Some years ago Gerald Moore, the brilliant pianist and musical collaborator with the likes of Pablo Casals, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskow, Victoria de los Angeles, and Maggie Teyte, to name but a few, wrote his auto-biography entitled Am I too Loud?
In those days Gerald, and most musicians, were concerned with volume and balance.
I have decided, after witnessing a performance at Barrington Stage 2 last night, that those words are so old-fashioned as to be practically Shakespearean. Nothing, in today's musical theatre world, is considered too loud.
Last night's production, a rip-off on the musical Jersey Boys, was absolutely deafening. I hated it! I can't even tell you much of what it was about because I had my fingers stuffed into my ears to protect my hearing until the intermission, at which point, I left. Even at 82, my hearing is still pretty good. Good enough to know when to get out of the din!
It gave me the idea that volume has now replaced emotion in popular theatre music. Forget text, forget harmony, forget melody (ça va sans dire); when the composer wants an emotional response from the audience he raises the volume electronically, sometimes to painful levels, as was done last night- over and over.
Nothing is real anymore. Orchestras for musical theatre presentations in New York City are now often in a building blocks away from the stage where the singers and actors are performing. Brrrrrrrr! Eeeeeek!
I know, I know- I'm old. Apparently younger ears have already lost so much of their receptive capabilities that they need more decibels to accept anything. I take ear plugs to the local cinema. Yes. I am apparently the only one in the theatre that can't take the volume the camera man prefers. With ear plugs in place, I hear everything perfectly.
Also, especially with the Musical Theatre School at Barrington Stage, the rule is 'Set whatever words come out of your mouth to some sort of tune, no matter how impossible this may be. Prosody begone! Iambic pentameter be damned!'
More and more often in musical theatre, at least on the local level, volume replaces joy, terror, sadness, anger, just about any true emotion. Just turn up the dial and the audience claps. Last night these five young actors (all of them very talented, I have no doubt) were jumping about the stage, screaming into their body mikes, lighting fires, having sex, smoking pot, trying to put together a Boy Band, at fortissimo levels.
I should probably have my hearing checked. At my age you are supposed to be losing your hearing. Am I an aberration? (Probably) Is my hearing improving at 82 going on 83? (Duh!!!) Or are theatrical productions using volume to replace emotion and excitement.
How did Rogers and Hart ever make it, un-amplified?
A mystery of the age.