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If you wanted to own a beautifully handcrafted wooden table you wouldn’t visit a master plumber, if you wanted to install a magnificent antique bathtub you wouldn’t see an expert glassblower. In the same way, if you want to learn the art of musical theatre don’t expect to do so from dance schools or singing teachers. These people are doubtless wonderful in the field in which they teach, but they often have no knowledge of and completely misunderstand what is required of a musical theatre performer.

Ian Toyne, Debbie Reynolds, musical theatre, performers, perth theatre, perth actors, theatre, musicals, performing arts
Ian Toyne and Debbie Reynolds in Irene at His Majesty's Theatre 2010

Certainly the ability to dance and sing are valuable skills for a musical theatre performer to possess, but they are only valuable if they are utilized as narrative tools. The art of musical theatre is the art of storytelling and the dance and singing components of the performance should only be there to advance the story and develop the characters within it. This is the fundamental aspect that most dance schools and singing teachers don’t understand.

The majority of musical theatre numbers presented by dance schools are choreographed songs rather than what they were intended to be – integral parts of the overall story. There is usually little or no relevance in the choreography to what that particular number has to say.

It is rare to find a singing teacher that understands just how much more effective musical theatre songs become if acting is placed as the primary focus rather than beautiful singing. It is the character and their inner thoughts that needs to come through rather than the performer’s ability to sing nicely. Top musical theatre performers understand this and will often come off the note to get more emotional intensity, clarity and excitement. I was listening to the Aladdin soundtrack recently and was thrilled by the tour de force performance of James Munroe Iglehart playing the Genie, a performance in which he certainly did not maintain a slavish devotion to producing nicely modulated tones.

If you want to learn how to perform musical theatre, then learn from someone who has expertise in that field. They will understand and respect the art form and will not try to shoehorn it into another area altogether. They will understand that ultimately it is the way the story is told and the characters within it that are of supreme importance in musical theatre. They will understand that acting is the most important element in good musical theatre because it must be present in the delivery of every word of text, every movement of dance and every note of song. Song and dance are there to serve as mediums through which the story is told, not as stand - alone skills.

Learn singing from a good singing teacher, dance from a good dance school and musical theatre from a good musical theatre performer.

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