Showtunes? Seriously?

November 13, 2010

I’m throwing out the blog post I was writing and starting over. In the spirit of the many posts I’ve seen on Twitter and Facebook recently by people struggling with commitments to writing, I want to be your rowdy role model. Once you give yourself permission to throw out writing that just doesn’t work, getting started gets a lot easier.

I can’t really get the lead-up story in place for some reason. So forget it. I’m going directly to the message.

I know the story of Eva Perone from Spanish classes in college so I understand that the song “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” in the musical Evita has to say many things. It has to let the audience in on the profound self-reflection of a woman who is dying and knows she has a short time to live. It has to show her realization that her life got off-track as she transformed from hero of the lowly worker to glamorous world celebrity. But it also has to convey the tension between Evita’s recognition that the “shirtless” class thought she had forgotten them, which was pretty true, and her own insistence that she hadn’t forgotten them, which was mostly denial.

That’s a lot to pack into a song! But Patti LuPone, the Broadway star who originated the song, does it masterfully.

Did you notice the tears flowing? That’s what happens when a performer pours her heart into the interpretation of the song.

Patti LuPone’s voice is not sweet and elegant. It’s strong and a little harsh. If you gave her the lead in Madame Butterfly I don’t think she could do it. I don’t even think she could do much with romantic songs. On the other hand, she’s not edgy enough to front Van Halen. There are lots and lots of things that, as a singer, she cannot do.

But can anyone touch her performance as Evita?

If an unknown Patti LuPone said, “I want to be a singer,” she wouldn’t have a chance in contemporary R&B, love ballads, classical music, or hard rock. Talent scouts in those fields would tell her she doesn’t have what it takes. But when you put her in musical theater, where the song has to tell the story, she shines.

Does this apply to you? Are you a musical theater singer who keeps auditioning at “Battle of the Bands”? Are you a pop singer trying out for an operatic lead? Are you putting your talent in front of an audience that isn’t quite right? As definitions, opera singer and rock singer are pretty closely related, much closer than, say, accountant and chef. But an opera singer doesn’t “almost” fit at the audition for a heavy metal band.

Getting close in defining what you do well can still result in a completely wrong fit. Sometimes you don’t need to change to please the audience. Sometimes you need to realize you have the wrong audience and go looking for the one that is waiting for you to wow them.

How did I wind up listening to Patti LuPone on YouTube? It all started with that Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman song on the CD at the local Italian restaurant…

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