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BWW Blog: Bob Marks - Know Genres and Subgenres 

When you first start digging into the vast array of musical theatre styles and genres out there, it can be pretty overwhelming. However, don't let this trepidation stop you from jumping in with both feet. You will be amazed with the help of all the great Broadway documentaries and archived recordings available on the Internet how easy it can be to immerse yourself in these classic scores, and immerse you must. Broadway music is traditionally very self-referential, and directors expect working actors to understand basic tropes like the Act I "what do I want" ballad or the eleven o'clock gospel number. Trust me, you don't want to be the only chorus member in Urinetown to miss that "Snuff that Girl" is an affectionate tribute to "Cool" in West Side Story.

There are three basic influences on how a show's music sounds: 1) the time period it was actually written, 2) the time period of the show's plot, and 3) the year a production of the show is produced. If you listen carefully, there is almost always evidence of all three of these factors evident in musical scores. Nowadays, for example, it's very common that revivals of legitimate, Golden Age musicals (shows originally produced on Broadway between 1945-1964) are sung in slightly lower keys and with a more mixed registration to better match the "hip" sound of today.

As a guideline, the time period of an audition song is generally determined by its style, not the date it was actually written. For example, there are two great nostalgic musicals written in the 21st century, Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Drowsy Chaperone, both of which feature scores that sound like they came straight out of the 1920s. In the majority of cases, you can absolutely use these pieces to audition for shows from the period they represent based on stylistic factors. However, you really want to be careful that you understand those styles fully; there are songs in Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party that sound just like they are from the 1920s, but others that sound much like the year 2000, the year the show was produced Off-Broadway. It all depends on the specific song that you choose.

At present, casting calls for certain musicals (Rent being the first to come to mind) specifically ask for a "non-Broadway" songs. Depending on the style of the show, you'll want to look into material sung by pop performers who have a vocal range and style similar to the requirements of the show. Some of my clients have have had good luck with the songs of Billy Joel, Elton John, Paul Simon, Anita Baker, Tina Turner, Joan Osborne, Selena, and Alanis Morrisette. The possibilities are endless, and it becomes more and more important for the singer to develop a sense of appropriate style in addition to learning healthy technique.

Noted vocal coach Bob Marks specializes in helping singers showcase their talents to their best possible advantage. He is in the process of writing a new book (with Elizabeth Gerbi) about auditioning for musical theatre. Until the book is published, is pleased to offer weekly bits of audition advice. Please feel free to submit any specific questions you'd like to have answered in these blogs.

Bob Marks maintains a busy vocal studio in New York City, working with performers of all ages and levels of experience. He also teaches performance workshops throughout the US and Europe. He was a pianist with the original Broadway production of Annie, and spent two seasons as the Associate Conductor of the St. Louis Muny Opera. For several years, he was the host and musical director of the acclaimed Youngstars performances of professional children in New York City. His well-known clients have included cast members of almost every current musical on Broadway, and stars such as Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, Natalie Portman, Laura Bell Bundy, Constantine Maroules, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Debbie Gibson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He holds a degree in speech pathology, and has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Professional Development Program for the New York Singing Teachers' Association, and at Nashville's Belmont University as a special guest artist. As a vocal coach, his clientele ranges from beginners to Broadway cast members, as well as singers of cabaret and pop music. He is an expert in helping performers present themselves to their best advantage in auditions and onstage.

Elizabeth Gerbi, currently a Visiting Lecturer of Music Theater at American University in Washington D.C., is well known across the Northeast as a singing teacher, voice coach, choral conductor, and music director/pianist (150+ productions). As a singer-actor, she has appeared in regional productions ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to I Pagliacci to The Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Recent projects include musical directing The Chris Betz Show at Rose's Turn and The Sage Theatre in NYC, Side Show and Tommy at Westchester Broadway Theatre, The Sound of Music at the Wagon Wheel Theatre of Warsaw, Indiana, conducting Dreamgirls and Seussical at Debaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ, adapting Starmites 2000 with Broadway composer Barry Keating, and accompanying master classes for Broadway veterans Ken Jennings, Lindsay Mendez, and Lisa Howard. She is also a former consultant for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Music Library, and currently serves as a both New York State School Music Association Solo Adjudicator and a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She attended Ithaca College (Bachelor's of Music in Voice Performance and Music Education) is a Level-III graduate in Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Methodô, and completed a Master's in Music Education from Boston University.

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