Show business is tough. No one’s denying that. But people tend to say things about performing and Broadway sometimes which just strike me as a bit off. So, without further ado, I’m going to be addressing the issues I have with four common Broadway misconceptions.
Getting on Broadway is about being the most talented.
It is. But there’s so much more than that. It’s about checking the boxes.
Broadway isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ deal. The casting director will have specific – sometimes very specific – preconceptions about what they want and who they want for it. You could put a fresh new spin on old material, and yes, even if you can belt a high A like nobody’s business, sometimes that’s just not what they’re looking for. Maybe they specifically want someone of a certain race (a practice I despise, but that’s beside the point) for the role, or maybe they want the entire ensemble to have a particular ‘look’. Maybe they’re trying to find a replacement for an outgoing actor and they don’t want to pay to re-fit the costume (I’ve actually spoken to a Broadway actor who said that they got turned down at final callbacks for one show, then got cast for the very next show they auditioned for, both for that very reason). If you don’t fit what they already have, both metaphorically and literally, even if you’re a just as (or more) talented actor, singer, or dancer as those waiting in the audition room behind you, you might not get the part. It’s just showbiz.
Changing the key is taboo.
Yes, I know no one ever wants to tell their director that they want to change the key for fear of derision and scorn. But sometimes, it really is necessary – and not only that, it can help so, so much. I will admit that songs are often written with a specific key in mind – different keys do sometimes convey different emotions simply by way of the ‘sound’ they produce, something I’m sure those with perfect pitch often sense either consciously or unconsciously. But I say changing the key doesn’t ruin a song - it just lets a performer put their all into their performance in a way the original key wouldn’t have allowed them to. In Legally Blonde, the key for the ending of So Much Better has been lowered three full times since the first demo recording – originally written in A major, the song was first shifted down to the original Broadway key of G major then all the way down to F-major for all subsequent professional productions (as licensed by MTI). And yet, the sheer power of the song hasn’t been changed at all – most people, quite frankly, haven’t noticed, and I for one am continually impressed by the blonde belters who pull off the number with pizazz. During his tenure in Newsies, Dan Deluca had the key of Something to Believe In shifted down a step from G major down to F major, a key change allowed him to pull off one of the most romantic performances of the song I’ve ever seen.
The lead performer is always the best in the cast.
This one goes along the same lines as the first one about being the most talented. The lead might not have the best voice or acting chops in the cast, but they might have the best work ethic or, dare I say it, the star power and appeal to draw audiences to a show (yes, I’m talking about stunt casting), all things essential to a show’s financial success as a business. In other words, they just happened to tick the right boxes. But that in no way diminishes the talent of the rest of the cast. The supporting character might not have the high G in their repertoire that the lead does and which might be necessary for a certain role, but given the chance maybe they too could make a full audience cry on cue. The understudy might be an up-and-coming talent who simply doesn’t have yet the resume of the established lead actor (Jeremy Jordan, known for his Bonnie & Clyde and his Newsies exploits but lesser well known as a former understudy for the role of Tony in West Side Story on Broadway, comes to mind). Suffice it to say that someone having top billing in a show’s Playbill doesn’t equate to them being the best in the cast
The best performers are those that never fail.
For this last one, I think the following saying conveys my thoughts better than anything else: “Don’t judge a blooper reel by a highlight reel’s standards.” You might have seen a star deliver moving performance after moving performance to an enthralled crowd of thousands leaping to a standing ovation. But you probably haven’t seen them cry after being turned down for the part again or rip up their sheet music in frustration after the tenth vocal crack of the day on that one high note (Laura Bell Bundy in Legally Blonde comes to mind – not vocal cracks specifically, but you can tell from recordings she struggled at times with the ending note in “So Much Better”, even if the rest of the performance was good enough that you were too distracted to notice when she took a breath in the MTV recording of the show). You probably haven’t seen them shudder with nerves in front of an opening night crowd or fall in rehearsal three times in a row. And I know for a fact that some of the best performers in the world have done these very things. Why? Because the best performers aren’t those who never fail. Those don’t exist. The best performers are those who work through and work with their failures, using them to make themselves better and more consistent as performers and stronger as people.