Not so Miserables
The college audition season is almost upon us, and after seeing the movie version of Les Misérables, I can't think of a better time to talk about acting and musical theatre. Whether you liked the film version of Les Miz or not, there can be little argument about where the filmmakers stood in terms of acting versus singing. There were countless articles and interviews (HBO, 60 Minutes, the New York Times, and All Things Considered) in which Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, or Russell Crowe talked about how they sang to piano accompaniment in an ear monitor so they could focus on their acting. The results are obvious. Yes, far better tenors than Eddie Redmayne have tackled the role of Marius. And Russell Crowe's singing as Javert leaves much to be desired. But both offered up more than a fair share of memorable acting moments. Anne Hathaway reportedly earns spontaneous applause in cineplexes all over the country after her extended close-up solo of "I Dreamed a Dream."(I was clapping!) Then there's Hugh Jackman. Though nowhere near the singer that the incomparable Colm Wilkinson was and is, he still managed to be profoundly moving even as he carried the entire film on his shoulders. In case you've been riding on the idea that singing is all you need for musical theatre, let the movie version of my favorite musical be your wake-up call.
Now here's a little tip. I have been watching musical theatre auditions at the University of Miami for almost twenty-years now, and as with all top-tier schools, we see scores of great singers every season. But the students who get into the best programs are the ones who can really act a song as well as sing it. Today's musicals demand it, and today's audiences expect to see it—even in revivals of old fluff. So be sure you treat your singing audition no differently than you would your acting monologue. Lyric by lyric, phrase by phrase, measure by measure, there is acting gold to be found there.
In the final analysis, Anne Hathaway may not have the singing chops of Judy Kuhn or Patti Lapone, but I can't imagine a more moving Fantine. And Hugh Jackman does not have the angelic voice of Colm Wilkinson (who does, for goodness sakes), but by the time he sang his name, Jean Valjean, at the denouement of the movie, he owned the role—and me. So maybe you're not a Colm Wilkinson and never will be. But being a Hugh Jackman ain't so bad, in my opinion.