Music to Punctuate Movement

I’m not a dancer.  I move kind of like Elaine Benes, thumbs and all.  And for readers too young to get that reference, I hate you.  But my mom is a choreographer and teacher upstate, and I spent my childhood with probably an unusual attention (for a musician) to the movement and dance component of theatrical storytelling.  So many of my favorite moments in the theater occur when music and movement (and often light) work together to punctuate a story point.  I believe there’s an important relationship between the choreographer and arranger that’s often underappreciated, and I often find myself reworking music in the rehearsal room to support what the choreographer is doing, or asking for “help” in a particular moment from the choreographer (can we do something to punch this keychange, etc).  Below are three of my favorite examples of great symbiosis between musical events and movement.

ONE DAY MORE, Les Mis, coda and button

Watch this video on YouTube.

3:43 – into the keychange, Gavroche goes up onto the guy’s shoulders on beat 3 and the entire ensemble starts to come downstage on beat 1 of the following measure with the cymbal hit.  Try not to cry.
4:10 – right on the start of the coda, the flag comes up
4:18 – to punctuate the last word, Gavroche’s arms come up
4:23 – to punctuate the last chord, the gun is raised in the air
4:28 – cast stops marching on the button
This thing didn’t run for 6,680 performances for nothing.

ONCE AND FOR ALL, Newsies, Drum change into half time

Watch this video on YouTube.

3:22 – for my money, the feel change here from quarter notes to half notes in the drums and the release back into the chorus is the best moment in the entire Newsies score.  I knew this coming in, and wondered how they would stage it for maximum effect.  Jeff Calhoun and Christopher Gattelli didn’t disappoint.  Right on the release they hit the set with a ton of light and the whole thing starts to roll downstage toward the audience.  For 2 hours you didn’t know the set could do that.  They saved their best trick for the best musical moment.  The composer thanks you.  Movement through the coda continues to punch downbeats, and they all stomp on the button.  Hell yes.

CIRCLE OF LIFE, Lion King, Post-coda Keychange

Watch this video on YouTube.

Right, so this whole number is perfect, but the best part has to be when the brilliant Elton John keychange (can we give him some credit for how inspired that was?) at 3:25 is punctuated by with the sun breaking through the clouds and all the animals bowing.  I’ve been watching that moment for 20 years.  It gets me every time.

There are so many examples I couldn’t include.  What are your favorite moments of movement and music mutually supporting each other to communicate story points?

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