BWW Interview: IN TRANSIT's James Snyder Discusses Singing and His Upcoming Green Room Concert
Harold Rome's 1954 musical Fanny doesn't get performed very often these days. It has a lush romantic score that is truly worth hearing, so when New York's City Center performed it in 2010, there was considerable excitement in the theater community. Little did anyone know that they'd be treated to some exceptional singing by James Snyder who essayed the role of Marius in that limited run.
Snyder's two big numbers were "Restless Heart" and the title song. His renditions of both not only dazzled the audience but earned him enthusiastic ovations from the crowd. The show's original Fanny was none other than the beloved Florence Henderson and she attended one of the performances. While Snyder was singing, she was seen wiping tears from her eyes and said during intermission, "I've never heard such powerful singing in my life." This, was from the woman who stood beside the legendary William Tabbert while he sang those songs in the original production.l8
Snyder continued to impress audiences with his vocal prowess as Billy Bigelow in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel at the Goodspeed Opera House. Well-sung throughout the performance, Snyder soared when he stepped out on a dock over the the orchestra pit and launched into the famous "Soliloquy"-- virtually in the laps of the audience. It was a rendition that prompted William Hammerstein to write a letter to the actor and comment "My wife, seeing you sing 'Soliloquy' for the first time said to me, "I never saw anything so good.' I easily agreed."
It should be added that some of the intensity Snyder brought to that song was probably a result of learning he was about to become a father for the first time. Still, it resulted in some incredible singing.
Most recently James Snyder appeared in the cast of In Transit on Broadway at the Circle in the Square Theater. Prior to that he played opposite Idina Menzel in If/Then, both on Broadway and in the first legs of its national tour. In Transit was billed as Broadway's first a cappella musical and though it results in some novel and memorable vocal effects, it required substantial work from the cast--which not only performed the customary scenes and solos, but also provided accompaniment for others. It was a whole lot of singing. Over dinner, Snyder explained what it was like to be part of that novel show's cast.
Anyone who saw the show noticed that everyone on stage wore a special earpiece. "Those were in-ear monitors and a separate mixing board for us to be able to hear each other no matter where we were in the building," Snyder explained. "Because we were the orchestra, most of us had to sing almost all the time. That included during costume changes, set changes and transitions. There was so much going on backstage I felt we should have sold tickets to that part of the show."
He went on: "Our conductor, Rick Hip-Flores was connected as well, with a piano for all our starting pitches and a mic to count us in and out of songs as well as transitions. It was a bit crazy because there were basically 11 people in my head during the whole show." If that wasn't complex enough, the earpiece also included a "click track". "Rick set the tempo and then we were able to hear a click to keep us on that same tempo: a metronome, basically." As complicated as this sounds, it didn't hinder Snyder's vocalizing. His big number, "Broke" earned enthusiastic applause, as did his duet "But Ya Know".
Now the California native is offering to share the vocal techniques that have resulted in singing voice.
"When I booked Cry-Baby I felt I wouldn't be able to sing eight shows a week, so I called the person I thought had the best voice and that was Mary Gutzi--she did the national company of Cats, playing Grizabella--and explained the situation to her. She told me I had to go to Edward Sayegh and I did. I started studying with him twice a week to build my voice up enough to sing a rock score eight times a week At that point I had done Rock of Ages in LA and had done plenty of musical theater but not eight shows a week. One of Eddie's regular things was that every three months you do voice intensives for consecutive Wednesdays. Each one builds on the last one so that by the third week, your voice is better than it ever sounded. I felt these were important to bring to New York and I spoke to Eddie about it. Quite frankly, I asked him to teach me how to do this program because it was too good not to pass on. So, along with his help, I've created a three week series of voice intensives. I'm doing them online, and these will be on May 17th, 24th and 31st. There will be a Q and A session and lots of Broadway Stories. At the end of this series you will have the foundation needed to begin your journey to a Broadway-caliber voice." The cost is $80 per session or $225 for the whole series.
He continued: "It's not voice coaching and it's not a voice lesson. It's working your voice and getting those muscles and your body to make a resonant, full, healthy sound. It's almost like going to a personal trainer to work your voice. I taught this at Broadway Con a few months ago and they called it 'vocal Pilates' but I think that's a bad description of it because people think they'll have to take a bunch of lifts. It's not that physical. Anyone can do this. If you can do mild stretches, you're fine. If you can touch your toes or knees, you can do this. It's not anything that's impossible. Of course, I work modifiers into the whole thing."
Snyder believes these intensives were the greatest investment he could have made for his voice. "The exercises have been invaluable in creating the legit sound that I have. This approach comes from Eddie's years of study at the San Francisco Conservatory and have been very effective in helping popular singers as well as their operatic counterparts in forming their vocal techniques.
If this isn't enough, Snyder is giving a concert at The Green Room on May 21st at 7:30 PM. "I'm digging back into some of my legit works, as well as contemporary music. I'll also be performing some of my own stuff. All-in-all, it'll be the best of what I do. Did I mention that I'm going to do "Soliloquy" from Carousel?
Tickets for the concert are $30 and there's no food or beverage minimum. Snyder quickly adds, "There's no maximum, either!" The Green Room is located at 570 Tenth Avenue (42nd and 10th) and can be purchased at thegreenroom42.com.
Now, if we could only get a studio recording of Fanny, so we could enjoy the actor's renditions of "Restless Heart" and the title song over and over again...