Modern musical theatre acting

I think I might have finally put my finger on what bugs me about current auditions for musical theatre.

I was watching a snippet of the NATS national finals today. A young woman was singing a song from a Golden Age musical, and the way it was acted bugged me, as these things frequently do. I often feel that the MT audition reels I see, especially when it’s the whole song rather than a cut, show a kind of over-acting.

Or maybe it’s not so much “over-” as “hyper-“?

In a musical or an opera, the big song is the extension of a moment. Time stands still. A feeling state or a moment is extended for a very long time, in a musical way. However, many young performers are showing us acting that is twitchy and “real” as if the text was prose from a straight play. The little changes in expression and movement are still happening at the speed of real life, which is totally at odds with the “frozen in time” aspect of a song. It fragments the musical expression and magic of timelessness, to have fleeting facial expressions and body movements every few seconds if the music doesn’t match. Even in the songs that move the plot along, the mood changes don’t work at the speed of fast-moving dialogue, for example.

That’s my theory, anyway. I think the slow song with fast acting makes for an audience experience of “trying too hard to look earnest”. What do you think?

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