Putting on a Show – Week Seven: The Breden Interrogation (Act Two)

The only update since last time is that we did a readthrough, and the words sound like words. So that’s nice. The last five “questions” from Will Breden to myself concerning music and musicals and such:

Harmonies and reprises – musical integration as a structural device

One of the cleverest songs in musical theatre is Edelweiss. Not only does it successfully trick most people into thinking it’s a real folk song, it also provides the emotional structure of the show. By repeating it throughout, and changing who’s singing it and when, the meaning of the song develops, changes and grows. Another musical that uses reprises well is Les Miserables – by repeating tunes throughout the night, the whole night is tied together, and you’re not faced with the shock of the new song, which is one of the things that can make it difficult to get into the story of the show.

Therefore, I am passing off my limited musical language as repetition, that’s helpful for the story. If the songs are too unfamiliar, people concentrate on the tunes rather than the tales, and that’s a bad thing. Plus, the uke is far too perky not to do simple repeaty songs, so yeah.

Establishing character through song

I like to use musical styles that suit the character. Melvin’s solos are more rocky than musical theatre, but Caroline has a pointedly musical theatre solo because that’s the sort of person she is. Further, the words have to be words the character would use – which allows you to show more of the vocabulary that the character uses through exciting rhyme, and such. Finally, it’s a general formal thing in musicals that songs reveal the character’s deeper thoughts, and we extend that by having songs that make it obvious when they’re lying.

Nando’s is a portable musical – can be performed on a stage or in a front room. Comment and challenges musically

Well, this is something we’re going to push against the edges of in rehearsal. However, I reckon the show’s word-focused enough that it could even work as a radio play – and besides, many cast recordings are entertaining as documents in themselves, so it may be a relatively unexplored facet of the musical form that you don’t need all the showbizzyness. Obviously, without visual accompaniment the songs really need to stand up (and there are a couple of songs that aren’t that interesting without being staged), but I like that we have a core that’s interesting enough without glitz, so when we do get a chance to add glitz it’ll be bonus goodness rather than substituting for story.

What has the process taught you about composition?

That I can do it? I’ve never written a lot of music, but given a deadline and a specific (tight) direction to work in, turns out I mostly can. I’ve stumbled across areas in which I can improve, the stuff I’m good at, and that my songs mostly don’t make people’s ears bleed (even if my demos do). Lastly, I’ve been working with an extremely limited palette, so it’s made me keen to make some more diverse music.

What next?

Probably, replacing a few of the songs in Nando’s with better ones. Also, orchestrating them properly, since a couple do need more than a bit of uke, but I’m gonna force Olivia Deane to help me with that.

This is the first time I’ve written a whole batch of songs, so I’m toying with the idea of writing a whole batch of songs for myself rather than a musical. But I have friends who are talented at that sort of thing, so we’ll have to see.

I also want to form the ensemble into a covers band, that only performs the seminal album Return of the Rentals, but this plan seems unlikely to work out.