MT in the City: Classical vs. Contemporary
I’m sure we can all agree that contemporary musical theater has a special place in our hearts. When I saw Edges for the first time, I was hooked. I fell in love with the music and the characters, probably because they were so easy to relate to. And now, contemporary musical theater composing teams are taking over the theater scene. We all know and love Pasek & Paul, Kerrigan-Lowdermilk, and Carner & Gregor, just to name a few. But we can’t forget about the composing teams who started it all: George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hammerstein, etc.
At my conservatory this semester, we are focusing on classical musical theater. That’s right. No belting for us. That initially came as a shock to many of us who just assumed we would be learning to belt “Defying Gravity” right off the bat. Compared to the intense belting of Wicked, classical musical theater seems like a whole new world. However, I’ve learned that, many times, the best performers are the most versatile performers. And versatile performers must have the ability to sing both classical AND contemporary musical theater. Also, it pays to have a few classical musical theater pieces in your repertoire because it only increases the amount of potential job opportunities in your future. That’s never a bad thing, right? So, in order to assist you in your search for good classical musical theater repertoire to compliment your contemporary musical theater selections, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorites along with links to some great performances:
“Soon,” from Strike Up the Band
This song, originally a duet, was written by George and Ira Gershwin (it never hurts to have a little Gershwin in your repertoire). But do not fear. It can easily be converted into a solo piece, especially for audition purposes. It’s a beautiful ballad about finding love in the near future and would contrast very nicely with a sassy uptempo piece. Listen to Kiri Te Kanawa sing “Soon”:
“Who?” from Sunny
Written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, this song is a great uptempo classical musical theater piece. I can’t help tapping my foot or dancing in my seat whenever I hear it. Listen to this song performed by Judy Garland (it even has a dance break!):
“How are Things in Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow
If you can imagine, this musical, music and lyrics by Harburg and Lane, has a bit of an Irish flair. But don’t let that deter you! This is one of my favorite classical musical theater pieces because the melody is absolutely beautiful. Check out Julie Andrews’s version here:
“And This is My Beloved,” from Kismet
If you are a soprano and really want to show off your range, this is the piece for you. This is a musical with lyrics and musical adaptation by Wright and Forrest, adapted from the music of Alexander Borodin. Watch Ann Blyth sing this piece (and skip to 0:36 for the actual start of the song):
I hope this helped with your search for classical musical theater repertoire or at least gave you somewhere to begin. I know the music we all like to sing by our favorite contemporary musical theater composers is extremely prevalent nowadays, but it never hurts to have some classical songs ready to go. And who knows. Maybe it’ll help you book your next audition!