Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Table Manners

We've previously discussed Introduction Songs, and given one example. We finish the series this week with another example. Worst Side Story's introduction song follows a similar format, with a few twists.

The story was based around two gangs with a mutual dislike of each other’s table manners – an excellent basis for a blood feud if ever there was one. The introduction song had to set up and name the characters, set the scene, and establish the gangs. The scene opens with the two gang leaders having a quick face-off before heading off to gather their gangs for a rumble.

Like Our Town, each character gets a verse to sing. In this song however, they are generally not singing about themselves; they are singing about their counterpart in the other gang. The emotion underpinning the show was conflict, and it makes good sense for the real scene-setting song to highlight that conflict, in tone and lyric. Singing about the other gang is perfect! We decided in rehearsals it would be fun to have each of the gangs endow the other with names. (One of the characters is never again referred to by name during the show – I guess we forgot it!)

Have a listen to Table Manners, and we'll deconstruct it.

  • Fingers (Tom Dunstan, pictured) is the leader of one gang. He introduces Salad Fork, and starts to set up that she has excellent table manners. He also germinates what will be the chorus.
  • Salad Fork (Amy Currie) introduces Fingers, explaining his horrible table etiquette. She refines the chorus a bit.
  • Drive-In (Joel Gilmore) comes on stage to join Fingers. He sets himself up as having lower status, then names another gang member from the other side.
  • Tea Cup (Alex Reichart) keeps the theme going, expanding on the gangs' differences, and introduces Drive-In.
  • Another chorus with a sneaky key change. Both gangs are growing now, so the vocals are becoming quite strong. I really like that we established a good simple chorus, it made it easier to remember and recall later.
  • Messy (Kiesten McCauley) tells her gang about a new guy she’s heard about from the other gang, Napkin Ring. She's never met him, but she knows he's no good.
  • Napkin Ring (Luke Allan) speculates about the other new opposing gang member Messy. Again, they haven’t met.
  • Final chorus. It’s well established now, and all six go for it.

The ending was pretty smooth; after that long held note, Tom asserts a nice clean finish.

At this point in the story, the gangs are ready to come together for a fight, but of course the cops show up just in time, and the gangs disperse.

There was a conscious choice that all of the gang members had a personal, established animosity with the other gang, except Messy and Napkin Ring. Those characters were the romantic leads, and although they'd heard about their counterparts on the other gang, they'd never seen them. This helps us set up their meeting, followed later by the realisation they were on other gangs.

The song again immediately followed an overture. The overture itself wasn't particularly minor, but the opening song certainly was – the story was based on conflict, and the song reflected that conflict. Still used slight changes in the feel and tempo, and a fair few key changes, to keep the song moving along.

You know, listening to this song and last week's song, I realise that I always endow Joel Gilmore's characters with goofy. It doesn't matter how the introduction song starts... when Joel steps out on stage, suddenly the music goes all oompa-oompa-oompa-oompa, turning vaguely bumbling and low-status. It seems I'm very mean to you, Joel. (As this post goes up, Joel is in Peru, so I should be safe from retribution for a little while yet.) Joel is a wonderful actor and singer, and I've certainly had powerful songs with him before... But in a musical I introduce him as low-status. Sorry Joel.

There was quite a difference in the warmness of the audience for this one. It took us a little longer than it should have for us to get out on stage, consequently the audience had a few minutes of patient waiting, and that probably cooled them down a bit. In the intro from One Bride, as each cast member stepped on stage, the audience went wild; we had to work harder for their love in Worst Side. By the end of the song they were in to it, and seemed pretty warm for the rest of the show. We probably took the audience through more extremes in Worst Side; there were some particularly dark scenes, and some particularly sad scenes that moved at least a few people to tears. (How awesome is that?)

Hopefully these examples illustrate the sorts of things we try and hit in an introduction song.

Photo by Al Caeiro

1 comment:

Steve said...

It's interesting to read about your experiences with opening numbers. With Hit and Run, we try to stay away from introducing characters in the opening number, but for a format like this where you already have a sense of the plot, I imagine it saves a lot of time. I wish I could see this!

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