Banal Musical Theatre

Dear Leontine,

I am feeling a little lost as to which career path I should take. I trained in musical theatre but I find myself not enjoying many productions I see, and feel as if it has all become very commercial. I don’t know how to fit into the industry I see out there and don’t know what step to take next. I do love musical theatre, just not most of what I currently see.


Dear Claudia,

I tend to agree with you – my personal opinion is that musical theatre needs a revolution.

It needs young producers working on productions with rich, meaningful text and great music.

It needs writers who don’t patronize the genre but write as if they were writing a great play.

Sondheim does it, Adam Guettel does it – not surprisingly given that he is the grandson of Richard Rogers of the great Rogers and Hammerstein.

There is so much brilliant material; Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Gershwin, Harold Arlen and many, many others, including modern writers.

Material that is unsentimental – not full of clichés.

Sondheim writes lyrics I could quite happily pin up on the wall and read to make a little more sense of the world.

That is how lyrics should be. And yet, so many lyricists these days have not really learned their craft.

I run a pre-production studio where we are constantly sent new musical theatre with lyrics that are meaningless, mundane, rhyme in the most obvious way where rhyme serves the purpose of rhyme alone rather than meaning…I find it all very frustrating.

So my personal opinion is if you don’t like what you see/hear, create your own.

How to get started on this? I would suggest that the first step is to spend a few weeks researching the music and the artists and directors you are passionate about.

As a singer it is so important to think as an artist would, as this sets you apart from hundreds of singers who are not discerning, and mainly sing to be seen and heard.

I believe that singers should embrace music in the same way instrumentalists do.

If you speak to a pianist, they will tell you exactly who their favourite pianists, composers and conductors are.

Go on a journey and discover what you passionately want to perform and what sort of performer you want to be.

Once you have discovered this, aim low and deliver high results.

Plan a concert or a cabaret. Plan the programme with intelligence, knowledge of the genre and with your business head on.

You need to get ‘bums on seats’. What can you perform that will achieve this? Why should people pay to hear you? What will you deliver that earns you the right to sell out a concert?

Get together with fellow singers and musicians and discuss ideas and projects. Here at the Advanced Performers Studio, singers and actors are constantly giving birth to new projects just by meeting and exchanging and sharing.

I have seen so many productions start on a small scale which, if they work, develop into fantastic projects that provides a real future for the performers involved, and also gives them a chance to be seen by other industry professionals which, in turn, leads to more work.

I work with so many singers, and it is the pro-active, creative ones who are always busy and going from strength to strength.

As in any work there will always be some jobs that are not perfect.

In the commercial world of musical theatre there is some awful stuff but also some really great productions.

Keep going, engage, clock up as many hours of performance as you can and allow yourself to fail so that you can succeed.


Leontine Hass
Director, The Advanced Performers Studio
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