Actors As Musicians - Is The Face of Musical Theater Changing? Is the face of musical theater changing? Do professional musical theater actors need to be singers, dancers, actors and musicians? Is a theater revolution at hand? Judging by what has occurred within the last few years on Broadway and in London, the answer appears to be more and more, a yes. Attention began to be paid to this concept of actor - musicians here in America, in 2006, with the Broadway revival of Steven Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" at the Eugene O'Neill Theater. For Broadway, the staging of this well-known musical in such a way, was a new one. John Doyle, the acclaimed British director, came to New York to illustrate his conception of "Sweeney Todd", with the orchestral score performed by the actors. Doyle will be the first to admit that actors playing the musical score have been done before and that his employment of this technique is not an original thought. "It's not a gimmick or a concept - it's an alternative approach.” he declared, in a recent interview. He explains that not every piece of work can be adapted this way and, it was during the 1980's and 1990's, when theaters were desperate for cash that actor as musicians became a necessity of invention. Doyle had been a regional theater director for years and realized that if he wanted to do a big musical, he needed to do a show without the expense of a large orchestra. This was the impetus for using actors that could sing, dance, act, and play instruments, too. The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, England was where Doyle perfected his interpretation of this concept. The Watermill
is spatially challenged and faced economic challenges, at the time. Doyle's "approach" to "Sweeney Todd" at that theater, was highly acclaimed and following its run there, moved first to London's West End at Trafalgar Studios and then the New Ambassadors Theatre. From London it went to Broadway. Thus, began what many consider to be the salvation of Broadway...a cost effective means to produce musicals. Additionally, it may have been the beginning of the need for more actors who are trained as "quadruple" threats, those who can sing, dance, act, and play a musical instrument. Certainly, those who have acquired all four skills will be at an advantage in gaining employment, should this style of theater continue to grow. How many Broadway and West End shows have been produced since the inception of "Sweeney Todd" with the actor-musician at the Watermill? You may be surprised to find out. Following Doyle winning a Broadway Tony Award for Best Director of a Revival for "Sweeney Todd", he went on to direct a Broadway revival of "Company". It received the Tony Award for Best Musical Revival before closing in July, 2007. Doyle just recently returned to the Watermill Theatre, in Newbury, to direct another Sondheim classic, "Merrily We Roll Along". The Watermill, has also recently presented an actor-musician version of "Honk". "Mack and Mabel" a Jerry Herman Musical, was revived in England in 2005 and toured before playing at the West End's Criterion Theatre from April to July 2006. Regional Theater and National Tour productions have also been effected by this new trend. Currently, in the United States there is a national tour of "Sweeney Todd" which is based on John Doyle's Broadway revival conception. Watch, also, for those lesser known shows that were originally conceived with actor-musicians in mind. These include "Buddy" - The Buddy Holly Story and "Pump Boys and Dinettes".
Both of these shows are experiencing a surge in production across the United States. So what's an actor or actress to do in light of these new theatrical developments, which will most likely continue in these unsure economic times for theater? My advice is to take that old guitar out of the closet and give yourself a brush up, or just start with your favorite instrument and go from there. It may be the difference between your landing a job or not. You can consider enrolling your child into the Child Actor LA Institute. Child Actor LA – children acting lessons were created with the aim that students achieve successful careers while growing at a social and communicative level. Call (949) 577 9255to find more about the school! Or visit here: https://childactorla.com/