The actor’s song

Rehearsing Things We Do For Love has made this an especially happy time in my life. There have actually been moments in which I’ve been able to stop worrying, lean back, and think “Damn, that’s good!” But don’t take my word for it: come Monday or Tuesday and see for yourself.

Last Thursday I had a revelation of sorts, about what makes a particular lyric so effective. I hope it won’t seem too boastful if I use it to illustrate the principle that lyricists should be – make that must be – dramatists. When a good playwright creates a monologue, it doesn’t restate the same thought again and again. The character goes through a thought process, something of a dialectic, weighing the pros and cons of an action. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles. We in the audience are often uncertain of what the monologuist will finally choose to do, and we watch in rapt fascination at the thinking on display.

Performers Christine De Frece and Steven Bidwell ran their songs by their old acting teacher, who, as part of the coaching process, had them speak their lyrics as monologues. This gives the actor time to explore and elucidate every moment, and it was quite revealing. In Christine’s solo, Fluttering, the character considers the affections of two very different men, and she’s constantly pulled in two different directions. It’s duty versus passion:

I‘M LIKE A STARLING

FLITTING AROUND

AND EMITTING A SOUND

THAT’S A BEACON TO BIRDS

HE CALLED ME “DARLING”

AND GAVE ME A KISS

I’M NOT TREATED LIKE THIS

THAT IS, NOT TILL TODAY

HE HAS SUCH A WAY WITH HIS WORDS.

First, she marvels at the unusual sensations that appear to have robbed her of her customary mooring. Then, she refers to her new-found concupiscence with a comparison to the animal kingdom that’s far politer (and therefore, more properly Victorian) than being like a cat in heat. But quickly she’s romanticizing a term of endearment and a kiss on the forehead that might not have seemed like much to the audience a few seconds ago. Next, she’s back to the reality of the passion-free existence, celebrates her emancipation from that, and finally finds something loving to say about the man who stirred her.

The spoken exploration led Christine to make fascinating choices in the way she moved, gestured, focused her eyes, emphasized various words and notes, and colored her musical phrasing. A glorious interpretation was being crafted before my eyes: I’ve never seen the song done with so much attention to detail. It was if I was hearing it for the first time.

As musical theatre writers, we frequently must dramatize moments in which a character’s alone on stage. Fluttering is popular with sopranos, I think, because it gives them so much to play. You really must see what Christine does with it May 2 & 3 at the Duplex.

Click here to reserve for Monday May 2 at 9:30

Click here to reserve for Tuesday May 3 at 7:00

Click here for the complete lyric to Fluttering and the Joanne Lessner demo recording.

Hearing it, Michael Reidel exclaimed “You certainly have a way with melody, Noel.” Michael Reidel of the Post! He’s notoriously hard to please.

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