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Accents/ dialects on Broadway

Pasdechat
Chorus Member
joined:4/17/14
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 01:45pm
What do you think about the use of accents on Broadway? Are they necessary at all? For example, the accents used by Michael Cerveris (who I otherwise value highly!) in EVITA just seemed to consist of rolling R's and did not sound remotely "Argentinian" to my ears (if so, he would have had to copy Elena's true accent). Also, I understand as an audience member that the show is set in Argentinia so everybody IS Argentinian. However, all the other actors did not try to use the accent. I think he should have dropped the accent altogether. I also dislike if accents are done really poorly, think pseudo-puertorican in many West Side Story productions.
Also, I'm not sure if it is absolutely necessary for the story to use those accents in MATILDA, however charming they are.
Right now, the only example PRO accent/ dialect I can think of right now would be along the likes of MY FAIR LADY.
What is your opinion?
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valeposh
Understudy
joined:11/5/13
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 02:25pm
I adore Bridges and Kelli O'Hara, but her Italian accent sounds more like Russian/Eastern Europe. And being Italian myself, I can say that. The Italian accents in The Light in the Piazza were way better.
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Wilmingtom
Broadway Legend
joined:7/18/11
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 02:41pm
Welcome to BWW. Accents are appropriate and necessary to establish the world in which the story takes place. Steel Magnolias wants Southern accents. However, if a play is set in a foreign country where the reality is that they'd be speaking the language of the land, like Evita, it makes no sense to use accents. Can you imagine a German production of, say, Oklahoma! where they speak German with American accents? Ridiculous. No Russian accents for Fiddler or Chekhov, but yes, British accents for My Fair Lady and The Importance of Being Ernest if you're presenting them to an English speaking audience. You do want consistency which is known as Standard English. You don't want one character in Fiddler sounding like they're from Baton Rouge and another as if from Chicago. But please, no Swedish accents for a Little Night Music.
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 02:48pm
You bring up a very good point. I think sometimes it has to be about characterization.

For example, I recently watched the Paul Newman version of Our Town. They were all using New England accents and I had trouble with it. It made the women sound very harsh and separated me from the small town feeling of the piece. Jane Curtin's accent was downright hilarious. She sounded like she went to the Damon Runyon School of Dialects. Yet it was very effectively used by Stephen Spinella for the Simon Stimson character.

I remember the 80s version of The House Of Blue Leaves. Christine Baranski was working with a Queens accent and it worked very well for her character because it added humor. Swoosie Kurtz didn't use a pronounced Queens accent and that worked well for her character because her character needed to be more gentle and not as harsh as Baranski's.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
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Rainbowhigh23
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/12
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 02:51pm
Les Miserables is about French people but many of the actors in the English versions use Cockney accents. My cousin pointed out that it may be due to Cockney being an accent of the lower class in England. Thenardier sounds wonderful when he sounds like he's from the East End.



Updated On: 4/17/14 at 02:51 PM
Wilmingtom
Broadway Legend
joined:7/18/11
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:00pm
But Thenardier is *not* from the East End so why is it wonderful?

Like most things, an accent only works if well done and consistent. And there can be exceptions. For instance, your show is set in the south and one actor can't master the accent. Is it a plot point that the character grew up there? If not, don't sweat it.

Updated On: 4/17/14 at 03:00 PM
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:05pm
"For instance, your show is set in the south and one actor can't master the accent."

I always cringe at Southern accents. Actors always want to make them big and overpronounced. People in Texas do not have the same accent as people in Alabama.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
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Rainbowhigh23
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/12
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:08pm
"But Thenardier is *not* from the East End so why is it wonderful?"

The accent works for his character. I agree that it doesn't make sense given he's French.


Updated On: 4/17/14 at 03:08 PM
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StageManager2
Broadway Legend
joined:10/21/05
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:18pm
Speaking of Evita, BOb Gunton's rolling R's in the Premiere American Recording grates on my nerves. I've noticed when English-speakers try to emulate a Spanish accent, they merely roll their R's (or try to) and it comes out sounding weird. At least to us native Spanish speakers who have relatives with thick accents and thus know what a Spanish-speaking person speaking English truly sounds like.

The 1999 Evita tour tried to be "authentic" by hiring Latino actors in the main roles and then having the entire company try to pronounce certain words the Spanish way, "A New Arr-hen-teena" or "Don't Cry for Me Arr-hen-teena" for example. It was annoying. Argentina in English is pronounced Ar-gent-eena. No need to pronounce it any other way if you're singing in English.

IMO, the West SIde Story film is a travesty in some ways because of the forced rolling R's and the way they grouped every Spanish stereotype. For instance, they have the Puerto Rican characters say "ˇÁndale!" which is a Mexican interjection, and at the end of "America" they all shout in unison "ˇOlé!" which is Spaniard. That would be like, say, Spain making a film about Americans but having them say things like "Mate" or "Crikey!" Americans, Australians, and Brits may all speak English, but they have their own accents and slang. Likewise, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Spain are not one and the same.
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra
Salve, Salve Regina
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Eva
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
O clemens O pia
Pasdechat
Chorus Member
joined:4/17/14
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:19pm
Concerning LES MIZ: but then again, even though it doesn't make sense, I agree with you that it is a clever linguistic choice for the English production! As opposed to the French accent of Mme Giry in Love Never Dies whereas the rest of the cast speaks accent-free, despite of being French, too ( and not having emigrated years ago...)

Updated On: 4/17/14 at 03:19 PM
Wilmingtom
Broadway Legend
joined:7/18/11
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:23pm
Goth, I hear you. British can also be all over the map. Specificity is all. Every actor and director should own Bob Blumenfeld's great book, Accents: A Manual for Actors, which includes two CDs. Although most actors aren't facile enough to nail down the neighborhood the character is from in, say, St. Louis (Meryl Street excepted), that's usually not necessary. An exception might be the notable dialect of the Southie area of Boston in something like Good People, where the specific neighborhood is a plot point. But the actors have to be on the same page.
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:30pm
In reality, people living in the same community can speak differently. My mother was raised in the South, so I always pronounced some words the way she did even though I was raised in New York.

One of my teachers laughed at me because I said "puh-tay-tuh" like my mother always said it rather than "po-tay-to".
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
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Rainbowhigh23
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/12
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:30pm
Re the movie of West Side Story - there's a scene where one of the Jets are making fun of Puerto Ricans and says, "I'm drownin' in tamales!"
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NotTheComfyChair
Chorus Member
joined:3/19/13
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 03:52pm
Any play that is set in a specific location, or has a character from a specific place, should attempt the accents. If the playwright has done their job, the lines will have been composed with the rhythms of the accent as a guide. I use the example of Streetcar. A Streetcar set in New Orleans with New York or General American accents just wouldn't work - or at least as well. A Chekov adapted Stoppard would work best with British Accents. I'm not saying that to go another way is wrong but you run a risk of losing some of the impact.

Footnote off the OP topic. I am asked about accent learning books a lot and I don't recommend Blumenfeld. I couldn't get on with them at all, and I have experience in the field. A very few people I've worked with like them, most find them too difficult to get into.
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artscallion
Broadway Legend
joined:5/15/07
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 04:22pm
The 2005 London and subsequent 2008 Broadway revival used various British accents to demonstrate the various classes of the characters, despite the fact that most of the characters were French. The one exception being "Mr & Mrs", the American couple who had exaggerated Southern accents.

It worked because it was consistent and had some logic to it. I think that is the most important thing, not some rule about how accents should or shouldn't be. Every show is different. It just needs to be consistent and make sense.

Art has a double face, of expression and illusion.
Updated On: 4/17/14 at 04:22 PM
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StageManager2
Broadway Legend
joined:10/21/05
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 06:09pm
What show are you referring to, artscallion?
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra
Salve, Salve Regina
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Eva
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
O clemens O pia
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artscallion
Broadway Legend
joined:5/15/07
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 06:58pm
oops! Sorry. Sunday in the Park with George.
Art has a double face, of expression and illusion.
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AHLiebross
Stand-by
joined:10/22/13
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 07:19pm
I agree that characters speaking English should try to use the correct accent or regional dialect. I also agree that it makes little sense for a character supposedly speaking French to use a French accent. However, I like the idea of using a Cockney accent for a character who is supposed to be poor and uneducated. In English-language theater, a Cockney accent has almost become a convention to stand in for poor pronunciation and grammar in another language -- the reason that I think it works for the Thenardiers. Eponine may have mastered correct speech in her attempts to move up, which may be why Eponine does not usually speak that way. Fantine should probably have a Cockney accent, to be consistent, as should JVJ in the beginning. OTOH, I often can't tell an accent in song.

MY FAIR LADY is the obvious show where accents matter. However, there are others where pieces of stage business depend upon pronunciation. In POTO, Piangi has problems with the word "Rome," pronouncing it "Roma," because of his Italian accent. I used to get annoyed with this admittedly funny segment because I doubt the French say "Rome." Finally, I justified the whole thing to myself by concluding that the fictitious opera "Hannibal" by the fictitious French composer Chalumeau, has an English libretto.

I read an amusing critique of the 2004 POTO movie where the writer complained that there would be no reason for a French character to speak French with a British accent, as most of the folks in POTO do in the movie, and sometimes on Broadway. However, almost everyone in the cast was British, except Patrick Wilson and Emmy Rossum. If they decided to use British inflections and pronunciations, it was probably for consistency. (Miranda Richardson affected a French accent).

The most famous accent choice in motion picture history is probably Clark Gable's refusal in GWTW to speak with a Georgia or South Carolina accent. Apparently, he did not want the role of Rhett Butler and thought that his refusal to speak in a Southern accent would prevent his being cast. As it turned out, most of the cast used their native British accents, except for the few occasions when Vivian Leigh seemed to remember she was supposed to be from Georgia.
Audrey, the Phantom Phanatic, who nonetheless would rather be Jean Valjean, who knew how to make lemonade out of lemons.
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StageManager2
Broadway Legend
joined:10/21/05
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 09:48pm
At least, Leigh attempted a Southern accent. Leslie Howard didn't even try. He sleepwalked through the whole thing. I hate his performance because it's clear that he didn't want to do it and was just phoning it in. Plus, he was 20 years too old for the part, and he wasn't handsome. Ashley's supposed to be dreamy and debonair.

AHLiebross, the French pronounce "Rome" kinda like "rum."
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiae
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra
Salve, Salve Regina
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Eva
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
O clemens O pia
DrewBill
Stand-by
joined:4/22/08
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 10:22pm
I actually think there were interesting accent "choices" in Stephen Frears' 1988 film "Dangerous Liaisons." All of the aristocratic characters spoke in their native American accents (Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfiffer, Uma Thurman, Swoosie Kurtz, etc.), while the servants spoke with English/Scottish/Vaguely European accents. Given the casting, I think it was a clever solution.
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HogansHero
Leading Actor
joined:2/26/12
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 4/17/14 at 10:55pm
re "characters speaking English should try to use the correct accent or regional dialect." Actually, no you don't. As rehearsed in some posts above, it is about communicating the essence of the character in the most effective way possible-not verisimilitude. Accuracy is important in a production being seen by people for whom it makes a difference, but otherwise it is a huge impediment. Thus, Jersey Boys has to be very careful with its accents, because the audience includes lots of folks who know whereof the actors speak. But there are many UK accents that are completely impossible to understand in the US, and even more conventional British accents are commonly toned down on transfers from London.
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henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 5/5/14 at 09:58pm
"I adore Bridges and Kelli O'Hara, but her Italian accent sounds more like Russian/Eastern Europe. And being Italian myself, I can say that. The Italian accents in The Light in the Piazza were way better."

Funny it's not O'Hara's Italian accent I have a problem with. It's the Iowa accents in the show. It's as if no one bothered to mention to the cast that Iowa is in the Mid West; the accent is Northern Midland, not Southern Midland. There's a huge difference.
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darreyl102
Broadway Legend
joined:8/23/08
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 5/5/14 at 10:26pm
i remember seeing Hairspray in London, and finding it weird hearing some of the cast with English accents, event though the show takes place in Baltimore.

Seeing Priscilla QOTD in London, most of the cast sounded English too, not Australian.

It's an interesting point about accents and should they be there or not, and one I have mixed feelings about.
Darreyl with an L!
Updated On: 5/5/14 at 10:26 PM
nasty_khakis
Broadway Legend
joined:3/15/07
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 5/5/14 at 10:35pm
I just saw Good People on the West End and I personally found their Southie accents very distracting. I'm hardly an expert but at times they sounded more generic "New Yawk" than Boston. In fact, the ladies behind me kept talking about how they wished they knew more about Brooklyn so they'd understand it more. I finally had to turn around and talk to them about how it's supposed to be Boston.

Urinetown was also guilty of bad/generic New York accents. But that show could take place anywhere, technically so they just used them to convey class and essence of a character.
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ljay889
Broadway Legend
joined:8/4/04
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 5/5/14 at 11:44pm
I'd have to agree that O'Hara's accent is not great. It sounds pretty good on the cast recording, but during the show, It sounded Irish (at times). There's really nothing remotely italian about Kelli O'HARA, but somehow she pull it off and delivers a stunning performance.
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henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
Accents/ dialects on Broadway
Posted: 5/6/14 at 08:26am
Just to be clear I haven't seen the show yet and was basing my opinion on the cast recording.

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