At the easylaughs Musical cast, we train hard to become better singers. We aim for the sky. Not only do we rehearse once a week, we also have assignments, read books about Musical Theatre, study music, go to (classical music) concerts, discuss music at length, AND get homework. Every three months each of us gets an assignment, a solo from a musical we have to learn off the book, get into the character, study it and sing it with feeling and gusto. There is always a challenge and always different: a piece is beyond our comfort vocal range, the tempo is difficult, or we have to sing with emotion without getting lost, hold a note for long, memorize a very long text, get into a character we are not comfortable with...
In this blog, Su Mee and Elena will talk about their assignments.
Su Mee’s assignment is the song Aldonza from Man of la Mancha, a 1965 musical with book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh, and lyrics by Joe Darion. Aldonza is a serving woman at the inn. Quixote, deluded, falls in love with her and insists her name is Dulcinea and that she is a beautiful, gentle woman. She is feisty and angry because he doesn’t want to see who she is: « I am not a real lady!! ».
When I joined the easylaughs musical cast, I was looking forward to making up songs and stories with a bunch of amazing improvisers. I wasn’t expecting to be spending so much time learning existing musical songs. But oh what a wonderful journey it’s been so far.
Learning new songs is fun and exciting. It’s a great way to widen our range and explore new styles and characters. We learn to listen, to think about interpretation, and to use our voice in different ways. New song assignments feel like a gift to me, carefully chosen with love, especially for us.
However, my most recent song assignment came as a surprise, perhaps even a bit of a shock. It was very much not me, not my music style, and not a character I would choose to play. It took me a few listens to realise that all of this means it is the perfect song for me!
Being pulled out of my comfort zone, learning more about music and my own preferences, and discovering we can do so much more than we think has been an amazing adventure. And like with most things improv, it’s the unexpected challenges that bring the most joy.
Elena’s assignment is With one look from Sunset Boulevard, a 1993 production with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. It is based on the 1950 film of the same title. Elena plays Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent screen era, living in the past in her decaying mansion. In her song, she dreams of being able to return to the people in the dark, her audience. She hopes that with one look, she will ignite a blaze; with one look, she will finally be herself.
I was over the moon when I got this assignment. I didn’t know they made a musical from this old classic. I know the movie. It’s such a great movie. The character played by Gloria Swanson in the original film is overdramatic, neurotic, fragile, and deranged. She won an Oscar for that role. Glenn Close and Elaine Page also played the role on stage for the musical. Those are giant shoes to fill.
After I listened to it I noticed why I got this assignment. Vocally, it was in my range, with a mix of my head and chest voice. This is something all singers struggle with. But there was an extra challenge for me, to be able to sing pianissimo and do a crescendo from there. Singing very, very softly and then louder gradually. I only had two options when I sang till now: loud or very loud. Singing softly requires (for me) lots of concentration and control.
Add to it that most of those parts were on the onsets and on a note where my voice would transition to the head voice…and you have my nemesis of a challenge. For weeks I only sang one word: « Silent » which is the beginning of « Silent music starts to play », I was obsessed with getting that onset right, clear and soft. Spoiler alert: I did it!! The easylaughs musical cast performs their Unplanned Musical once a month at easylaughs in Amsterdam. They also performed in The Hague and will perform at the Amsterdam Impro Festival. Check the dates and get your tickets pronto.