New Interpretations

Sometimes, a song becomes so familiar that it needs a little shaking up before you remember how good of a song it actually is.

For example, “I Can Do Better Than That” from Jason Robert Brown’s wonderful song cycle/musical The Last 5 Years, which chronicles the rise and fall of a relationship from the perspective of the man and the woman…in reverse order. He starts at hello while she starts at goodbye. This song occurs during her “first date” moment, where she realizes that this new guy she’s on a date with could really be something. It’s funny and touching, with very clever lyrics and a compelling melody. I listened to the original cast recording, featuring Sherie Rene Scott as Cathy, so many times that it’s not even on my iPod. I can just listen to it in my head from memory. Anyway, Sherie Rene Scott is wonderful. In case you’ve never heard her perform the song, you should view this clip:

Now that I’ve established Sherie’s brilliance, take into consideration that this song is in the audition book of nearly every young (and some not so young) white female in the musical theatre profession. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard the song used in acting master classes or vocal recitals. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even pay attention to the words anymore. That is, until I heard this rendition:

This performance, by the incomparable Anika Noni Rose (of “Frog Princess” and “Dreamgirls” fame) marks the first time I’ve ever heard a non-white woman sing this song. What took so long? Her acting and vocal choices are so refreshing. She’s not trying to imitate any previous performance of this song. Along with the sexy brass arrangement, Anika gives this song the spice it needed to make me actually listen again and thank goodness, because it’s a wonderful song!

QUESTION: Mostly for the actors and singers among us – how do you make a piece your own? What do you do to distinguish YOUR performance from the many that came before you?

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    • Danny
    • April 10th, 2010

    wow what a voice that girl has! The last 5 years was a favorite of mine until I went through some powerful stuff that coincided with the story line and I had to stop listening. It’s still great though.

    • I can understand that. If we connect our emotions to a particular piece of art or song, it can be difficult to revisit the material without dredging up old feelings.

    • Rex
    • April 11th, 2010

    I remember listening to The last Five Years with you endlessly in the car. I still like it a lot and this new version – wow what a vocie

    • Rob
    • April 23rd, 2010

    This is 2 weeks late but it’s 2am and bored so I’ll answer the question. I personally think that one doesn’t work to distinguish very hard. I think it’s about going back to the text and understanding what you see as the arch. Then singing it with your own voice. Do what you do. I feel like Anika’s version of the song is soooo different from Sherie’s because Anika’s voice, body, acting style are all completely different from Sherie’s. People keep going back to see Hamlet being played and Tosca being sung because while being great pieces, the newness comes with who’s doing it. I think just being you is enough. There isn’t another one. I learned that from Bernadette Peters. The world needs you. I’m learning that slowly. I suppose the question is why does it take us so long to learn that?

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