Monday, July 8, 2013

There's a Fine Fine Line, Part 1

Hello and welcome to Musical Mondays!
In order to bring some sort of uniformity to the Blog, I am attempting some weekly posts, under specific themes. Strictly for the purposes of alliteration, Monday has been designated for Musicals.
A while back, I had a different Blog focused solely on finding performances of musical theatre songs I found lacking in...well, okay, they were bad. They ranged from cringeworthy to downright upsetting. Then I found a video that proved the song could be performed well, given the right performer.

My criteria was as follows:
1) I tried to find a song that was relatively well-known, usually that's all you can find on YouTube anyway.
2) I tried not to make the distinction of a "bad" performance being from an amateur performer and the "good" being from a seasoned performer. Of course, it doesn't usually come across, and I end up bashing a fellow performer for what I'm sure was a very valiant effort. Oh well.
3) I try to find the bad and good performances within a similar context. If it's from a full production, then I grab the opposite from a full production. If it's for TV, if it's a concert, if it's a bootleg, I try to find something of similar quality. Again, this may not always be possible, but I do try.

Now the original Blog no longer exists, and since I'm here now in New York, I'd like to, if I may, (and I do may) ((I do may?)) recreate a post I did there. I have a couple new performances I want to deconstruct as well, so it's kind of a remix, if you will (and you do will) ((you do will!?)), and make this a weekly column.

The song is "Close Every Door" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
In case you weren't sure what "Technicolor" meant, we made sure to make it SHINY.
Sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers (in the Bible, your cruelest torturers are your family) Joseph laments his sad state of affairs in a prison cell, before finding the strength within himself to carry on. Oh, he can also accurately interpret dreams, so that helps a lot.

Now, it's hard to hate to Joseph as a musical, even if it is a Lloyd Webber production. It's also Tim Rice doing the lyrics, and while I love him, some of the lyrics he writes are unbelievably lame, and this show is just about the epitome of hokey. There's a cowboy number, a French cabaret number, an Elvis number, and a megamix for the curtain call. I've seen a production with every terrible accent imaginable. But, like I said, it's hard to hate this musical. First of all, you were most likely in the show, if you started theatre young. Second, it's 90 minutes long and has a children's chorus in it. It was practically made to be in every amateur junior youth theater league club all across the country ad nauseam.

Pros: This song I actually find to be one of the better numbers to come out of it. I think it's simple, straightforward, and could be a good showcase for someone's voice.
Cons: It verges on melodramatic, depending on who's singing it, and it's lengthened by a ridiculous retread of the chorus, made even more ridiculous again depending on how the actor chooses to perform it.

Now for the bad.
For those who don't know, there was a ridiculous reality competition in Britain called "Any Dream Will Do." It was set up like American Idol, except the winner became the Joseph for the new UK production. And before you think, "What an original idea!" it was a spin-off of the previous year's competition, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" which, you guessed it, chose the girl who would be playing Maria from Sound of Music. This spawned practically an entire generation of reality competitions choosing the next lead for a musical...
Legally Blonde loses for "Most Corny/Original Title Based on a Song from the Show"
All of these shows represent the bottom of the barrel of reality television for me. And remember, this is a genre that includes the likes of Jersey Shore, Joe Millionaire, Sweet 16, Dance Moms, Honey Boo Boo, and Scared Straight.

But it's hard to describe just how much of a trainwreck Any Dream Will Do in particular is.
Each Joseph was given their own "Coat of Many Colors" and when they were eliminated, they had to sing the song we're gonna talk about. I can't even begin to describe the weekly challenges.

Anyway, here's a couple of them.

This is Craig. Craig was eliminated 8th, out 12, which, if you know your reality competitions, means he was the last truly awful one.*
- Craig's breathing is way too shallow, and his tone is way too nasal, almost whiny. This is especially true as he gets into the final notes, which should be bigger, and he has no power behind them. They just get whinier and whinier, as his expression gets more pained.

And this is Lewis. Oh, Lewis. Poor, sweet Lewis. Look at that face. Lewis was eliminated third, and in reality competitions, that always means he made it much further than he should have.*
- Lewis also has much too thin of a voice for this role. He's really concentrating on those low notes, something difficult for less dramatic (toned) tenors.
- :26 - This riff up on 'light' makes no sense. It seems more like nerves than a choice.
- 1:11 - In order to set up for the final big notes, he cuts off 'promised' too soon, and then expectedly cracks on 'land', making me nervous for the final note, which he just barely holds on to.

*There is no way of verifying these claims.**
**...Because everyone on reality competitions are truly awful.

Now this one's not from that competition, but it's also a televised concert performance, and it defies all explanation from me. 

From what I understand, Philip Schofield is somewhat popular in the UK (I don't know, I didn't look him up much), but I do know he once recorded this song as a single, and this performance is from Royal Variety, which is a pretty big deal.
- The first thing I'm forced to point out is I don't know why he looks like Jesus, dressed as Peter Pan.
- The second thing I'm forced to point out is that Schofield is much older than the guy playing Joseph should be. He looks like an older guy trying to mask how old he is.
- Now, as for the performance itself, Schofield is trying much too hard. His facial expressions are so needlessly intense, and his low notes are so intensely whispered they become inaudible.
- :37 - Schofield's voice suddenly becomes an entirely different timbre. Now it's all in his face, he suddenly sounds nerdy and neurotic. There's no thru-line to his voice.
- 1:06 - The face on the end of Israel is probably one of the funniest faces made on a note I've ever seen.
- The rest of the performance is actually pretty respectable, it's just rather boring, and it's much of the same problems: he can't hit his lower notes, his facial expressions are wide and distracting, and some of his vowel modifications are wrong. Some British, but some are WRONG.

And finally, for some redemption. And perhaps from what some might feel is an odd source: Donny Osmond.
Even Donny Osmond thinks you're being funny.
No, but really. This is from the Royal Albert Hall celebration of Andrew Lloyd Webber (which, if I do another Lloyd Webber post, will most likely be featured again) and Osmond performs with a chorus of kids.

Truly, you have to see it to believe it. Fantastic, right? Some of my favorite parts:
- The beginning where he's asking the kids if they're ready is so hokey, but Osmond pulls it together in the next moment and is immediately invested in the song.
- :21 - 'Bar all the windows' showcases two things: Osmond is a more dramatic tenor, meaning he can cover those low notes that escape thinner tenors. Second, it shows the alignment in his voice that Schofield doesn't have. You can hear the correlation between his lower range and his upper range. Okay, I lied. There's a third thing. I prefer Osmond's phrasing over pretty much anyone else's. He makes 'Bar' and 'all' two separate words, as opposed to others, who would connect the 'r' sound.
- :49 - The build to 'important' as well the note itself is fantastic. Osmond's got a strong falsetto as well. The fade ending on 'live' is also lovely.
- 1:22 - The contrast of 'I shall find' to 'piece of mind' is perfect. 'Find' is strong, in a belt, and 'mind' is more restrained. It's just a taste of what Osmond is capable of later on.
- 2:21 - Osmond's phrasing for this whole line and the next are spot-on. He's on-beat for every syllable of 'For I know the answers lie' and then front-phrases for the rest.
- Osmond doesn't show the same strain as the other videos. He's completely at home in this range.
- 2:49 is a big note and Osmond lands on 'find' perfectly.
- 2:54 is a riff on 'mind' and is the only riff I can handle, and Osmond never overdoes it.
- 3:01 leads into the final notes. Again, Osmond nails each one perfectly.

 A spot-on performance by one of the greats. I leave you now with my favorite Osmond performance ever: