I remember as a child, I used to sit and in awe as singers and actresses danced and pranced their way across the television screen, thinking, “ I want to do that!”! Heck, I still say that! In fact, on one Christmas Eve, in anticipation of our midnight “open-one-gift” tradition, my sister and I were sitting in front of our television set, and a musical came on. I was instantly mesmerized at what I saw. People who were acting were now singing and dancing, all in one! I’d never seen anything like it. It’s true, that back in those days, it was common to be a “triple threat”.
Musicals and Musical Theatre have a broad and diverse history dating back to the middle ages, performed in a more operatic style in the 19th century than today when you hear fusions of traditional sounds mixed with R&B and Rock music. Of course, as I sat in my onesie pajamas, unwrapping my new Barbie dolls and watching “Singing In The Rain”, I swore that Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor were the inventors of this amazing new concept!
Musicals have had a long journey from the silver screen to the Broadway stage. Although I haven’t sung in a film, yet, in 2002 I had the incredible opportunity to perform in the Tony Award Winning musical “Hairspray” (another musical I watched on TV) as a “Dynamite”, another musical I watched on TV. I remember nailing the dance audition, but I had a bit more of a challenge with the singing part. For most Broadway auditions, it’s common to sing a musical/Broadway standard, 16 bars, hit it and quit it. But what did I know? I was an R&B pop singer and a back up dancer for R&B and Hip Hop artists. So I sang “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin. Not your ideal song, but I went with it. I remember trying to sing with so much feeling and soul and style. After I was done, the casting table smiled at me and one lady asked, “C can you do that again, but with less vibrato and runs?” Embarrassed, I swallowed real hard, smiled and nodded yes, and did it again. Thank God I can take direction because I got the gig! It was a lot of work having to re-tune my R&B sound and use a different approach vocally, but I learned a new style of singing and the amount of vocal strength, stamina, range, and technique that is required to sing an entire Broadway show, night after night, week after week, with little to no rest in between. Not to mention the choreography and lines! But it made me a stronger singer and performer and now when someone asks me to sing in a “Broadway style” I know what to do.
It’s not easy to sing that style or to make it to Broadway. A lot of us are out-of-towners with big talent and even bigger dreams. The way is broad, indeed, but there are many possibilities. And with the right tools, it is a fulfilling, and stable way to make a great living and has long since been a very lucrative career for many actors, dancers, and singers.
In this issue of iSing, you’ll meet my fellow Canadian- Caribbean brother Rhett George, a. A triple-threat performer whose’s artistic diversity as a dancer, singer, and actor has led him to incredible Broadway success in some of the top- grossing and most popular modern musicals and musical revivals to date. We’ll find out how Rhett did it, and, more importantly, what it takes to make a Broadway Melody.
RHETT’S WAY TO BROADWAY
Top 5 tips for getting in the door and singing your way to the top
1) If you don’t have an agent, you can always find auditions. Broadway will always have an agent call and an open call. You can find these auditions in Backstage or backstage.com, Playbill.com, and the Equity casting website.
2) During the audition process, do you best to know your material inside and out. Have sheet music, and know the key of the song. Song choice is really important. Choose songs in the style or period of the show. Be familiar with songs of that musical (if they exist) and be ready to sing one if you’re called up. 16 bars is all you need.
3) Warming up your voice and body is extremely important to staying healthy during a show run. Know your body. Find a healthy balance between your work and your social life so you never have to compromise your job.
4) Stay humble and maintain a good and positive attitude as much as possible. A lot of your work will come from referrals from directors, choreographers, musical directors, and show producers. Be on time, be prepared and be at your best!
5) Be yourself, and don’t try to change who you are. If you’re great at what you do, your talent will find it’s way and you’ll shine, no matter what. The people who need to see you, will see you. Keep pushing, and be open to opportunities, no matter how strange or small. You never know what door is going to open for you. Don’t take no for an answer!