I will frequently go out and sing karaoke because, basically, I like to sing. There is something absolutely freeing about singing that I can’t really explain. I like using my voice that way. It feels good. It’s the same sort of sensation I get from being on stage or playing sports. At it’s core it is who I am without being bogged down with all the crap that *makes me* who I am.
That being said, I do not now, nor have I ever, considered myself a “singer”. I would be terrible on something like American Idol because, as anyone who’s seen me *do* karaoke can attest, I am not much of a performer when I sing. I usually just stand there with the microphone in one hand – held as close to my mouth as possible – and the other hand either holding a beer or jammed in my pocket. I’ll often close my eyes. The last thing on my mind at the time is putting on a visual show. I just want to sing, because, as I said, I like it.
Being an actor I obviously have a large number of actor friends, many of whom fall into the “musical theater” category. Given my love for karaoke and my ability to carry a tune, they’ve been forever telling me I should do more musical theater. And for years I have been resisting their advice, giving the rather ambiguous excuse that “it’s a different kind of singing”. I have done the occasional musical and have generally found the experience to be uncomfortable for reasons I was never able to articulate. Now that I’m knee deep into “The Curse Reversed” I think I finally have a handle on exactly what it is.
The problem as I see it is twofold. For one, I am not in my element. As I stated above, as a singer I prefer just to stand like a zombie and sing. As a “musical actor” I’m expected to move and dance and express with something other than my voice. Now while I can certainly do these things as a straight-up actor, the whole thing gets mighty complicated for me as a singer. Part of it is a simple issue of coordination. As in – I don’t have any. I have *never* been accused of being graceful. Part of it is a case of all the other stuff taking away from my focus as a singer, which I clearly need. For whatever reason, when I sing my brain is functioning in a way much different from anything else I do. I have no problem learning blocking to coincide with my lines, but I can’t seem to link up song lyrics and dance moves in the same manner. There’s a disconnect somewhere that, given my relative lack of experience, I have a great deal of difficulty overcoming. I’m certainly getting *better* at it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever master it the way I have normal acting.
The other major problem is that the style of singing in a musical is completely contrary to my strength as an actor, or at the very the least contrary to what I enjoy about acting. When I am at my best and when I enjoy acting the most is when the moment is being experienced in its realest sense. I love live theater because it is so different every time out. Even in rehearsal, those moments when a fellow actor gives me something new or unexpected is exhilarating because it forces a different reaction from me than what I may have previously rehearsed or experienced. The ebb and flow of a scene can vary drastically from performance to performance often thanks to the slightest change in intention or intensity. Singing in a musical on the other hand, needs to be precise. You need to hit the notes as written in the time as written at the pace as written while keeping in sync with the band and your fellow singers. There is no room for variation or, for lack of a better term, “artistic freewheeling”. Whereas with a script you are forced into a certain set of words, the delivery is yours. I can take something that may have been intended to be dramatic and make it comedic if I so choose. There are no “notes” to go along with dialogue. With singing, I don’t feel that freedom. Now I’m sure there are those singers far more experienced than I who will say that there is indeed great freedom in singing within the structure of a musical, but even while I can concede there may be truth in that, I personally find it restrictive. For instance, I got a note the other night from our music director about a certain line that I happen to sing solo and which I wasn’t singing exactly the way it was written. He was of course correct, but at the same time my thought was, “yeah? and?”. The way I was singing it wasn’t precisely the way it had been written, but it was within the structure of the song and hey, it sounded good. The karaoke singer in me was thinking, “I don’t sing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ the way Lynyrd Skynyrd does either… I still make it sound good”. It’s even worse when you get into the multi-layered vocal harmonies such as we are doing in “Curse”. Much of what I’m being asked to sing, while being well within my range and ability, just feels so unnatural. My pop-rock voice wants to take it into another direction (often that of one of the other parts), so I find it incredibly difficult to sing it the way I am required to. The end result is me singing some horrible mixed-breed of notes that, believe me, NOBODY wants to hear.
I will, of course, conquer all of these problems sometime in the next three weeks. Though frustrated, I am determined to make it work, in part because my pride as an artist (holy pretentiousness Batman!) won’t le me ruin the show and in part because I’m having a good time and simply WANT to get it right. But the next time somebody tells me I should do more musicals, I think I’ll finally have the ammunition I need to explain to them why I think they’re out of their fucking minds.