The Entertainer

Anyone who knows my work knows that I have great affection and respect for the old “song and dance man” kind of performer whose roots are in Vaudeville. I was gratified, then, to see this in today’s NY Times.

Apparently, Charles Isherwood thinks the same things that I do on this topic. People like Nathan Lane, made in the old mode, are harder and harder to find. What a shame!

When I travel to colleges to do master classes (which I am doing now 8 or 10 times a year), what I see is singing heads. Over and over and over. Kids singing with their arms hanging limply at their sides, their bodies doing NOTHING. They have no clue that they have bodies, or what to do with them. They are TAUGHT to do this by their teachers and I say over and over “NO!!! Don’t do this. It’s WRONG!” and they tell me,”That’s what my teacher says I have to do.” Yes, well, I respond, “Then your teacher never set foot on a professional Broadway stage.”

If you don’t know about the Nathan Lane’s of this world, and the people who preceded them, you won’t know what Mr. Isherwood is talking about, or why I rail against this whenever I encounter it. Theater is a business about SHOWING. It is called SHOW Business, not Hint Business or Imply Business or Hope Business or Seriousness Business or Acting Business. SHOWING.

The Oxford Dictionary defines show this way: 1. be or make visible 2. offer for inspection or viewing 3. present an image of 4. lead or guide 5. behave in a particular way towards someone. 6 be evidence of, prove 7. make someone understand something by explaining it or doing it yourself and show up as: 1 a stage performance involving singing and dancing 2. an entertainment program on TV radio 3. an impressive or pleasing sight. 4. a display of quality or feeling.

Get the idea?

If you stand there limply, like a ragdoll, while your face and head are being “emotional” and the rest of your body looks like wet spaghetti, you will not get a job. NO.

There is a way to remain still but alive and responsive. It is called being present in your body……STAGE PRESENCE. It means being present in your physical and vocal self. You don’t have to dance around and make silly extraneous movements but you cannot behave like wet sheets hanging on a clothesline. PEOPLE!

It doesn’t help that most new Broadway music these days is sort of “sung through”. Jason Robert Brown and Ricky Ian Gordon and many others don’t write songs they write marathons. The tunes are NOT memorable, they do not have any beginning, middle or end, they just ramble. That’s why I love Janine Tresori. The woman understands THEATER. Classical composers have the same malady — heaven forbid they write a TUNE!

Please remember that SHOW BUSINESS is about entertainment. Stanislavsky not withstanding, entertainment pertains to all performing arts, INCLUDING opera, and people should never ever forget that what entertains us is always engaging, powerful, strong, impressive, touching, emotionally truthful or some combination of all of those. Al Jolson, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Jimmy Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, even Jessica Lange never studied acting (Method or otherwise). Think about that.

If you perform in music theater, be a PROUD entertainer. If you write music, or direct, or produce, or have any other connection with music theater, and MOST ESPECIALLY IF YOU TEACH, please remember that you must be successful at entertaining people or you and your product will be a big flat FLOP.

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2 thoughts on “The Entertainer”

  1. When I talk to people, they are talking heads. No one in real life is larger than life unless they grew up as old-school performers. Reality is the key today. Ricky Ian Gordon and Jason Robert Brown write lyrics that don’t need to be SHOWN. Jeanine Tesori happens to be one of my favorite composers, but I feel like she writes truthfully. Nothing speaks truth like Caroline, or Change. I like to watch truthful things on stage. I love your blog.

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