365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

297. Shakespeare vs. Musicals

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When one thinks of Shakespeare, one certainly may think of music, but musicals? Not nearly as often. With the exception of adaptations like “West Side Story” and “Kiss Me, Kate”, it seems difficult to marry the idea of performing immortal works like “Hamlet” and jazzy, tap-dance filled extravaganzas like “42nd Street”. However, surprisingly enough, the two performance styles – however wildly different on the surface – share quite a lot of traits, and to be good at one may potentially allow a performer to be good at the other.

This is mostly in the way that performances of both Shakespeare and musicals are required to be crafted. Both, for example, require impeccable diction. For Shakespeare, putting emphasis on the wrong word, mumbling, or pronouncing something incorrectly can render a speech incomprehensible to an audience who is already listening to words we consider antiquated and a pattern of speaking no longer in use. In musicals, if a singer is not clear in their diction, songs become no more than a tune – and so often in musicals, the songs are what truly drive the plot along and express the feelings of the characters. The songs are as vital to musicals as soliloquies are to Shakespeare’s plays.

Another important factor in both Shakespeare and musicals is the ability to be very demonstrative. Because of the nature of the musical, sometimes they are demonstrative to the point of camp, but this is sometimes the only way to make all of those dance moves make legitimate sense in terms of the plots. In Shakespeare, because the stories and words are so archaic to many modern ears, an actor must employ plenty of physical and verbal demonstration in order to convey a point which may otherwise be lost on a modern audience. Where musicals use dance, performances of Shakespeare uses plenty of physicality in the blocking.

So though it may seem like the two genres are worlds apart – lofty classical theatre vs. flashy and splashy musical theatre – the performances of both require several similar traits. So whether an actor is playing Sally Bowles or Viola, both actors will have to maintain a great deal of energy, rely a lot on their bodies to convey their meaning, and speak (or sing) with excellent diction so that the audience can understand and appreciate their performance. Theatre is theatre, no matter what genre is may be, and it is important to respect the process and performance of all sorts.


Written by Caroline Mincks

July 25, 2010 at 12:27 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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