Before I proceed with this post, there are four points I need to address regarding the term ‘legit’ in the context of musical theatre singing:

  1. ‘Legit’ refers to a genre of musical theatre singing that is heavily influenced by traditional, classical voice training and vocal styles.
  2. The term ‘legit’ is short for ‘legitimate’, but that does NOT mean other musical theatre vocal genres and styles are ‘illegitimate’ or inferior in any way.  The word is simply an industry term that has persisted over the years.
  3. As evidenced by cast recordings, ‘legit’ singing on Broadway today is not always the same as it was fifty-plus years ago.  This may affect the training of singer-actors with Broadway ambitions.
  4. The legit vocal genre is one of MANY vocal genres and musical styles that singer-actors need to be comfortable with in order to be successful on Broadway today.

To reinforce my fourth point above, I will present several video examples of contemporary Broadway singer-actors who have demonstrated the ability to sing in multiple vocal genres over the years.  When I say ‘vocal genres’, I’m not just talking about differences in vocal styling (i.e. a riff here and there or a simple ‘resonance’ adjustment).  I’m saying there are often functional/technical differences which occur at the level of the larynx and vocal folds as well.  Every genre of singing has its own unique functional and stylistic requirements, and I believe voice training should be catered to the individual and his/her goals.  If nothing else, the performances below show that there is always more than one way to utilize the vocal mechanism.  All one needs is an open mind and the desire to learn (plus a great teacher!).

1. Audra McDonald

Legit Example: “Summertime” from Porgy & Bess

Contrasting Example: “Crazy He Calls Me” from Lady Day

2. Drew Sarich

Legit Example: “Till I Hear You Sing” from Love Never Dies

Contrasting Example: “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)” from Jesus Christ Superstar

3. Kelli O’Hara

Legit Example: “Almost Real” from The Bridges of Madison County

Contrasting Example: “They Don’t Let You in the Opera if You’re a Country Star”

4. Brian Stokes Mitchell

Legit Example: “Impossible Dream” from The Man of La Mancha

Contrasting Example: “Life is Sweet”

5. Marin Mazzie

Legit Example: “When There’s No One” from Carrie

Contrasting Example: “Ring them Bells” from Liza with a Z

6. Aaron Lazar

Legit Example: “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” from The Light in the Piazza

Contrasting Example: “You Love Her But She Loves Someone Else” from The Last Ship

Kevin Michael Jones

 

3 thoughts

  1. Quite honestly, and with all due respect to a point well taken, I only hear one voice in each of the contrasting examples posted. I do hear different stylistic approaches, each of which reflects the style of the music being sung, but I do not detect radical changes in how the larynx is operating. I think what you’re pointing out here has much more to do with changes in the shape of the resonator and the vowels in pop, jazz, and legit. Have your ever listened to recordings of Eileen Farrell? Compare one of her operatic arias to one of her jazz tracks. I use to do this with my musical theatre students at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Without identifying the artist, I made them listen to the aria first, then the jazz track, and then to comment on the vocal quality of each singer. It was always thumbs down with the aria, and thumbs up for the jazz cut. When I then informed the class that they were listening to the same singer they were floored. However, the point was made and we could then begin interesting discussions of “style” in singing, never to be confused with improper and risky vocal technique. I’ll listen closely again to your examples in case I have misunderstood your point. Thanks for posting.

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