My Favorite Things: Reprises
The reprise is a musical theatre staple – and with good reason. Far more than just repetition, reprises can be crucial to a musical’s storytelling. Using the same (or similar) music in a different context allows writers to emphasize or comment on a shift that has taken place over the course of the show. They’re an incredibly powerful tool. Here are a few of my favorites:
I’ll Cover You (Rent) – Jonathan Larson
The first time I ever heard “I’ll Cover You” from Rent was when I realized the power of a good reprise. When the audience is introduced to this song, it’s one of the truly happy moments in the show. Forgetting about their problems with money and illness, Collins and Angel take a minute to dance in the street and celebrate having found each other. The second time we hear it, the setting could not be more different: Collins is speaking at Angel’s funeral. What struck me about this song is that the melody and lyrics are exactly the same, but the way it feels is somehow completely different. Here’s the original:
Repeating the song in such a different context helps the audience feel what Collins does. They can’t help but think about how happy he was just a short time ago. The reprise here helps us connect to the scene emotionally, but there’s more to it than that. This is a moment in the show when we recognize a turning point: something needs to happen to help these characters find a happier ending. During the reprise, we realize how quickly the story has changed, and we start to hope that it can change again.
Reprising a song can show development in character as well as plot. One of my favorite reprises that does so is “Some Kinda Time” from Dogfight. We first hear this song at the opening of the show, when the Marines are focused on the parties they’re going to have that night. It’s fun, lively, and a little raucous — a showstopper. If you haven’t heard this version, take a listen to the original cast. (And then listen again and wait for the harmonies at the second chorus: I can’t even describe how great they are.)
When the song is repeated at the end of the show, the tone has completely changed. It’s not a celebration anymore; it is a sober realization of what these boys will face when they head off to war. The music becomes increasingly faster as the Marines try to capture their excitement from before, but Birdlace doesn’t join in right away. In his solo repetition of “say goodbye…” we hear his reluctance to leave Rose and join his friends, and we recognize that there is something more to him than the persona he originally gives off. It’s not until the cadence becomes more march-like that Birdlace rejoins his friends, deciding he has to forget about Rose and focus on what lies ahead.
“Javert’s Soliloquy” / “Valjean’s Soliloquy” (Les Miserables) – Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil
One of the more interesting ways a reprise can be used is by having characters share each other’s songs. Les Miserables uses this technique a lot, and Valjean and Javert’s respective soliloquies are a great example. Even though the two characters’ solos are musically identical, the lyrics highlight the fundamental difference between them. Both of these songs are a result of a character discovering that their initial impression of someone was wrong. Valjean finds unexpected kindness from the Bishop, and decides he will become a better man for it. However, when Valjean spares Javert’s life and proves he is not the criminal Javert had thought him to be, the Inspector decides the he can’t handle living in a world that is no longer black and white. Faced with the same situation, our hero and his antagonist make very different choices. Watch Javert’s and then Valjean’s to see what I mean:
(Check out the 25th Anniversary Concert for my personal favorite Javert, Norm Lewis)
“Legally Blonde” (Legally Blonde) – Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin
Reprises serve several dramatic purposes: they can reveal something about a character, establish the tone of a scene, or help connect important plot points. The reprise of the title song from Legally Blonde manages to do all three of these things, resulting in an awesome act two turnaround. When we first hear the song, the normally upbeat show takes a serious turn as Elle realizes what her professor truly thinks of her. She packs up to leave Harvard, convinced that everyone who said she wasn’t cut out for law school was right.
Her pity party is cut short though, by a reprise of her song. The best part about this reprise is who sings it — Elle’s former rival Vivienne. When she realizes how their professor treated Elle, Vivienne decides to stop fighting over Warner and stand by her classmate. She convinces Elle to take their stereotypes and wear them with pride. The song from Elle’s lowest point in the show is reinvented for her comeback in a fun and unexpected way.
What are your favorite reprises?