The word pretend truly reminds of how much work an actor needs to do in order to get into character. Each time I see a musical live, I am surprised at what an actor is able to do. In the past two years, I have seen six different musicals which are Music Man, Pippin, Newsies, Sound of Music, Wicked, and Les Mis. In these shows, the actors need to live the character’s lives eight times a week. The characters from these shows have been either comic, tragic, dramatic, romantic, etc. In all six of these musicals, there were both simple and complex characters. Some of the characters from these musicals were simple such as Winthrop , Theo, and the younger Von Trapp Children and some were more complex such as Elphaba, Glinda, Jean Valjean and Eponine.
In some of those musicals, characters age over a wide range of time such as Javert and Jean Valjean. In that same musical, even Cosette and Eponine get older over a nine year gap. In some of the character’s lives of these musicals, some tragically die, but while several characters die in Les Mis, their deaths are memorable. I cannot imagine what it is like to portray the tragic characters where you have to die eight times a week and where the character lives a very unfortunate life.
Some of these characters do not live tragic lives, but live a life filled with conflict and hardship and these are characters such as Elphaba and all of the Newsies. For the Newsies, that is especially difficult on Crutchie as he has a bum leg and has to rely on crutch. That makes him more vulnerable to certain situations, but he has such spirit and helps keep the group together and truly depends on Jack Kelly. Elphaba has to face a life of being a outcast all because she is green, but at least she finds love in Fiyero and friendship in Glinda.
Some of the actors from these musicals had to learn to dance and others had to know how to do aerobatics. I was the most impressed with the dancing from Newsies because it blows your mind away and those actors are jumping high, jumping over each other, back flips among other incredible things. I may have loved the dancing from Newsies the most, but I still loved the dancing and spectacle of Wicked along with the circus and dance elements of Pippin
Newsies was the only cast where the entire cast was basically all male and only like three females. I did love the other casts as well especially the ones from Les Mis and Wicked. When it comes to Les Mis and Wicked, I have high expectations. In Wicked, I saw one of the best Glinda and Elphaba pairings and they delivered “For Good” perfectly. As for Les Mis, I did have higher expectations only because I was seeing the show in the West End and the thing I truly wanted from the West End production was that the emotions needed to truly and deeply and powerfully move me. I was living my dream by seeing it in the West End and the entire cast delivered and that was the best cast I ever saw live.
Sometimes I get the most impressed by the understudies. In Newsies, Wicked, Les Mis, and Pippin, there were understudies for lead characters. Those characters were Pippin and the Leading Player from Pippin, Jean Valjean from Les Mis, Elphaba from Wicked, and Katherine from Newsies. Those understudies have to memorize more then everyone else and have to memorize different blocking depending on if they are one for a lead character or if they are one for their ensemble track. They are not always in for the character they understudy for, which means they have less opportunities. In fact, I was impressed with all of these understudies. All of these understudies truly impressed me mainly Jean Valjean, Leading Player, and Elphaba. Some people tend to forget how much harder these actors need to work compared to the regular actor in for a role. For an understudy to play Valjean or Elphaba, it can be quite scary to fill in the shoes of the main actor. Elphaba and Valjean are two of the most complex and demanding and well-known roles.
It takes way more then the actor alone to get into character. It even takes all of the work of the backstage crew to help them get into character. It helps when they actually look like the character through their costume and makeup. Backstage crew helps any lead or ensemble members handle the quick changes because characters go through more then one costume through the course of one show.
It takes several rehearsals to understand the particular production. The actors have to memorize lines, choreography, blocking, and truly understand the character. You have to learn to portray the character in a way that makes it your own, but at the same time stays true to the character and lives up to the audience’s expectations. They need to express what the character is feeling along with what kind of a life the character lives. In musicals like Wicked and Les Mis, there is a lot of pressure for the actor because the characters are so well-loved by many. It is so cool how actors truly make the story come alive each and every night and the characters become real to you. The actors truly rely on the audience because the audience helps them make choices due to their reactions. There are many wonderful things to say about actors and so blessed that they are willing to tell their character’s stories over the course of a year and eight times a week. Think about how hard it can be to portray a complex character compared to a simple or how hard it can be to portray a character who has a very miserable and tragic life.