I've had a good bit of time to think about this, off and on. Musical Theatre was an early love and the direction in which my life was headed once upon a time.
I was traveling for two weeks not terribly long ago. I flew into Wichita, KS, spent the night there and then my best friend/chosen sister and I drove from Kansas, through the Oklahoma Panhandle, into Texas, spending the night in Amarillo, and then on into Albuquerque, New Mexico the next day. Ten days later we reversed the trip. I would highly recommend that anyone who wants to do the same spend two nights on the road, not one. Neither one of us has had an easy time of it since the long drives -- it was a bit much for two fibromyalgia sufferers.
We spent what was to have been my last night seeing the touring company of Wicked in Kansas. Appropriate for the pre-quel to The Wizard of Oz. We had heard so much about this particular musical, neither of us had had an opportunity to see it yet and we were delighted at the prospect of sharing the experience.
Let me state for the record that what I am about to say about this production could be said about nearly every musical production in the past decade or two. Or three.
Back in the day (No, I did not have a pet dinosaur!) I was trained to project my voice, whether speaking or singing, so that it was not especially loud to those on stage but could still reach the back of the third balcony. The only amplification being the mics set near the footlights on the stage's apron. It was no big deal. It was what we did. I was well trained in both acting and singing (and dancing). I learned Bel Canto method of singing with proper voice placement which allowed not just for projection but proper breath support and proper voice placement which makes it far less likely to injure the vocal chords. If you're going to do something, learn to do it the right way.
Sometime ago, musical theatre performers began being mic'd. The microphone hanging over their ear. Each person with their own body mic. The earliest person to do this, oddly enough, was the well-trained Anna Maria Alberghetti in Carnival. It was innovative back then. Well, it seemed like a good idea until that legendary night when she needed to use the rest room during the performance and took advantage of a few minutes off-stage. She forgot to turn off the mic and the flushing sound that pierced the theatre became the stuff of which legends are made.
Soon, everyone was wearing a mic, not just principals but chorus as well. And what does this have to do with Wicked? Well, the performance we saw was typical of today's musical theatre experience. If the performer doesn't enunciate clearly, the lyrics are lost as is some of the dialogue when speaking. Audience members turn to each other and quietly whisper, "What?!" hoping their seatmate has understood the line or the lyric. When the entire chorus sings, not only are the words often lost but the sound is nearly deafening.
There's no question that the cast was talented. That's not the issue. They're also well-trained which just begs the question: when are we going to lose the body mics and return to real musical theatre? I haven't been able to properly enjoy a musical in years thanks to the body mics. Considering the price tag on today's seats, the least we should be able to do is understand the book and lyrics without trying to "fill in the blanks." Frankly, I had to listen to the original cast recording in order to try to patch it together with what I'd seen and heard to reach an understanding.
Live theatre is both an art and a craft. I have a great regard for those who make it through the grueling audition process, get the job and hit the boards. I would love to be able to truly enjoy their performances without the dreaded enhancement of mics.
Is it too late to return to the golden days of the Broadway Musical? The real Broadway Musical? I fervently hope for that return.
Causes Darlene Arden Supports
The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at the AKC Canine Health Foundation