original musical vision to the big screen.

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“While the primary training focus of the Musical Theater Department remains rooted in the traditional elements of solid stagecraft, NYFA is also uniquely in the lead when it comes to getting movie musical experience,” says Olsen. “Students in the advanced stages of their training enjoy an unprecedented chance to collaborate with the creative process of writing a movie musical, working in a professional studio to lay down vocal tracks, and being on set and on location, acting and performing, in a fully realized movie making experience.”

Picture this: You and your NYFA classmates making the next “La La Land.” It could happen! Apply for our musical theatre program today.

Beyond Broadway: 7 Musical Theatre Cities to Know

Of course, New York City’s Broadway can’t be beat for the sheer number of musical theater productions, but it’s not the only place to sing and dance into the hearts of adoring audiences. Here are seven other cities with a thriving musical theatre scene. And don’t forget that no matter where you audition, you need to properly prepare!

1. Chicago

It may be the improv capital, but Chicago is not lacking in musicals. The Marriott sells nearly a half million tickets a year and boasts the largest subscription base of any musical theatre in the world (according to Arts America). For more intimate musicals, there’s Northlight Theatre and, in its 37th season, Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) is “a professional musical theater company, casting primarily Chicago area talent” that pays all its performers!

2. Boston

Broadway shows often incubate in this college town, where theatres and conservatories abound. The A.R.T. has a long history of creating shows that win Tony’s, while SpeakEasy brings new and intimate plays and musicals to Boston. There’s also the Lyric Stage Company — the oldest professional theatre company in Boston — whose mission is “to produce entertaining, challenging, and inspiring theatrical productions of varying genres,” and who are “committed to support and nurture the talents of Boston-area theatre artists.

3. LA

Hollywood tends to overshadow the Los Angeles theater scene, but with all the talent driving around, live performances are by no means dead. For Broadway-style shows there’s the Geffen Playhouse, and The Center Theatre Group has a long history of developing and premiering Broadway hits.

4. San Francisco

Sure, San Francisco has reason to be proud of its edgy black boxes, for instance those of EXIT Theatre, but within walking distance, you can also find glitzy productions of classic and new musicals at the three big houses: The Curran, Orpheum and A.C.T.

5. Minneapolis

This northern city boasts a surprising array of diverse small theaters as well as two prestigious independent gems. The Guthrie Theater and Park Square both regularly produce new and classic plays and musicals.

6. Washington D.C.

A lively theatre scene provides the nation’s capital with some much needed distraction, though American interests often take center stage. Ford’s Theatre is famous for being the place where President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes booth. Today it is a historical site with many educational programs, but it is also dedicated to producing plays and musicals that explore the American experience. Arena Stage also dedicates itself to “putting the American spirit in the spotlight,” producing “diverse and innovative works from around the country.”

7. Atlanta

Atlanta is home to a vibrant and surprisingly diverse theatre scene. Actor’s Express tagline is “Atlanta’s Gutsiest & Most Vital Theatre Company,” while the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, “is dedicated to producing the best in musical theatre and fostering the growth of the Atlanta theatrical community by showcasing local professional talent.”

Making a career in musical theater does not necessarily mean you have to elbow your way through Manhattan crowds. You may find a more nurturing place for your talents nearer to home. Let us know in the comments if your city has a burgeoning musical theater scene we should know about!

What Is Hamilton’s Legacy for Broadway Musicals?

“Hamilton” has gone from Broadway musical to total phenomenon. The story of a scrappy “son of a whore and a scotsman” who helps mold the beginnings of the United States — only to fall to his career rival in a duel — has taken America by storm. The musical has gained plenty of famous fans, including President Barack Obama, who joked that the musical was the only thing that he agreed with Dick Cheney about. Central to the musical’s success are its diverse cast and the way it engages with hip-hop. These unique facets will be the foundation of its legacy.

HAMILTON: THE NUMBERS

What a success it’s been: Hamilton has been sold out from its opening performance at the Off-Broadway Public Theater. By the time the show opened on Broadway, it had already taken in $30 million in its advance ticket sales. The peak of its historical success was in late November 2016, when it grossed 3.3 million for 8 performances for the highest grossing week in Broadway history. As far as sales of the original recording are concerned, the Original Broadway Recording was one of only three cast recordings to move into the top 10 of the Billboard 200.

HIP-HOP

One of the big factors in Hamilton’s success lies in its natural conversation with contemporary culture through hip hop. Before “Hamilton” was a phenomenon, it was a workshop performance called The Hamilton Mixtape, hearkening to how rappers without deals would debut their music on independently released recordings hoping to strike up a buzz. One of the first people to fully buy into “Hamilton” was Daveed Diggs, the rapper for experimental rap group Clipping, who played both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis Lafayette.

After the show became a phenomenon, a mixtape helmed by Questlove of The Roots and Lin-Manuel Miranda featured plenty of rap luminaries, including Busta Rhymes and Nas. The musical’s reverence for hip-hop is totally sincere, and as hip-hop becomes america’s most appreciated and popular music form, it follows that its best practitioners would respond to a musical that is a love letter to the very genre they pioneered. Broadway musicals often respond to popular music, but rarely respond like this, and it’s shown to be a winning formula.

DIVERSITY

It’s easy to see why “Hamilton” inspired Busta Rhymes to reach out to Lin-Manuel Miranda after he saw the musical: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s project very consciously features a cast made up of people of color and women, reflecting the changing makeup of the United States, with the only white actor in the original cast playing King George III, the King that inspired the American Revolution. As the play asserts, “Immigrants/we get the job done,” and that’s inspiring to a wealth of people across the world.

CONCLUSION

“Hamilton’s” legacy will certainly be represented by its bold embrace of hip hop, the diversity of its cast which is itself an unprecedented embrace of the story of the founding fathers by people of color, and perhaps most importantly the depiction of immigrants as the backbone of the American success story. If more musicals follow “Hamilton’s” example, we’ll continue to see fruitful collaborations of socially aware concepts, inclusive casting, and the exciting currency of popular music.

The Best “Hamilton” Quotes

Three leading actors from Broadway musical Hamilton’s original cast officially departed the show. Hamilton started making headlines in 2015 as it became one of the most sensationalized and beloved modern musicals to date. Now, an international following full of avid fans and musical theatre lovers has its eyes on the cast members taking over the vacant roles. And the verdict? Praise and approval on all counts. Some people even say that the new cast is better than the original.

New York Film Academy students know that in any well-written musical, song numbers serve as structural elements; they further the plot, acquaint the audience with character dynamics, and enhance the show’s innate themes. As each musical number has great value, it is vital that performers sing every lyric with a clarity and attention to expression that properly represents the meaning behind it.

This undoubtedly applies to the show at hand. Hamilton is acclaimed for its writing, and its musical numbers have managed, not only to benefit the structure of the show, but to move and inspire a vast audience. In honor of Hamilton’s explosive success, its meaning to New York City and to our students, here are 10 of the most insightful quotes, ripped from the soundtrack, ordered chronologically.

  1. “If you stand for nothing Burr what’ll you fall for?” – Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Sir
  1. “I’m past patiently waitin’ I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation. Every action’s an act of creation!” —Hamilton, My Shot
  1. “’We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’

And when I meet Thomas Jefferson … I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!” – Eliza/Angelica/Peggy, The Schuyler Sisters

  1. “Why do write like you’re running out of time? Write every day like you’re running out of time? Every day you fight like you’re running out of time.” – Burr, Non-Stop
  1. “ ‘Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.’ ” – Washington, One Last Time
  1. “I’m only nineteen but my mind is older. Gotta be my own man, like my father, but bolder. I shoulder his legacy with pride. I used to hear him say that someday I would – blow us all away.” – Philip Hamilton (and Ensemble), Blow Us All Away
  1. “We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable” – Angelica Schuyler, It’s Quiet Uptown

 

  1. “I don’t pretend to know the challenges we’re facing. I know there’s no replacing what we’ve lost and you need time. But I’m not afraid, I know who I married. Just let me stay here by your side. That would be enough.” – Alexander Hamilton, It’s Quiet Uptown
  1. “Legacy. What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” – Alexander Hamilton, The World Was Wide Enough
  1. “America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me. You let me make a difference. A place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints and rise up.” – Hamilton, The World Was Wide Enough

7 Books Every Actor Needs To Read

acting books books reading

Some actors are born great, some actors achieve greatness, and some actors have greatness thrust upon them. No matter which of the three categories you fall into, reading books about acting is an excellent way to nurture your abilities. Importantly, acting books can help with a myriad of skills including acting technique, auditioning, and self-marketing, all things that are important to any actor. Here are the top five books that every actor should read.

1. An Actor Prepares By Constantin Stanislavski

This is the oldest book on the list and the first of the three acting books written by Mr. Stanislavski. In these pages, Stanislavski takes the reader on a trip through his system by following the experiences of a group of actors as they learn with their teacher. The result is an in-depth theory of acting that includes exercises and techniques meant to encourage imaginative and true performances. There is not a book on this list or an actor in the world who is not directly influenced by the teachings of An Actor Prepares.

2. Audition By Michael Shurtleff

One irony of acting is that before you can act, you have to audition. This book by Michael Shurtleff addresses the art of auditioning from the perspective of an experienced casting director. The book is simple and informative and uses a 12-step guide with corresponding questions to help actors prep for auditions and callbacks. Some favorite techniques that emerge are “playing opposites,” “finding humor and love,” and “the moment before.”

3. Respect for Acting By Uta Hagen

Legendary actress Uta Hagen wrote a book that been a lifesaver for both theatre and film thespians. Along with practical advice like how to combat stage fright and how to avoid complacency when playing the same role for too long, Hagen also distills the core of acting into nine specific questions. You’ll have to read the book to see all nine and truly learn how to investigate them, but perhaps the most important question Hagen tells actors to ask when it comes to their characters is “Who am I?”

4. Acting as a Business By Brian O’Neil

After you book a role and become a working actor, the best thing you can do is promote yourself. This book is written by a former talent agent and walks aspiring actors through the process of self-marketing as well as finding an agent to represent you. O’Neil writes updates to his book every few years and the most recent edition includes tips for how to use the internet as a tool and also details recent trends in the entertainment industry.

5. Sanford Meisner on Acting By Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner is considered by many to be the best acting teacher ever and his technique is up there with the Method as the most practiced technique among actors. Regardless of the technique you prefer, this book offers insights and exercises as the reader follows a group of actors studying under Meisner. His famous quote pretty much encapsulates the tone of his writing: “Acting is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances”

6. Improvisation for the Theatre By Viola Spolin

Improvisation has become a core tenet for modern acting (and the modern comedy scene) and can find its roots in the innovative theatre work developed by actress Viola Spolin. The acting exercises she called “Theatre Games” later became the basis for modern improvisation in acting, and Spolin explains the process in her seminal book, Improvisation for the Theatre. Learn how to act in the moment without a safety net with Spolin’s lessons as well as exercises she lays out in the book.

7. The Intent to Live By Larry Moss

“I call this book The Intent to Live because great actors don’t seem to be acting, they seem to be actually living,” Larry Moss said. He is a highly-regarded acting teacher of recent times, having instructed hundreds including Hillary Swank, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Justin Timberlake. He is a sort of contemporary master of acting instruction, like Stanislavski and Meisner in their times, making his book especially vital to the modern actor. He stresses preparation and script work and offers insights into developing characters and tackling difficult roles.

Acting is a skill that can be learned through education. For the actor that is interested in achieving greatness, any of the above titles is an ideal place to start. Once an actor masters their technique on camera and in auditions and realizes the power of marketing, greatness will eventually be thrust upon them.

Interview With New York Film Academy Graduate And Star Of The Brazilian Adaptation Of Mamma Mia – Pati Amoroso

Check out our interview with New York Film Academy Musical Theatre graduate and star of the Brazilian adaptation of Mamma Mia, Pati Amoroso, where she talks about her time at the New York Film Academy and hopes for the musical theatre scene in Sao Paolo.

Transcript

Pati Amoroso: Hi! I’m Pati Amoroso from Sao Paolo, Brazil and I studied musical theatre at the New York Film Academy!

NYFA: What is your background?

PA: Well my background, I suppose, started when I was very little actually. I was 15 days old when I moved to LA and that already got me started in the American culture. Then we moved to New Jersey where we were like only forty, forty-five minutes from New York so every weekend my parents would take me and my brother to see Broadway shows and I just fell in love with everything. I was so little and just listening to the music and the energy just got me hooked.

What drew me to New York Film Academy was the amount of resources that you guys have here. Cameras, lights, and especially your teachers. We didn’t at that time, have that many resources in Brazil so I just knew that if I wanted to pursue this dream, I would have to come to New York Film Academy.

New York Film Academy helped me meet other people from other countries, which was amazing to know that there are so many interesting people that I never met before with different cultures and different ideas and that helped me get settled in this city.

NYFA: Is it common for Brazilians that are interested in storytelling to come to the states to study at places like the New York Film Academy?

PA: Yeah, Brazilians are very drawn to New York. Well, like everybody else in the whole wide world cuz it’s like if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. So, I feel like since the start, every Brazilian wants to have the dream of studying here. So I feel pretty confident that many Brazilians want to come here.

NYFA: Has the arts and entertainment industry in Brazil changed since more people have come to the United States to study?

PA: Yeah, Brazil has changed a lot now. More or less eleven or twelve years ago the musical theatre industry began in Brazil and now it’ become something…I’d say it’s a mini Broadway in a way. Because now we have so much more musical theatre there, everything’s growing. I’d say soon enough that, well, Sao Paolo or Rio could turn into a New York City.

NYFA: What lessons did you learn at New York Film Academy that you still find yourself applying to your career and practice as an artist?

PA: The New York Film Academy has taught me so many things that I take on till day. I like condensing it to one thing is basically confidence, confidence in your craft. All the teachers made me feel confident about myself and they rooted me on to becoming what I am today and that’s what I try to keep on using for my career.

NYFA: Mamma Mia is one of the most influential musicals of the past fifteen yrs. Were you a fan before joining the cast? Has you seen the show before?

PA: It was a great honor to become a part of Mamma Mia. I was shocked actually. But I had never seen the actual show before. I did watch the movie with Meryl Streep and—she’s my idol—so when I got cast I held myself from going to the Broadway show because I wanted to make Sophie my own, but I did watch the show after we started. Like, we had a week break so I came to New York and I watched the show, but it was amazing.

NYFA: What was it like to join the touring cast?

PA: Being part of the company of Mamma Mia was amazing. The people, everybody involved in the project was so enthusiastic about it, and confident that it was going to turn into something great.

Well, I wanted to make Sophie a type of Brazilian Sophie in a way. You can tell that American acting is very different from Brazilian acting. You can compare soap operas with Law and Order or something. So I wanted to show that. I wanted to show that even though the script is British, you can make the characters different even though they have the same lines.

Now that I did Mamma Mia, people see me as a professional, whereas before they didn’t really know who I was.

NYFA: What’s been the most useful important tool you’ve encountered using and that you would suggest to people starting a career in musical theatre?

PA: I would tell everyone who wants to be in musical theatre to be really nice to people. Because you don’t know who is going to help you out in getting roles or auditions and it’s not worth being mean. So, confidence, like I said before, and focus on your studies and your own talent and don’t be mean. [laughs]

In the next ten years I hope to be working as an actress and respected for my craft and admired. [laughs]

NYFA: Do you have any other dreams? Anything else that you’d like to do?

PA: I would love to build a theatre in Sao Paolo. I want to feed the culture in Brazil. I want to be a part of this growing genre [laughs].

I advise every actor to study, to continue studying and work on your craft. No actor is completely ready. Everybody can learn a little bit more.

Please show Pati some social media love by following her on Youtube.

Tips For Breaking Into Musical Theatre

Muscial Theatre Spring Awakening Scene

Photo by New York Film Academy.

Some of the best-known songs in popular culture come from musical theatre, and even people who do not frequently patronize musicals recognize songs such as “Memory” and “The Sound of Music.”

Indeed, musical theatre is big business, selling millions of tickets each year and grossing high profits. Breaking into such a highly competitive business is difficult, but not impossible. Here are some tips for prospective musical theatre actors.

Take lessons. Natural musical and dancing talent is important, but there is no substitute for formal training. Voice lessons can help you project your singing voice and increase your stamina, both of which are vital to performing onstage. Learning an instrument, especially the piano (and the theory that goes along with it) can make you an even more versatile and intuitive performer, not to mention that playing piano at an audition may give you an edge.

Make a video of your performance. Practice is important, but seeing your performance on video will help you spot any problems or flaws, especially in a dance routine. Have your friends watch your video to see if they spot any potential problems. Digital cameras are inexpensive and allow you to quickly make videos and upload them to a computer for viewing and editing.

Have a good portfolio. This is essential for breaking into musical theatre. At the very least, have a resume and several headshots ready when auditioning. Also consider having a website, Twitter account, and Facebook page to create an online presence. Provide videos of you acting, singing, and dancing in various styles on your website to show your range. On your Twitter account, follow current and potential contacts in the theatre business. Update your Facebook page frequently to showcase your ongoing work, and create a dedicated page for your work if you don’t want to mix it in with your private life (or life outside of the theatre).

Attend a college or conservatory. A conservatory emphasizes performance, whereas a college emphasizes the academic study of theatre and music. Majoring in theatre or music at a traditional college will provide you with a well-rounded academic degree, but attending a conservatory will provide you with hands-on performance experience. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which learning goals are best for your intended career path, but either side of formal tuition will be superb benefit in breaking into musical theatre on a professional level.

Be prepared for your auditions. This sounds obvious, but there are many things to consider when going to an audition.

  • Many theatre auditions require candidates to perform a short monologue, that is, to assume the role of a character and express that character’s thoughts out loud. Famous monologues include “Don’t Let Me Be Normal” from The Fantasticks and “Tuna Fish” from Laughing Wild. Audition monologues are generally no more than two minutes.

“Don’t Let Me Be Normal”

  • Have a variety of songs ready for auditioning. If you do not want to use the audition’s accompanist, have a recording ready to accompany you. If you do use the attending accompanist, provide him or her with clear instructions about your chosen songs. Avoid accents and imitations, as well as complex songs. The aim of a singing audition is to demonstrate your voice and range, not to show off or sound like someone else.
  • Dress appropriately. You do not have to wear a suit or formal dress, but do not wear jeans and sneakers. Wear comfortable clothes that allow you to move but still look neat. For dancing auditions, wear dance clothes as opposed to t-shirts and sweat pants.

It’s a highly competitive business and there is no magic formula for successfully breaking into musical theatre, but following these tips and being prepared certainly won’t hurt your chances of advancing your musical theatre career.

Musical Theatre And The Hollywood Inspiration

Author: Mark Olsen, Chair, Musical Theatre Department, New York Film Academy

Disney On Broadway

In past eras, musical theatre trends were predominantly linked to styles of music and the vision of a few distinctive composers and creators who were writing as a way to reflect their time and to respond to the current pressures of their day. The universal themes of love and loss and the search for redemption or reconciliation were weaved into highly original plots that gave each production its unique sound and visual aesthetic within its newly minted world.

Fans waited with great anticipation to see the movie versions of stage musicals such as Oklahoma!, Brigadoon, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, and of course, West Side Story. Many of the great musicals of that era did not just spring forth from pure imagination. They were adapted from another source. Guys and Dolls for example was based on Damon Runyon short stories, Oklahoma! is based on the Lynn Riggs play Green Grow the Lilacs and West Side Story is based on Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet.

Book and play adaptations have a long and successful history in the musical theatre genre. Borrowing themes and central plot ideas from these literary sources, the creators of the musicals of that earlier era enjoyed great success at the Broadway box office. In some cases, those adaptations as well as original works would be adapted for film, contributing to those box offices and gradually growing a new genre of entertainment called, the movie musical.

In recent times, however, a new trend has emerged in the musical theatre world and as a result, the earlier trend of stage works becoming movies has essentially reversed. Today it is evident that the Broadway musical genre has increasingly come to rely upon Hollywood and the world of the animated and non-animated cinema as its inspiration and source material. Movies, strangely enough, are now being adapted for the stage.

It is no surprise that Disney has become a leading force in this new trend. Moving successfully from animated feature to the stage, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King launched this trend which has been playing out in a robust fashion ever since. Just a cursory list of recent Broadway musicals reveals not only how many film based musicals have or are now gracing the Broadway stage, but also how much the trend seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. Consider the following list:

The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Billy Elliot, Elf, Bridges of Madison County, Rocky, Once, Catch Me If You Can, Grey Gardens, Big Fish, Bullets Over Broadway, The Color Purple, Cinderella, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid. And as I write this, The Coal Miner’s Daughter and Dirty Dancing are in the works in London.

Clearly this is a formula that producers find attractive and in some ways you might ask why it took so long. Movies, we know, can be distributed across a much wider swath of the public and as a result, they can more readily garner the all important title recognition which can, at least initially, give the box office more reliable ticket sales.

As always, regardless the trends and regardless the shifting tastes, for a Broadway show to succeed there must be that elusive combination of magic where the music and the production and the actors and the story all merge to create a synergy of force that lifts audiences and has them dancing or singing as they leave the house. In other words, just because a movie was popular, it doesn’t necessarily spell instant success within the highly competitive Broadway arena. Just ask the producers of the recent flop, Ghosts the Musical.

How To Calibrate The Physical Expression Of A Song

Author: Mark Olsen, Chair, Musical Theatre Department, New York Film Academy

Musical Theatre

To sing a song in the musical theatre is to move beyond the simple presentation of the tonal elements and to allow the song to live fully within an active story-based context. That is not to say that there are never moments of simple song presentation in the musical theatre. Some songs in certain musicals, like many numbers in the musical Dreamgirls, for example, are placed and sung as pure presentations of song. However those moments are rare and even in their straight forward presentational style, are often laced with background context. In other words, a song in the musical theatre is not only sung it is acted. Acting is the truthful blend of visual and aural expression within an imaginary context. Therefore, a singer in a musical must also connect to the physical life, the body language, of the song.

There are numerous classes and coaches who specialize in helping singers improve and maintain their vocal performances. Physical expression, however, tends to get much less attention. That is why many musical theatre performers resort to cliche gestures and wooden physical choices in their work. They become so absorbed into their vocal performance that the physical expression becomes flat, uninteresting, or even unsupportive of the imaginary circumstances.

To begin calibrating the physical expression of a song, the performer needs to have a clear understanding of the “world of the play”. The time period and the overall style of the musical will already carry with it a number of physical demands. The physical life of a farcical screwball comedy is much different than the physical life of a nineteenth century operetta. Once the style is determined, other research begins. In most cases, our modern access to the archival footage of past decades and previous productions makes this a fun and relatively easy process.

Viewing excerpts of old footage as well as paintings from certain periods and researching the clothing of a certain era will go a long way toward feeding the imagination. However, the song needs to come to life within the context of the production. Therefore the performer needs to know how the director and artistic team view the world of the play. Each production of Kiss Me Kate, for example, will have its own point of view and could, as one production I witnessed at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, be placed in Little Italy, New York. Under those conditions the character choices and onstage gestural life will be uniquely influenced by that location.

Once the initial research is complete, the performer needs to embark upon some special homework: physical exploration. A good beginning is to simply sing the song while moving freely around the room. Put all expectations and conventional notions of how to move and simply commit to a liberated and unedited exploration of movement. The singing need not be particularly accurate or at full volume and should take a back seat to the more important journey of the body. Keep this exploration going beyond the comfort zone, beyond the known and conventional notions of the song itself. Literally take the song on a ride well beyond the confines of its normal boundaries.

This exploration, if done well, will allow for some unique and highly expressive choices to emerge. An hour of physical exploration that results in even a single gestural discovery is time well spent!

Another technique is to play a recording of the song and to move and dance and physically explore without any attempt to sing the song. Let the lyrics and the sounds of the music move the body in abstract or literal ways, free to move in a spectrum of physicality from high magnitude and high energy to miniature and very low energy. As in the other exploration, much like panning for gold, the process is to make a personal physical connection to the song and emerge from the exploration with a few useful choices, nuggets of gold, that can then be refined and adjusted to meet the needs of the song’s circumstance.

Artistic discovery is often linked to limitation of one kind or another. Try giving yourself a series of “rules” or “limits” as a way of forcing you out of your usual physical choices. Tell yourself that you are not allowed to stand with arms extended and palms upward. When you remove this common choice from your vocabulary you are forced to engage the body in new ways and find more interesting and more expressive physical choices.

In conclusion, to calibrate the physical expression of a song a musical theatre performer can choose the following:

1. Research the time period of the musical
2. Research the particulars of the specific production
3. While singing the song, engage the body in a fully released explorative journey
4. While listening to a recording of the song, engage the body in a fully released explorative journey
5. Sing the song while enacting some particular physical limitation that forces new and personally unusual choices to emerge.

Q&A With Mark Olsen, Chair, Musical Theatre Dept., New York Film Academy

Mark OlsenQ: How do I know if I can succeed as a professional Musical Theatre performer?

MO: As anyone will tell you, there are simply no formulas or guarantees in the theatre profession. However, there are a number of things a young person must have if they are to have a fighting chance at success. First, they must have passion or what sometimes is called, drive. There simply must be a burning desire to propel you through the many stages of development that will need to occur. Secondly, you must have innate musicality. There are all types of voices and all types of vocal ranges that are useful and successful in the musical theatre world. However, without a natural sense of rhythm and an ear for pitch and the ability to retain melodies, the chance of success is greatly diminished. Finally, you must have quality training in all three of the disciplines of the musical theatre: acting, singing, and dance.

Q: How can I get the most out of my musical theatre training at the New York Film Academy?

MO: The simple answer to that question is to show up consistently, each and every day, with determination, focus, willingness to learn, and the courage to endure the tough days. However, there are other more specific strategies that work: ask questions whenever you truly have one, consult often with teachers to insure you are making progress, keep a journal to record insights and class assignments, always be sure to prepare and to do your homework so your class time will be of true value. Finally, stay healthy!

Q: How do I stay healthy?

MO: For a performer your body is your instrument. Unlike other professions where you are able to tune and polish and even repair your instrument, the performer uses the organism itself. Therefore, like a master musician taking great care of their extremely valuable violin, you must do the same. It is a well-known fact that smoking has a detrimental effect on the voice and can diminish breath capacity and physical stamina. Drinking alcohol as well as speaking at maximum volume in loud bars can harm the vocal folds. Rest and relaxation is an important counterpoint to the demands of a conservatory training program so meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, long walks, and other similar methods are very helpful to ease the stress factors that can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. Drink mostly water and eat fresh, well-balanced foods. If you want to compete with the best you must give your body, your instrument, every advantage.

Q: What are the essential first steps to break into the musical theatre profession?

MO: In addition to the aforementioned, it is important to get really good at auditioning. In fact, to really succeed you must adopt auditioning as a lifestyle. Our program has many opportunities to learn the process of auditioning, however the reality is that you only really get good at it by doing it. Another essential step is to create and develop your musical theatre “book.” This is your personal songbook with your “go to” songs for any possible audition requirement. By having this resource in one single binder you are able to access music quickly and be ready to share your talent at a moment’s notice.

Finally, it is essential to network. Today’s social media platforms make this much easier than in years past. Your classmates, your professional contacts, your teachers, friends and family all are part of your support system. Employment in our business is of course a result of skill, talent, preparation, and timing. It is also a by-product of professional trust. You need to become that company member who is always reliable, emotionally resilient, and generous with your talent. People respond to that spirit and when it comes to casting and hiring for a role, those personal qualities become part of the decision-making process.

Q: Who do you consider the most influential artists in your field?

MO: Personally, I would select composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim as the musical theatre artist whose work has had the most influence to date. He almost single handedly propelled the American musical theatre into a level of sophistication and storytelling that has nearly become its own genre. In his mid twenties he wrote lyrics for the musicals West Side Story and Gypsy. He went on to compose and write lyrics for a wide range of successful hits such as: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum, Follies, Company, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday In the Park With George, and Into the Woods.

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your career?

MO: I think the most valuable lesson I have learned, and it is a lesson that took time to actually sink in and take root, a lesson that can be applied to all walks of life but is particularly important for artists and people in the performing arts: A career is not vertical, its horizontal. In other words, if you constantly think of your accomplishments and your career path as a vertical climb, you will inevitably feel dry spells and failures as a “falling” action. However, if you perceive your progress as horizontal, you know that there are times along the pathway of life when you are in a magnificent garden and you are well fed. However, there will also be times when you are in the flat plains or the desert badlands. In this model, you know to keep going forward, to simply put one foot in front of the other, and eventually you will arrive at the next oasis, the next great feast.

Q: What are the essential first steps for breaking into the musical theatre field after training in the program at NYFA?

MO: Again, I will repeat that there are no formulas. Nevertheless, the most obvious and essential steps you need are the following: you must have a good headshot and resume put together, a strong audition package which includes a handful of songs broken down into 16 bar cuts, several strong monologues, highlights from any NYFA filmed projects including the movie musical, and the deep drive to attend as many auditions and to become involved in as many projects as you can. Once you begin to develop “street cred”, which is the recognition of your talent and your personal integrity among your peers and friends, you have a chance that the industry casting agents will take notice and help to open the doors that will nourish your growth.