NEILSON’S COLUMN (April 16, 2015): Musicals now require a very high standard of singing

Performing in front an audience of any size is daunting, be it sixty or six thousand, but performing to just one person can be extraordinarily scary.

Such was the task for some of the students at our drama school who took their LAMDA exams just before Easter.

The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art organises exam sessions all over the world allowing students from countries from Singapore to South Africa the chance to improve their performance skills.

Only a couple of weeks ago I called a friend of mine who is a LAMDA examiner and asked him where he was as I could hear traffic in the background. “I’m in the back of a rickshaw in Mumbai,” came the answer. “I’ll call you back when I get home”.

Talking of exotic places, I was in Torquay over the Easter break and I met up with my old friend and musical director, Martyn Waddington. We talked about how much the profession has changed over the past thirty years or so. When I was at Guildford School of Acting in the early eighties, we learned musical theatre by performing shows written by the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, Sandy Wilson, Julian Slade or Lionel Bart.

It was firmly traditional in style and content.

Then along came Andrew Lloyd Webber, Cameron Mackintosh and Cats. These guys totally changed musical theatre. Cameron was producing new work and Andrew was writing musicals that were much more taxing on the performer than anything that had gone before.

Things have evolved again since then. The singing now required in modern musicals is of such a high standard with more shows being sung throughout, that it puts an enormous strain on the singer’s voice. It’s like performing a mini opera eight times a week. Musical theatre performers need to be vocally fitter and stronger than ever before.

As a keen cricketer I was saddened to hear that the great Australian cricketer and commentator Richie Benaud has passed away. Almost everyone of a certain age who has played cricket, has at some point made a comment in a ‘Richie Benaud’ voice, usually “what a marvellous delivery that was” after seeing a wicket fall. But my favourite quote by Benaud is: “And Glenn McGrath dismissed for two, just 98 runs short of his century” on the Australian bowler, famous for his ineptitude with the bat.