Song Insights: 'Getting Married Today', COMPANY
Bless this day in our hearts, as it starts... a brand new BroadwayWorld series!
Ever wanted to know how your favourite songs come together? Each weekend, our Song Insights will dissect an iconic number from London's biggest shows with the creatives and casts themselves.
This month we're celebrating the songs of Sondheim and Company. What better way to kick things off than with "a great actor/director/conductor challenge", in the words of conductor and Musical Director himself Joel Fram: "Getting Married Today".
Thinking back to rehearsals, Joel reveals how they approached that song, as we too revisit our chat with Jonny Bailey and Alex Gaumond in rehearsals. (FYI, we're still waiting on that words per second sing off!)
Joel Fram: You might think "Getting Married Today" is a show piece purely in terms of speed: "Look how fast I can sing it and still get all the words - and all the notes (it is a Stephen Sondheim musical, after all) - in the right order!"
But as impressive as that is, that's not really quite enough. Making the piece funny and human and anxious and warm (and still observing the right notes) - that's the challenge.
Particularly for a song this fast, it's important to learn the music very slowly, which takes a great deal of self-discipline and patience. Before we got even remotely close to deciding what the tempo was going to be in performance, Jonny [Bailey] had to nail down what I like to call the 'topography' of the melody - the exact musical patterns of up and down, back and forth that Sondheim uses to build the song.
Is this your first time performing Sondheim?
Jonathan Bailey: Yes.
And you're taking on one of the quickest, wordiest, Sondheim-iest songs ever, "Getting Married Today"!
Jonathan Bailey: Yes! Approaching that, it's just so specific. It's all about very clear thoughts, very quickly. As an actor, it's an absolute dream. It's a technical challenge, but it's discipline. It takes ages to work out what you want to do with it. But once you do, you just solidify and drill, drill, drill.
So having done more plays recently, I'm really enjoying that discipline. But it is terrifying!
Have you performed anything fast-paced before?
Jonathan Bailey: No. In fact, I've always thought that there are actors who can talk very quickly and effectively. And I've never felt that I'm in that category!
Alex Gaumond: But you do talk really quickly as a person! That's one of the things Patti always says about you, "Jonny, I can't understand you. You talk too fast!"
Jonathan Bailey: "You speak faster than a New Yorker!"
Joel Fram: So back then - we were still rehearsing at this slower tempo. Then the next layer is added. Marianne and Jonny explored those "clear thoughts" and where each acting beat changes - and with a character this articulate and this anxious, those beat changes come fast and furious.
It's easy to make a general acting choice across several bars of music, or to play your next choice a crotchet or two after the lyric. But Marianne insisted specific changes happened on a specific lyric, which often came in tricky musical places - particularly as the song gathered speed.
Jonny rehearsed each change so carefully - and Marianne always called him out if he missed one or it registered late - but now when he performs it during the show, it's like a very sharp kaleidoscope of emotions. And it brings the house down.
You know, to me this is not a character that is completely out of control. Jamie is smart, incredibly articulate and very funny - so the notion of being "out of control" isn't necessarily appropriate character-wise - or tempo-wise, for that matter.
It's rapid, it's anxious, it flits quickly from one thought to the other. And there is definitely a journey to the song, an increase in hysteria that builds as the pressure mounts and Jamie is repeatedly confronted by a singing Priest, his affectionate boyfriend, and some very insistent wedding guests.
So what's going in your couple's world, Jamie and Paul?
Alex Gaumond: They're about to get married and Paul is very happy to get married, he's thrilled about that and calm and together. And Jamie...
Jonathan Bailey: Is having a panic attack!
Alex Gaumond: Hence the really fast song.
Jonathan Bailey: Yes. And it's all about whether you can be loved and allowing yourself to be loved.
But the interesting thing about this production is it's all very much in Bobbie's head. I think she's essentially having a panic attack in her own head. Our production in theory exists in real time in about 20 seconds, so it's viscerally vivid in a way that extreme personal and lonely thoughts can be.
I think it's really going to work, the idea of the pressure that society puts on relationships and you yourself do, and then what it is to be an individual.
Joel Fram: Ultimately we were looking for a tempo that gave the audience that sense of anxiety for Jamie, that sense of almost being out of control that Jamie feels.
But it has to be grounded enough so that Jonny knows he can take a breath when he needs one - because often he is getting through 16 or even 32 bars in a single breath.
So I think of it like a high-speed train: it has a disciplined energy and drive, aiming for an exact destination.
But it's not a runaway train: it knows where it's going - it's always on the track - and yet you still get the excitement of the taking those high-speed curves along the way.
Talking patter songs, have either of you seen Hamilton ? Apparently, "Guns and Ships" is 6.3 words/second.
Alex Gaumond: What are we at?
Company's "Getting Married Today": 6.2 words/second.
Jonathan Bailey: Oh, that's so annoying!
Alex Gaumond: ...but you're faster.
Jonathan Bailey: Yes, they don't know the speed I'm going to be doing it at! I'm going to be doing it the fastest it's ever been done.
Alex Gaumond: Those stats, they must be on the tempo of the OBC. But they don't know what tempo we're going to be doing it at.
We'll have to have you come back, pit you guys against the current Hamilton London cast!
Jonathan Bailey: Challenge accepted!
There's the musical director [Joel Fram], sitting across the cafe. I'm going to be like, "We have to beat Guns and Ships". That's 100% what we're going to do!
Photo credit: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg, Helen Maybanks