In the musical theatre world, the term ‘legit’ is often used to describe a genre of singing that is firmly rooted in traditional, classical voice training/pedagogy. This type of singing usually includes many of the same distinguishing features as classical/operatic singing, such as: consistant vibrato, tall and round vowels, a stable larynx, a raised soft palate, a balanced tone quality that is equally light and dark (aka ‘chiaroscuro‘), crisp diction, and other elements. Today, legit singing is most often associated with musicals from ‘The Golden Age’ of Broadway (c. 1943-1964). Some celebrated legit singer-actors from that time period include Julie Andrews, Alfred Drake, Barbara Cook, and John Raitt. There are also contemporary musicals that feature permutations of legit singing like The Light in the Piazza, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and others (along with frequent revivals of some Golden Age shows).
Now, onto the question at hand. Is legit singing on Broadway today the same as it was sixty-some years ago? Some say yes, others say no. I say, let’s go to the cast recordings. I have compiled a short video below that includes singing samples from four Golden Age musicals (two samples from each show). In the first sample from each musical, you will hear singing from that show’s Original Broadway Cast Recording. In the second sample, you will hear singing from a fairly-recent revival production. What differences do you hear in vocal timbre, registration, resonance, articulation, etc.? Does hearing these samples affect the way you approach legit singing and/or the training of legit singer-actors? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts.
Disclaimer: These samples were hand-picked by me. I don’t claim they represent every single legit musical. These changes in vocalism may or may not be reflected in legit singing at the community theatre, regional theatre, and collegiate theatre levels.