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Acting Songs

Actingsongs In Acting Songs, one of Manhattan’s premier vocal coaches and accompanists has put on paper his reasoned thoughts about singing. He ought to know what he’s talking about, as he’s been at the keyboard when any number of great and not-so-great performers have strutted their vocal stuff. Even more to his credit, he has passed on what he knows economically, much the way Richard Boleslavsky (whom he cites for suggested additional reading) did in his book Acting: The First Six Lessons.

Brunetti aims his succinct advice primarily, it seems, at singers putting together an act with an emphasis on the Great American Songbook. Starting with his recommendation that singers begin by simply reading the lyrics to connect with them, Brunetti writes about getting to the essence of a song, determining its objective, and regarding it as a means of overcoming an imagined obstacle, then progresses to beginning a performance and establishing an opening attack. From there he discusses mastering a song’s rhythm and only then bringing in the melody and accompanying gestures and focus. Throughout, he pushes the indisputable notion that songs are monologues set to music.

Brunetti is also on the mark with other particulars, such as when he considers emotional displays. He writes, “There’s an old saw that says an actor experiencing feeling on stage robs the audience of their feelings.... That’s definitely not my belief. I suggest that you allow and, in fact, welcome any feelings that organically occur in yourself as you work.” He’s right that any recognizable emotion a singer experiences has to land with the audience.

But Brunetti may be wrong when he discourages performers from engaging audience members directly. One reason he gives is that the practice disorients the spectator. An odd thing to say for someone who’s aware that the allure of cabaret is the intimacy it offers—and what’s more intimate than one-on-one contact? He favorably mentions the first lady of cabaret, Mabel Mercer, apparently forgetting that she often sang at individual tables. At auditions, yes, pick that spot over the auditors’ heads as the place to direct your attention. But otherwise, consider at least occasionally eyeballing the patrons. Although Brunetti should know better than to misspell Minnelli or write “review” when he means “revue,” everything else he has assimilated he relays effectively.

Acting Songs, by David Brunetti , BookSurge Publishing, 2007, paperback, 104 pages, $17.95.

-- David Finkle

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