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MTH407 MUSICAL THEATRE PORTFOLIO WILLIAM BULLIVANT 1) ‘Musical Theatre is a huge building site where every imaginable relationship between the materials of stage arts and the musical arts are tried out and tested’ Throughout the history of musical theatre we have seen examples of works that employ both ‘stage arts’ and ‘musical arts,’ but how have the two been used together to create such a composite and diverse art form that we know today as Musical theatre? I am going to discuss this quote using examples from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Merrily we Roll Along’ and Stephen Schwartz’ ‘Wicked.’ ‘Wicked’ uses a large range of ‘stage forms’ such as the use of a large set, advanced technical elements such as lighting, pyrotechnics and sound effects as well as dance, movement and physical acting. ‘Wicked’ also uses a range of ‘musical arts’ including a nineteen piece orchestra and live vocal performers. Although ‘Merrily we Roll Along’ does use ‘stage elements’ such as physical acting, the set, technical and dance elements are more limited. I am going to compare these aspects of both musicals in terms of the quote and how these relationships between the stage arts have been used. In Sondheim’s ‘Merrily we Roll Along, the orchestral style of the musical has influences of jazz and does not have a balanced use of all instruments from each orchestral family, notably the omission of a string section. The jazz influence comes in Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations. These are very brass heavy and include a large use of trumpets, trombones and saxophones. In ‘Wicked’ the orchestrations are very different. There are in fact two different orchestral styles rolled into one orchestra pit. William David Brohn (orchestrator) uses a classical musical theatre style orchestra including large string and woodwind sections combined

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Page 1: Musical Theatre Complete

MTH407 MUSICAL THEATRE PORTFOLIOWILLIAM BULLIVANT

1)

‘Musical Theatre is a huge building site where every imaginable relationship between the materials of stage arts and the musical arts are tried out and tested’

Throughout the history of musical theatre we have seen examples of works that employ both ‘stage arts’ and ‘musical arts,’ but how have the two been used together to create such a composite and diverse art form that we know today as Musical theatre? I am going to discuss this quote using examples from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Merrily we Roll Along’ and Stephen Schwartz’ ‘Wicked.’

‘Wicked’ uses a large range of ‘stage forms’ such as the use of a large set, advanced technical elements such as lighting, pyrotechnics and sound effects as well as dance, movement and physical acting. ‘Wicked’ also uses a range of ‘musical arts’ including a nineteen piece orchestra and live vocal performers. Although ‘Merrily we Roll Along’ does use ‘stage elements’ such as physical acting, the set, technical and dance elements are more limited. I am going to compare these aspects of both musicals in terms of the quote and how these relationships between the stage arts have been used.

In Sondheim’s ‘Merrily we Roll Along, the orchestral style of the musical has influences of jazz and does not have a balanced use of all instruments from each orchestral family, notably the omission of a string section. The jazz influence comes in Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations. These are very brass heavy and include a large use of trumpets, trombones and saxophones. In ‘Wicked’ the orchestrations are very different. There are in fact two different orchestral styles rolled into one orchestra pit. William David Brohn (orchestrator) uses a classical musical theatre style orchestra including large string and woodwind sections combined with a rock style band including electric guitars and synthesiser keyboards. In conclusion, both musicals use different styles/forms of music such as Jazz, Rock and classical music within the musical. Other musicals such as ‘hairspray’ also employ different styles of music such as ’60’s swing’ to compliment the story and action on stage.

1‘Stephen (Schwartz) always said that he always wanted it to be a sort of hybrid of many different elements to create its own world and so much of what we do in to orchestration weds certain pop and rock elements, old time musical theatre elements and certain orchestra/symphonic elements and even operatic elements to bring them all together to create this very vivid musical world that we inhabit. (Stephen Oremus, musical director and arranger for ‘Wicked.)

1 Behind the Emerald Curtain’, WICKED Music: Music Prep, www.youtube.com, 15:54, 1st December

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In the ‘Merrily we Roll Along’, original 1981 production at the Alvin theatre, Broadway, there was no use of choreographed dance movement. This original production was not successful and closed after just sixteen performances. In the recent 2012 revival by ‘encores theatre’ the production contained choreographed scenes throughout and a large dance scene that opened act two. Other changes included minor score changes and a re-invention of the costumes and set. This production enjoyed an extended run and a transfer to the west end. The choreographic style was ‘classical musical theatre’ and used tap and ballet influences from the 50’s, represent the time period.

2‘All the cast were strong, they act well, they sing well and they can dance!’ This use of stylistic choreography could be one of the reasons that this

production did so well. There is also a large amount of choreography in ‘Wicked.’ With choreography by Wayne Cilento, the production employs a range of styles including contemporary, balletic and even urban influences. A huge range of choreographic styles and techniques has been used across the musical theatre industry throughout history which has shaped the way we see musicals today.

The use of set and scenic devices is also another aspect of the ‘stage arts’ that can be very varied. For example in the recent 2013 West End production of ‘Merrily we Roll Along’, the set design by Sultra Guilder is quite minimalist and simplistic. There is one main set at the back of the stage representing a house and a grand piano that is moved around the stage. Apart form this there are only a few other items such as chairs and table that are then brought on stage. There are no special effects such as pyrotechnics or illusions throughout the production. This ‘minimalist’ design is only one of many set styles that could have been used. For example, In ‘Wicked’, there is use of a large robotic dragon mounted on the centre of the proscenium arch, a movable ‘travelator’ above the stage and of course no production of ‘Wicked’ would be complete without the iconic moment when Elphaba ‘defies gravity!’

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Finally, ‘stage arts’ and ‘musical arts’ can work hand in hand with one another to create this composite art form. For example, in ‘Merrily we Roll Along’, in the

2 Ticketmaster reviews, review by Budgenor, July 13, 20133 Image, KVNO news, www.kvnonews.com 17:03 15th November

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song ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc,’ Sondheim employs frantic off beat rhythms and a high piccolo line. Both of these represent the frantic emotion on stage. The ‘stage arts’ or the acting compliments this. For example, in the recent 2012 West End revival, Frank (Mark Umbers) uses frantic gestures such as flailing his arms and erratic upper body movements on stage to portray the frantic character of Franklin in the song ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc.’

In conclusion, ‘stage arts’ and ‘musical arts’ have been and tested in the musical theatre industry throughout history. A huge range of musical, orchestral styles and genres are tried out and tested in professional musical theatre. Varying dance, movement and choreographic styles are used, developed and experimented with and stage/production elements are also used in a wide range of styles to support the action on stage. ‘Stage arts’ and ‘Musical arts’ are the backbone of musical theatre and can can compliment each other in this musical theatre world we have created and are for ever experimenting with.

3)Self-critique of semester one

As a career I would aim to become a musical director for musical theatre. Self- awareness and time management are very important for this profession that I hope to enter into. There are three main parts of my time that I have to assess. These are Practical work, written work and self directed study.

The main emphasis of my practical work is my solo piano practice for orchestral concerts and my assessment at the end of the semester, which I have just completed. I did devote a lot of time to my piano practice however looking back I feel that I could have been more effective in my practice. For example, when practicing piano it is very easy to practice a piece slowly for a couple of times and then try and speed it up. Looking back I think that I did not do enough slow practice and I should have worked on a piece for longer before trying to speed it up. Slow practice allows me to iron out any mistakes or inaccuracies that may occur before it is performed at concert speed. At the quick tempo these inaccuracies can be washed over and un noticed which can lean to an inaccurate performance without the performer even realising it. In my next semester I am going to ensure that I do more efficient practice by working through pieces slowly. Three times slowly for every one time that I play it fast.

For my written work, the main area I found difficult was time management. I generally felt able to write the essays that I were required to complete, however I know that I should have allowed more time to write them. For my Musical grammar written tasks, I had to complete a short essay each week. This helped me as after a few weeks I was able to plan when I was going to work on the essays and I learned not to leave things until the last minute. Buy this time I was also working on my formative assessments which were due in at the end of the semester. This time management skill that I had learned at the start of the semester I was then able to apply to my formative assessments, allowing me more time to plan and complete my essays.

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Finally, my self-directed study time. During my self-directed study time, I try to do either extra piano practice or research the industry that I want to enter for Ideas and inspiration. When I first started doing this, I would research either in the library or on my personal computer, however I didn't really write anything down or take many notes. Reflecting on this, I didn't really have a focus during this time. I have been trying to learn from these experiences and I have since bought an ‘ideas book.’ In this I will write down any interesting or inspirational material that I find during research and I am then able to look over these notes at a later date. I also try and set a definitive focus before I start researching. For example, ‘anatomy of the voice.’

In conclusion, Self-critique has been important within all areas of my study throughout my first semester and I believe that it important to continue this practice throughout my university and professional life.

Worst Pies in LondonSolo song analysis

‘The Worst Pies in London’ is a solo song taken from the musical, ‘Sweeney Todd’ with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. In this song, the character of Mrs Lovett is talking to Sweeney Todd about her pies. Her character is very fragmented and she can’t seem to hold one thought before quickly

thinking about something else. This is reflected in Sondheim’s music.Within ‘Worst Pies in London,’ there are a large amount of time signature

changes and metric disruption. For example,

4

4 Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Vocal Score, Riting Music, inc, Hal Leonard

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We can see from this example that there is change from 2/4 to 4\4 to 3\4 and finally to 5/4. Sondheim’s use of time signature change represents the unsettledness of Mrs Lovett by adding these unstable time signatures.

Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics for ‘Worst pies in London.’ His aim was to write an original monologue as though the character were speaking and then put this to music. He said that the fragmented lyrics would dictate form, rather than sticking to the typically used structures such as binary or ternary etc. He also said that this would make more sense for Mrs Lovetts character.

5 “The Worst Pies in London’ illustrates as well as any song in this book the second principle of my mantra: Content dictates form. Mrs Lovett is not only a chatterbox, she is a glitteringly disorganised one. She switches moods mid-thought and mid- subject. She is cheery one moment, complaining the next and can instantaneously alternate her attention between pie and customer’(Stephen Sondheim)

Jonathan Tunick (orchestrator of ‘Sweeney Todd’) is inspired by Sondheim’s characters within his orchestration. For example in ‘Worst Pies in London’, Tunick uses a wide range of instruments to orchestrate the opening. He rapidly changes between the instruments in different ranges, for example from bassoon to flute in the space of a bar. This is is rather like the quickly changing mind of Mrs Lovett. It is because Tunick understands this dramatic form that he is Sondheims most valued orchestrator.

6’ (Tunick) gets a chance to deal with dramatic material that guides him and he can contribute to… there is a mood, theres a story, attention, whatever. They are not just musicals that are jolly and colourful, so they get a chance to extend their dramatic instincts.’ (Stephen Sondheim)

The tempo of ‘Worst Pies in London’ fluctuates throughout. The opening tempo sets out fairly quickly however by the second section slows down slightly before quickly picking up again with a new version of the first section. These tempo changes are also represented in the lyrics and Mrs Lovett’s character, as she is relentlessly moving around the stage, speeding up and slowing down as she wears herself down.

Finally, Rhythm is also very important in ‘Worst pies in London.’ Throughout there are constant off beat stabs and unusual contrapuntal rhythms. This creates lots or metric disruption throughout the piece. This again shows Mrs Lovett’s disrupted character and her constantly switching mind. Some of these off beat stabs are also marked as points in which the actress should whack cockroaches on her cutting board, adding another comedic effect to the scene.

In conclusion, Sondheim employs a wide range of musical devices including time signature changes, characteristic orchestrations, fluctuating tempi, off beat rhythms and fragmented lyrics to represent the character of Mrs Lovett in ‘The Worst Pies in London.’

5 Finishing the Hat, collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes, Stephen Sondheim, p339, Knopf.6 Stephen Sondheim- on the orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick, www.youtube.com

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Bibliography

1) Behind the Emerald Curtain’, WICKED Music: Music Prep, www.youtube.com

2) www.ticketmasterreviews.com3) www.knovonews.com 4) Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Vocal Score, Riting

Music, inc, Hal Leonard5) Finishing the Hat, collected lyrics (1954-1981) with attendant comments,

principles, heresies, grudges, whines and anecdotes, Stephen Sondheim, Knopf publishing house

6) Stephen Sondheim- on the orchestrations of Jonathan Tunick, www.youtube.com

7) www.playbill.com 8) ‘Gypsy’ Chichester Festival Theatre programme, CFT9) Stephen Sondheim Society monthly magazine, SONDHEIM Journal, 10) www.sondheim.org (Official Sondheim society web page)11) www.adelphi.londontheatres.co.uk 12) How Sondheim Found His Sound, Steve Swayne, University of Michigan

Press.13) www.menierchocolatefactory.co.uk