Afterthoughts: Musical Theatre in a New Light

Throughout my experience being involved in theatre, I’ve come across a vast number of people who expressed mixed feelings towards the Musical Theatre genre. Of course there were the musical theatre geeks who compiled playlists consisting entirely of musical theatre songs. And there were others who didn’t understand the necessity for singing a song in the middle of a scene seemingly out of nowhere. Me? I was the one in between. I loved singing and performing but at the same time, I only had a very surface level understanding of musical theatre. When watching the very few musical theatre shows that I did, I couldn’t really relate to the performance in front of me. I was enamoured by the spectacle of the show and the songs, but there always seemed a lack of emotional connection to the story itself.

However, since taking the Acting in Musical Theatre masterclass conducted by Nicole Stinton last semester, I’ve developed a change in perspective and greater respect for the musical theatre genre. In the masterclass, I learnt to take an acting approach to performing a song, something that actors who perform musical theatre may neglect. In musical theatre, songs are monologues. They are moments when a character expresses their thoughts and feelings to themselves or to someone else in the scene. It is the communication of the character’s inner life with the audience via song.

When the actors sees a song in this light (as a monologue), it allows them to develop depth for their character and the entire show as well. Many a time, an actor’s approach to performing a song is lazy, relying solely on the music entirely to do the work of establishing the emotional connection with the audience. Although the music does help the audience feel something, it still isn’t enough. This is because chords aren’t just chords. The kind of chords played and how it progresses through the song tells a feeling and story all on its own. By just listening to its instrumental, you can observe how the music naturally makes you feel. It is this reaction that functions as a tool to understanding the characters thoughts and feelings within this sung monologue.

And of course the lyrics help too. A certain problem that is quite common with people’s approach to acting in song is singing the lyrics without any meaning. And again, lyrics aren’t just lyrics. They are the thoughts of the character said aloud, exactly like lines in a monologue. By forgetting about whether you can hit the high note and how your voice should sound, the actor will begin to connect with the lyrics and piece of music on a deeper level. In the end, it is about approaching musical theatre like how a non-musical theatre actor would approach their work, leading to more truthful and believable performances.

So, for those who have ambivalent feelings towards musical theatre like I did, I hope this sheds new light on musical theatre and perhaps, changes your perspective on this supposedly ‘superficial’ line of work. Because truthfully, there is so much more to musical theatre than we give credit for.

Take a look at the performances by the students who participated in this masterclass with Nicole Stinton on the HCAC Youtube page!

Semester 1 workshops are starting in January too so, don’t miss out by clicking here.

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