Over the past few decades in particular, there has been a great deal of discussion about ‘age-appropriate’ repertoire for musical theatre performers. Many of these discussions have been very productive. Today, I want to briefly address my thoughts on this particular issue here.
First, I feel it is important to note that there are at least two distinct ways to define an ‘age-appropriate’ musical theatre song:
- A song written for a character around the same age as the particular performer who intends to sing it (or at least, the performer looks around the same age).
- A song that is both technically and emotionally appropriate for most individuals around the same age as the particular performer who intends to sing it.
In a perfect world, these two definitions would always sync up. However, that is far from always being the case. Today, more and more musicals featuring lead teenage characters are being written and produced on and Off-Broadway (i.e. Heathers, Be More Chill, Dear Evan Hansen, The Prom, Calvin Berger, Carrie: The Musical, Bare, Next to Normal, Cruel Intentions, etc.). While I feel this is an overall positive development to get youngsters interested in theatre, I also think it is important to keep in mind that certain roles within these shows can be very physically and emotionally demanding. In fact, professional actors and actresses in their 20s and 30s are often hired to play these teenage parts. I cannot stress that enough.
Does that mean teenagers shouldn’t sing this repertoire written for characters around their age? Not at all, but it does mean discretion and adult guidance is necessary. As a voice teacher first and foremost, I am most concerned about the physical and emotional well-being of each student/client. If a particular student has professional aspirations, then yes, that student should be singing ‘age-appropriate’ repertoire for the most part (preferably both definitions above). However, there are certainly instances where singing a piece written for a somewhat older character can be beneficial to a student in both voice and acting training. There are shades of gray with this topic.
So, where do I fall with this debate overall? As with most situations, I feel the best course of action depends on an individual student’s technical and emotional level + their goals. In an audition setting–especially a professional one– ‘age-appropriate’ repertoire (AKA definition #1 above) is typically the safest bet in order to avoid ruffling any feathers. In voice and/or acting lessons, things are are a bit more open-ended and up for discussion. As an educator, I feel repertoire should always be technically and emotionally appropriate for each performer first and foremost (AKA definition #2 above). No individual song is ‘one-size-fits-all’, and many individual songs can serve many developmental purposes.
We live in divisive times where extremism and ultimatums exist practically everywhere. I feel it is important to remember there are always exceptions to rules. Extremism gets us nowhere and stifles necessary discussions. So, let’s talk.
a Libra who is constantly striving for balance in all areas of life
P.S. This blog post is specifically about age-appropriateness. There are of course other factors that should always be taken into account when selecting musical theatre repertoire. Those areas deserve their own discussions beyond this post.