Tuesday is a day of infinite possibility. The concert is five whole days away—a lifetime!—and no one is freaking out about memorization yet. Not that these three have anything to worry about in that department: they arrived with most of their material well under control. So it’s a good day to take a detailed look at acting choices and vocal issues. After yesterday’s work-through I had a sense of which songs needed attention, and which ones were purring along just fine. On Tuesday the clay is still soft enough to mold; nothing has gotten irrevocably set in stone. And after all, this is why everyone came out here—to advance their craft. If there are also lovely beaches and idyllic places to jog right outside their door, that is just icing on the cake. And some mighty fine icing too.
Opera is said to be all about high notes (actually, it’s not, but it’s true that if you don’t have the money notes you’re at a huge disadvantage). Musical theater, on the other hand, is all about middle voice—even the “high” climaxes are mostly not very high at all. Which means that both women have to mix in a lot more chest voice—what you hear when singers are belting—than they would in a Verdi aria or a Schubert song. Kerrigan sounds a bit like Kelli O’Hara and Rebecca Luker—definitely a soprano sound, but very clear and full in the lower half of her voice. Sophia is like the love-child of Marilyn Horne and Ethel Merman—and, I hasten to add, she is 20 years old. So much sound pours out of each of them, but of necessity they’re leaning harder on their chest register than usual. With so much more engagement in that part of the voice—something that might be frowned on at opera-centric Juilliard—it’s critical to keep everything in line. Today I was trying give them a few adjustments to grease the vocal gear shifts. Sophia needed a little more cushioning at the top of her belt register—“More schnoz! More schnoz!” I kept yelling. (Yes, she knew exactly what I meant. Think Barbra Streisand.) Kerrigan, on the other hand, needed a different kind of cushioning: a rounder, more classical sound at the top of her voice, less of a wide-open Broadway blat. That splayed-out vocal position works OK for some people, but it doesn’t suit Kerrigan.
Shavon is in his wheelhouse—baritones have it so much easier than sopranos and mezzos when it comes to musical theater. Like most classical baritones (and some tenors and basses too), he can use one basic vocal technique for Charles Strouse and Gounod—different idiom, same throat. Since everything is so comfortable for him as a singer, my goal for him has more to do with style—to differentiate his musical approach depending on the era and the character of each song. (To be honest, he’s very good at it already.) Another goal: his repertoire in the show includes characters of different ages, and while his exuberance is totally disarming, it’s not appropriate for everything. Today I was amused to see him start a run of “You Must Meet My Wife” playing Frederick as a mature man of 45, and reverting to a frolicking puppy dog by page 4. How I envy his ability to take 25 years off in the space of two minutes! Maybe he’ll show me how tomorrow.
Almost all Broadway shows start with an overture. I decided we should have one for this 100 Years program, so I bought a four-hand arrangement of “I Got Rhythm” and commandeered a pianist friend out here, Tenoch Esparza, to partner me. Tenoch studied at the Moscow Conservatory some years ago, but is now running a successful music-tech business with his brother. He’s one of the dearest souls in the world, and I value my time with him. He doesn’t play much these days—not in public, anyway, despite the concerto chops of his youth. I knew he was nervous about being in the concert, but he did great today and I am confident we can rock the Gershwin on Sunday.
Image: Tenoch Esparza and me. We got rhythm.
Get your tickets to 100 Years of Broadway Love here! Sun, Aug 27 at 3pm, Poquatuck Hall in Orient, NY.