Why Debbie Reynolds Can’t Save Your New Musical

In "Singing in the Rain", Lina Lamont learned the hard way that you have to be able to sing for yourself to succeed.

You may be a brilliant musical composer, lyricist, or writer but my real question today is CAN YOU SING?

This is an important question because you will be in the spotlight time and time again and whether you like it or not, there will be no Debbie Reynolds or Marni Nixon hiding behind a curtain to be your singing stunt double.

This has been on my mind recently because last week I was invited to meet several musical theater writing teams who were vying for spots in an upcoming festival. The last step in the selection process was for each of them to get up in front of a room full of other writers and producers to perform a number that exemplified their show – no guests artists, just the writers presenting their own work.

Well…let’s just say there were some inspired performances and some serious groaners. And I’m not talking about the songs themselves. In fact, I had a read the shows in advance and had my favorites but you better believe that hearing the performances changed my opinions. I couldn’t help it! The writing teams who could sell their song and entertain the audience fared much better than those who took their brilliant score and then butchered it in performance.

Don’t lose heart, however, if you’re a great writer but don’t possess the vocal chords of a Kristin Chenoweth or an Aaron Tveit. You see, what I’ve discovered from sitting through my fair share of these new musical presentations is that PREPARATION is 90% of the battle.

Just as you would expect a singer to master the performance of your piece, so too must you rehearse and rehearse until you (and your collaborators if you have them) can give an audience-ready performance. Know the words, know your notes, know how it ends, maybe even act a little.
Whether you’re a novice musical maker or a Broadway writer, performing your own work for producers, investors, workshops, etc is inevitable and to do it right takes preparation. Don’t just take my word for it, top training programs including BMI and ASCAP emphasize this too because they know that writing your song and performing your song are two different but important things and you need to find a way to be good at both for your musical to succeed.

In just this past month alone, I was in the room to hear Shaiman & Whitman performing their own songs from Catch Me If You Can as well as Alan Menken singing Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. They were well prepared and well rehearsed and it showed. In fact, a quick youtube search of any major musical theater composer will unearth examples of each of them performing meticulously rehearsed selections of their own work and that’s not just a coincidence. It’s that kind of behavior that set them apart and they have the Tonys and Ocars to prove it!

3 Responses to Why Debbie Reynolds Can’t Save Your New Musical

  1. chanda says:

    SO true! I still remember listening to Stephen Schwartz belting out some numbers from “Wicked”–obviously they were written for an amazing female voice (Idina!!), but he knew them like the back of his hand and sang them with 100% commitment and verve. It was glorious.

  2. I just read in Tommy Tune’s autobiography, Footnotes, that he won’t say yes to directing a show without reading the book first, because he’s fallen in love with shows because of the absolutely heartfelt renditions of songs he’s heard from the songwriters who wrote them– only to later discover the book is unworkable.

    By the way, I ushered a Marc Shaiman concert in 1983, so I know the boy can sing. Well back then he was practically a boy.

  3. Brisa says:

    Thanks for your fantastic comment, Mahesh. I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of Tommy Tune’s autobiography!

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