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From Trilby:
Can you tell us a little about how songs change once rehearsals start? I'm not thinking so much of changes due to dramatic or plot requirements, but in changes that happen once a role is cast, and you've discovered the particular strengths (or weaknesses) of the actors entrusted with your work. Once a show goes into production, how much collaboration is there between the lyricist and the singers?

Sunday, 4 November 2001

Dear Trilby,

It is actually, in my experience, fairly rare to change songs in rehearsal because of a singer's "particular strengths or weaknesses." That's why the audition period is so lengthy and thorough. By the time you cast a major role, you will usually have heard the actor sing from 3-4 of the major songs in the show, and this is usually perfectly sufficient in terms of calculating his or her ability to sing the entire role. Most often songs change because of script changes. Songs are cut, added, modified, etc. according to ongoing revisions in the book. I would imagine that the one exception to what I've said is when you cast a major, major star. For example, when Rex Harrison was cast in "My Fair Lady," there was obviously a moment where the songwriters had to accept the fact that he couldn't sing. I'm sure those songs would have felt and sounded quite different given a really strong singer. As we know them today, however, it's impossible to think that Henry Higgins' songs could be improved by actually singing them - Harrison just stamped his imprimatur upon them and the result was a type of perfection.

You ask how much collaboration there is between lyricist and singers once a show goes into production. I imagine that this is different for every lyricist. I believe that many songwriters simply don't want to hear about it if the singer has problems or suggestions. My philosophy tends to be the opposite. I welcome hearing any and all suggestions. More than once, I have found that a singer or actor has a great idea which will improve a particular moment in the show. Also, obviously singers come to the lyricist frequently for further explanation of what a lyric means, what a particular line refers to, why a specific word was used, etc. In my view, it is extremely important that the lyricist always be ready, able and willing to answer every such question.

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