All posts by Kevin Michael Jones

Kevin is a voice teacher, vocal coach, songwriter, and performer. He has taught and performed in venues across the U.S., United Kingdom, and Canada. As a voice teacher, Kevin specializes in the instruction of commercial music vocal styles (musical theatre, pop, rock, jazz, and others). Along with being a state-certified music instructor, he has completed Level III certification in Somatic Voicework™ The Lovetri Method under Broadway voice teacher, Jeannette LoVetri. He is also one of the first graduates from Shenandoah Conservatory's Contemporary Commercial Voice Pedagogy master's program. Kevin has worked with a wide range of students from amateur vocalists to professional performers. As a songwriter, Kevin's music has been performed in multiple venues across the country. Recently, his work was featured in a benefit concert at Joe's Pub in New York City titled From the Factory Floor. He is also the composer and co-lyricist of The Craft: The Musical, a spell-binding new show directed and produced by Lilly Award-winner, Shakina Nayfack. The musical is currently in development at Musical Theatre Factory in New York City. Kevin's one-act, Halloween-themed musical, Samhain, will premiere later this year as well. Kevin holds a B.M. in Vocal Music Education from Millikin University and an M.M. in Contemporary Commercial Voice Pedagogy from Shenandoah Conservatory. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate assistant in the D.M.A. Voice Pedagogy program at Shenandoah Conservatory.

Why We Should Consider Ditching the Term ‘Contemporary Musical Theatre’

WARNING: This is an opinion-based post.  One of the most common questions I receive from students and colleagues is, “can you please help me find a contemporary musical theatre song to sing?” It seems like a simple enough question, right?  The problem is, ‘contemporary musical theatre’ is one of those frustratingly ambiguous terms that can mean 100 different things to 100 different people.  Here are some of the many definitions I’ve heard from individuals over the years…

  • Any musical theatre song written from the late 1960s to the present that is meant to be sung with amplification.
    To me, it seems a little odd to label nearly 50 years of musical theatre songs ‘contemporary’, but I understand the logic.  Body-miking performers really started to take off on Broadway in the 1960s, and there was a shift in vocalism, instrumentation, and other factors as a result (some songwriters also began to adopt pop and rock influences around this time). Generally, I just find this definition a bit too vague to be practical in most cases. Too much has changed over the past five-six decades.
  • A sub-style of musical theatre music that is influenced by both traditional musical theatre styles and popular/commercial music styles.
    This definition seems pretty good, but it’s still a bit wide-reaching. What years are we talking about?  For example, 1970s pop-influenced musical theatre songs often sound quite different from 1990s pop-influenced musical theatre songs.  There are differences in vocalism, instrumentation/orchestrations, acting, and more.  To further complicate things, many of the European-invasion musicals from the 1980s combine elements of classical music, traditional musical theatre music, AND pop/rock music.  A show like Les Misérables is essentially a sweeping, sung-through ‘pop-opera’.
  • A sub-style of pop-influenced musical theatre music that began in 1995 with Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World.
    Giving JRB a lot of credit with this definition, but he has been an influential figure in the development of musical theatre over the past couple decades. Many young musical theatre songwriters today cite him as a major inspiration.  More so than Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, etc., though?
  • Any musical theatre song written by ‘New Musical Theatre’ songwriters like Kerrigan & Lowdermilk, Joe Iconis, Adam Gwon, etc.
    This is an interesting definition, and it’s used fairly commonly.  This group of songwriters is sometimes referred to as the ‘YouTube Generation’.  Before YouTube, most theatre fans outside of NYC only knew about musical theatre songwriters with Broadway and/or Off-Broadway credits.  Thanks to YouTube and sites like newmusicaltheatre.comcontemporarymusicaltheatre.com, and now musicaltheatersongs.com, musical theatre songwriters of all backgrounds and experience levels have been able to get their music out to the masses (which is great).

My main point with all this: if/when using the term ‘contemporary musical theatre’, make sure to clarify what you actually mean.  The definitions above are just a few of the many out there.  It is a devilishly vague term, and I sometimes wonder if we might be better off without it completely.  However, that’s just me.

Kevin Michael Jones

20 Years of Disney on Broadway: 10 Lesser-Done Audition Songs to Consider

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney’s first Broadway musical endeavor, Beauty and the Beast.  Over the past two decades, Disney’s presence on The Great White Way has grown exponentially.  As of 2015, the company has produced a whopping TWELVE Broadway shows (with more on the way).  Now seems like a good time to shine a spotlight on some great, lesser-known Disney solo songs you may want to consider adding to your musical theatre audition book.

One important thing to remember about Walt Disney is that the company’s legacy extends all the way back to the 1920s.  As a result, you have access to almost a century’s worth of Disney tunes to browse through and choose from.  Remember, most directors and music directors don’t want to hear “Let it Go” from Frozen for the millionth time!  If you’re serious about auditioning for professional-level Disney productions, take the time to sift through the company’s huge catalogue of songs in order to find the perfect selection(s) for your voice, age, ‘type’, etc.  In the mean time, here are ten of my personal favorite Disney tunes to give you some ideas!

1. “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again?” from Home on the Range (2004)
Home on the Range, one of Walt Disney’s last hand-drawn animated films, probably wasn’t the commercial hit the studio was hoping for in 2004.  However, long-time Disney composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater were certainly up to the challenge of writing the film’s songs (the two songwriters would later collaborate to bring The Little Mermaid to Broadway in 2008).  “Will the Sun Ever Shine Again” is a touching, country/folk-inspired ballad that could easily be sung by either a man or woman (the recording below is sung by American blues singer, Bonnie Raitt).  The song’s range is very manageable, and the melody is simple enough that the actor/actress can focus on expressing the heartbreaking sentiments presented in the lyrics.

2. “The Age of Not Believing” from Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
Remember that 1970’s Disney classic where Angela Lansbury single-handledly fights an army of Nazi troops (and WINS)?  Bedknobs and Broomsticks is one of Disney’s greatest live-action/animated hybrid films, and it features several fantastic tunes (some of which were cut from the film and restored in recent DVD releases).  One of those tunes is “The Age of Not Believing”, a Sherman Brothers composition in which Lansbury’s character explains to the children in her care that adults often become skeptical and lose their childhood sense of wonder and imagination as they get older.  However, that magic isn’t necessarily gone forever, and it can sometimes be found again simply by looking inside rather than out.  Yes, it’s a very Disney-esque notion, and it works quite well in this song.

3. “Le Jazz Hot” from The Aristocats (1970)
A few years ago, Disney began their Lost Chords Project.  The idea behind the project is to showcase lost and/or forgotten songs from Disney films over the years.  These new Lost Chords albums feature original demos of forgotten songs along with new, fully-orchestrated versions as well.  Below, you’ll find a brand new recording of “Le Jazz Hot”, a deleted song from Disney’s The Aristocats.  It’s a sultry, jazz and blues-inspired piece written by The Sherman Brothers, and it would make a great audition selection for both Disney and Jazz enthusiasts.  Warning: you may be humming this song all day after listening!

4. “Written in Stone” from Mulan (1998)
Did you know that Broadway composer/lyricist, Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, PippinWicked), was originally hired to write songs for the late 90’s Disney animated film, Mulan?  It’s true!  However, Schwartz had a falling-out with Disney and left early on into the film’s development.  Fortunately, a few songs he wrote for Mulan have surfaced over the years, including this absolutely stunning piece titled “Written in Stone” (sung below by Broadway-veteran, Lea Salonga, of Miss Saigon and Les Misérables fame).  Sidenote: Lea provided the singing voices for two 90’s Disney animated film princesses: Mulan and Jasmine.  Although “Written in Stone” never made it into Mulan, the song is currently featured in the film’s stage adaptation for children, Mulan, Jr.

5. “I’m Still Here” from Treasure Planet (2002)
Your first thought might be, what the heck is ‘Treasure Planet’?  Treasure Planet was Disney’s sci-fi adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel, Treasure Island.  The film received lukewarm reviews upon release, and, like many Disney animated films released between 2000-2009 (excluding Pixar flicks), Treasure Planet has fallen into relative obscurity.  However, the film’s songs, written by Goo Goo Dolls frontman, John Rzeznik, are really pretty thrilling.  “I’m Still Here” (aka Jim’s Theme) is a great story-driven, pop/rock power ballad that would work well in auditions for Disney’s soft rock stage musicals like The Lion King, Aida, Tarzan, etc.

6. “Never Again” from King David (1997)
King David is sometimes described as a modern oratorio, with music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Tim Rice.  The show was written to commemorate the 3,000th anniversary of the city of Jerusalem.  In 1997, a limited-engagement, concert version was produced by Disney Theatrical Productions at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York City.  Since then, King David has mostly fallen under the radar (though NYU Steinhardt produced a concert version of the show in 2008).  Though largely forgotten today, the show’s score features some great tunes, including “Never Again”, a heart-wrenching ballad originally sung by Broadway legend, Judy Kuhn (Les Misérables, Chess, etc.).

7. “He’s a Tramp” from Lady and the Tramp (1955) / On the Record (2004)
After the Broadway success of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aida, Disney began brainstorming new ways to showcase their wide catalogue of songs from throughout the company’s history.  Eventually, they developed On the Record, a musical revue which features new arrangements of Disney tunes from the past and present.  One of the most exciting songs from the revue is this arrangement of “He’s a Tramp” from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp.  It’s a great jazz-y duet for two female belters, but it could easily be reworked to function as an audition solo as well.

8. “Everything That I Am” from Tarzan: The Musical (2006)
Not all of Walt Disney’s Broadway efforts have been successful.  In 2006, the company adapted their 1999 animated film, Tarzan, into a full-scale Broadway musical.  The show featured a book by David Henry Hwang and included several new songs written by the film’s composer and pop/rock legend, Phil Collins.  The original Broadway production received mixed reviews and closed relatively quickly, but a few of that production’s original songs have endured.  One such selection is Tarzan‘s eleven-o’clock number, “Everything That I Am”, a great male solo that is perfect for a performer with killer acting and vocal chops.

9. “One Dance” from The Little Mermaid (1989)
There are many cut/deleted songs from Disney films and stage shows floating around out there, but you’d be hard pressed to find one as gorgeous as this ‘I Want’ song originally written for the character, Ariel, in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.  Actress Jodi Benson, who provided the singing voice for Ariel in the film, even recorded a demo of the song (which you can listen to below).  As you might guess, the song was ultimately replaced by “Part of Your World.”  Another fun fact about The Little Mermaid: both Jodi Benson and Sierra Boggess, who played Ariel in the original Broadway stage adaptation, attended Millikin University in Illinois.

10. “Made of Stone” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame musical (1999/2014)
Back in 1999, Disney premiered a German-language stage adaptation of their animated film, The Hunchback of Notre Drame, in Berlin, Germany.  The production featured several new tunes written by the film’s songwriters, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz.  The show’s development was stalled for almost a decade afterwards, but Hunchback recently received an English-language, pre-Broadway try-out at La Jolla Playhouse in California last year (and then transferred to the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey).  Although the show will not transfer to Broadway right now, we will get a cast album this year.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s most ‘adult’ efforts to date, and both the film and stage musical feature some of Alan Menken and Steven Schwartz’s most ‘mature’ songs.  Below, you can hear an early version of one of Quasimodo’s songs from the stage version, titled “Made of Stone” (around the 27:00 mark).  The song ends with a stunning High C- though the piece has been reworked somewhat in recent productions.

– Kevin Michael Jones

 

Audition Songs from 1950s/60s Rock & Motown Style Musicals

The 1950s and early ’60s were an exciting time for popular music in the United States, with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll and the rise of music artists like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others.  Over the past several decades, many musical theatre writers have incorporated these early rock and motown styles into their shows.  Some of these musicals feature original scores written to evoke music styles from that time period (Little Shop of Horrors, Hairspray, Memphis, etc.), and others feature jukebox scores made up of songs originally performed by period artists themselves (Jersey Boys, All Shook Up, Million Dollar Quartet, etc.).

Below, you’ll find several recommendations for audition songs from 1950s-60s Rock & Motown Style musicals.  Remember, you can also search the database at MusicalTheaterSongs.com using keywords like “50’s Rock and Roll Style” and “60’s Pop/Rock Style” to find many more options!  For more information about finding and performing period-appropriate pop/rock musical theatre songs, make sure to pick up a copy of Sheri Sanders’ book, Rock The Audition.

SONGS FOR MEN
“How Can I Say Goodbye?” (ZOMBIE PROM)
“It Takes Two” (HAIRSPRAY)
“Cry for Me” (JERSEY BOYS) *originally performed by Frankie Valli
“Grow for Me” (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS)
“Girl, Can I Kiss You?” (CRY-BABY)

SONGS FOR WOMEN
“I Can Hear the Bells” (HAIRSPRAY)
• “Fools Fall in Love” (ALL SHOOK UP) *originally performed by The Drifters
“Fly, Fly Away” (CATCH ME IF YOU CAN)
“Hopelessly Devoted to You” (GREASE)
“Easy to Say” (ZOMBIE PROM)

– Kevin Michael Jones