Eden Casteel Music Studio

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Filtering by Tag: musicals


Goals for 2013 I want to learn how to prepare a few more healthy foods. I always think it's going to take too long to make the good stuff, and I'm always surprised at how easy it is. I want to figure out how to make those Thai wrap up roll thingys with julienned carrots and peanut sauce. I always worry I'm going to rip the wrapper and wind up with salad all over the place.

I'd like to add some kind of decor to the white IKEA shelves in my office -- cheaply. I could paint the backs of the cases some hip color. What would Martha do?

Despite my continual reading of Color Me Beautiful in the 1980s, every once in a while I buy an item of clothing in brown. I tell myself that it's an alternative to ubiquitous black. I have loved ones who look great in brown, so I guess I figure that love will make me look good in brown. And so I put it on at home, and I look terrible and pale and sick in it, and I take it off and put it in the donations box. And I always recall this poem. It's time to say goodbye to brown clothing -- forever. Khaki, you're next.

Memorize as much of my Feb. 8 recital as possible. I'm working on this now and it's going pretty well. It really is harder to memorize when you're older!

I love teaching, and I love breaks from teaching just as much. Keep doing this.

Pray more and more and more . . . because prayer works.

Run a half marathon. Run a 10K. Run a 5K. Run. Or just tone up. Or just look like I've lost 10 pounds.

I'm writing a short children's musical about Saint Francis using music from his era. If I include every wonderful thing he ever did, it will be longer than The Ring Cycle. I have to turn in a draft by Ash Wednesday (Feb. 13), and a final by Easter (March 31). I have done a lot of research and collecting, but no writing.

I'm also writing "Quonnie: The Musical 3.0", but I won't even start that until June. That's an eternity away. Right? By then I'll have lost 10 pounds and run a half marathon.

I'd like to procrastinate a little less than my kids.

Restrict Facebook and other cyber time wasters. I turn to social media when I am bored or restless, when I should really be doing something else -- anything else. I use the Self-Control app to force myself to take a break. Occasionally I'll keep electronics off for a period of time. I'm always happier when I do, even if it's only half a day. It gets easier to do the more I do it. So, I'm going to do that more.

Say a long goodbye to my 20 year old cat Rebel, and have him make a peaceful trip over the Rainbow Bridge. He's holding his own now but I know it's coming. I cherish every cuddle.

Paint some landscapes. I aspire to be Winston Churchill. Paint some walls, too. And the garage doors.

Travel more. Last year I enjoyed short trips to New Orleans and Montreal. This year: Colorado? Key West? Graceland? India?

Plant ALL the flower bulbs before the frost. Even the ones you forgot in the garage.

Figure out that contact lens prescription once and for all, and write it down so I can find the right contact for the right eye. I think I keep mixing them up.

Plant a smaller vegetable garden, to make room for more flowers and trees.

Continue to celebrate the end of orthodontia payments, car payments, and house payments (ALMOST!). That process may take a year. I can live with that.

Be at peace.

Good singers act

Exhibit A: Ellen Greene performing "Somewhere That's Green" from Little Shop of Horrors. I cringe as I listen to her, but I can't stop watching. She is heartbreaking to behold. Every note, gesture and expression delineate the character she's playing. She is Acting The Song. Exhibit B: This lovely young lady is singing "Somewhere That's Green," at her school talent show. She's blessed with a healthy voice that's pleasant to hear. She's dressed in a charming outfit just right for her age, and she's performing with poise and grace. She is singing, but she is not Acting The Song-- Thank God she's not!

Isn't singing a song more important than acting it? Good singing is the fruit of good acting. Good acting demands that a performer understand the history of a song and a show, its characters, plot, and lyrics. Good acting communicates physical and vocal cues that reveal and underline a character's thoughts and emotions - her voice. Good acting heightens high notes, deepens sighs, lengthens fermatas and expands rests. Good acting also makes vocal performances more believable, as singers discover aspects of themselves in the character. (Can a pubescent middle school Gleek successfully mine the emotional core of a downtrodden, centerfold-shaped floral shop worker who's being abused by her sadistic dentist boyfriend? Lord, I hope not.)

And yet, good acting is something that we barely have time to cover in voice lesson and rehearsal. We have to focus on good technique, learning the notes, blocking the scenes, and following the spots. So, when you have a chance to delve into Acting the Song outside of recital or callbacks, you should take it. . .

Which leads me to my shameless plug: On October 27, I'm teaching a one-day course on Acting The Song at Courthouse Center For The Arts in West Kingston!

I taught a one-week version of this course at CCA last summer, including some wonderful resources from Tracey Moore. There were exercises, improvisations, character questionnaires, research assignments, free writing and coaching. Some students learned new music, some worked on their standard repertoire. Everyone improved concentration and focus, and their understanding of character, and yes - they just sounded better. The final performances were impressive. As soon as it was over we all knew we wanted to do it again! Contact the Courthouse now to reserve your spot: 401-782-1018 or kelly@courthousearts.org

In mid November I'll be back at CCA, teaching a two-day "Broadway History For Non-Dummies" course. . . but that's another post!



Write on

I'm back in writing/directing mode after two months of teaching the world to sing. My children's history show, Quonnie: The Musical 2012, opens in less than two weeks! Once again I've written the script and lyrics myself, borrowing melodies from many different musical eras. I like writing lyrics and sometimes I'm really pleased, which makes up for the other times. "The Last Time I Saw Paris" was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and affectionately recalled the City of Light before the Nazi occupation. I used it in Quonnie: The Musical to provide a sentimental look at life in my neck of the woods back in September 1938, when Quonochontaug, RI (and the rest of New England) was devastated by a hurricane.

This year I have a couple of sweet elementary-age girls crooning the lyrics, which describe Quonnie before and after the storm: "The last time I saw Quonnie/the berries tasted sweet/the blush was on the roses red, we complained about the heat." The line I am proudest of incorporates a well known phrase: "The houses floated out to sea, the shoreline narrowed thin/our gardens drowned in ocean salt, a world gone with the wind." I meant it to refer to the song, which came out in 1937, but it could easily bring to mind the movie, which debuted in 1939. (And really, is there any better opening title sequence than this? ;)) To me it's a perfect visual image of how the hurricane affected this area.

I'm also proud of a lyric I dreamed up on the fly, Saturday night around 6pm. I was preparing to sing  "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" from Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. The original lyrics describe Annie's rivalry with Frank Butler, but my duet partner was Ben Hutto, the esteemed director of choirs at the National Cathedral School and St. Alban's School in Washington, DC. So, I started rewriting some lyrics to reflect our roles as music director and vocal coach at the Royal School of Church Music's Newport course. I scribbled out lines and showed them to Ben for approval. Some were clunkers, but some were good: "I sing music that'r make a window shatter," "I can stick my tongue out and sometimes stick my lung out." My very favorite will only be understandable to church musicians, but they'll howl: "I can Phos Hilaron with my underwear on." He delivered it perfectly and brought down the house.

Okay, then. YOU try to rhyme Phos Hilaron, wise guy.


Deep Thoughts on the Summer Music Theater Camp Teaching Experience, written in Bossypants-ese. 10. Enrollment Axiom 1: If your summer theater camp has only two enrollees, both will be low-energy, gluten-sensitive tweens whose parents confused emo with interest in acting. The class will meet for six hours a day, five times a week, for a solid month. You will have to abandon your groundbreaking production of Oh, Calcutta! Jr. and endure their silent scorn as you desperately try to find something they can present at the camp showcase. With proper medication and diet, these kids can become excellent lighting designers.

9.  Enrollment Axiom 2: If you are blessed with enthusiastic, energetic actors who are eager to learn and experiment, the head count will be 56. One of the five days of camp will be a national holiday so you will be expected to cram five days of rehearsal into four. Five years from now, one of these campers will win the Tony Award for Lead Actress in Musical Theater, having never forgiven you for relegating her to the chorus this summer.

8. Whatever you encourage hesitant students to do in rehearsal will be executed at Mach Level 3 in performance.  "Move around the stage a little" will look like a human pinball. "Act sadder" will look suicidal. "Go ahead, be flirtatious" will look like Courtney Stodden.

7. Success stories are always inspiring. Invite professional actors to perform for your future Nellie Forbushes, and watch their little jaws drop when they see the pros go at it. It's even more fun because you can actually sightread the material the pros bring to show off their chops, which makes you feel like a bit of a pro yourself. (No snark here, that is really fun. And wow, Marvin Hamlisch still sounds good in 2012.)

6. Each day you shall hear at least two of the following: "I'm more of an actor-dancer" . . . "I'm a really low alto in school" . . . . "Can't you just transpose it down? That's what my choir teacher always does" . . . . "These pages of the song don't fit my voice, so I just leave them out" . . . "I just can't remember all the words to the song you gave me last week and the concert is in an hour, so my parents just said I should do Meadowlark again, you have the music around here, right?" Try to figure out a way to extract money from students for each utterance.

5. You will teach this lesson continually: Unless you are rendered unconscious by your own greatness, the performance isn't over when you stop singing. No, Oliver Twist, you will not lower your arms and shrug two seconds before the final chord of "Who Will Buy?" and ruin all the good work you did in the previous two minutes. We will practice it nine times until you hold those arms up for the duration of the final chords of music. The performance ends when I say it ends, mister. And it starts when you are walking onto the stage, so we're going to rehearse that too, until you stop shuffling and start walking. (Half of the campers will be so excited that they will forget to bow at all, but a few will do it perfectly and make me glad I took the time.)

4. Stop looking at me like you're drowning. I told you this performance would be memorized and you didn't believe me.

3. Just look at me if you forget the words. I will help you. You'll be okay.

2. If you are not the parent or relative of a camper, do not view any videos of summer theater camp performances. No matter how successful the showcase, if you watch it on video, you will deflate. Cherish the hazy memory. It actually went well.

1. Honor tradition. After the show is over and the kids are gone, treat yourself to mint chocolate chip ice cream. This dates back to your childhood, when your dad took you and your little sister to McDonald's for a Shamrock Shake after each piano recital, which was usually held on a cold gray Sunday afternoon in March. You didn't perform today, but you did work your butt off and it's time to celebrate. The iciness also helps to reduce the inflammation in your throat from weeks of shouting over preteens. If there is no ice cream, alcohol is an acceptable substitute. Long live theater!





"Runaways," the little show of horrors

I saw a production of Elizabeth Swados' Runaways over the weekend. The show debuted on Broadway in 1978 and ran for several months.


Since then, it has been a cult favorite for directors who recoil at Babes In Arms and want teens to do hard-hitting, "real" theater. For Runaways, Swados interviewed real teen runaways, and even put a few in the show. . .similar to what Michael Bennett did with dancers and A Chorus Line a few years prior.

Many musicals ask the audience to look at the unpleasant, the uncomfortable, or the downright awful. The heightened musical style actually amplifies the horror of reality -- each complements the other. A very incomplete list would include "If You Could See Her" from Cabaret, " "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," from South Pacific"Can't Help Lovin' That Man" from Show Boat, "A Little Priest" from Sweeney Todd . . or "Electric Chair" or pretty much any number from The Scottsboro Boys,which I had the pleasure of seeing during its short Broadway run last year. The humor and the lyricism lengthen the dark shadows of these scenes and lend them greater impact.

Runaways has shock value, but no lasting impact. I liked some individual performances, but didn't care for the show overall. Because it's a revue, we never really get to know the characters --  only their endless misery, which makes for some tedious theater: A kid shoots heroin, a kid's parents cut his back with shards from the broken TV, two kids kill another one, a teenager can't leave her pimp. When there's no contrast, the tragedies run together. The run time was over two hours (about an hour longer than I thought it needed to be), several monologues covered the same territory, and the songs were numbingly repetitive, both thematically and musically. The message: BEING A RUNAWAY IS REALLY AWFUL! Okay, okay, we get it. We got it in the first three minutes, and after that . . . .?


Voice Lessons, Vocal Coaching, Piano Coaching, Performance Coaching, and Musical Production.

Eden Casteel Music Studio, 81 Post Road, Wakefield RI 02879. Phone: 401-932-5589.