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Jake Johnson

Jake Johnson is a cultural historian of American musical experiences. His work has been published in This Land Press, TEMPO, Echo: A Music-Centered Journal, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and Journal of the Society for American Music. Jake is completing his PhD in musicology at UCLA, where he is writing a dissertation that explores the rich relationship between musical theater and Mormonism.

“How to Build the Broadway Voice Without Really Trying”
Over the past three decades, the voices on musical theater stages have congealed into a singular, generic vocal sound. Not without coincidence, this uniform sound—what I call the Broadway voice—developed alongside the revitalization of Times Square in the 1980s and ’90s. As large corporations rebranded Times Square as a family-friendly corner of New York City, the Broadway musical likewise was repurposed as a major tourist attraction. Over time, the voices and bodies on Broadway stages have begun to look and sound identical, seemingly the result of good business strategies. The uniform shape and size of Broadway performers make it easy for producers to replicate a standardized theatrical product across time and space. A replicable, standardized voice thus is critical to the success of such a major corporate attraction.

In this paper I investigate this vocal sameness and explore the roots of the Broadway voice in musical theater training programs. I bring into relief how vocal training in such programs ensures a sonic uniformity, which presumably improves the marketability of the performer in an industry demanding predictable sounds. Specifically, I take a hard look at the “triple-threat” pedagogical philosophy at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). I do so not only because CCM is the oldest musical theater training program in the country, but also because it consistently ranks among the most elite in the nation; consequently, CCM has had an enviable number of alumni populating Broadway stages for several decades. Furthermore, I suggest the revitalization of Times Square, the rise of the megamusical, and the formation of the Broadway voice are all interrelated phenomena—enabled by a distinct corporatizing ideology in musical theater that has disciplined the body of the Broadway performer for decades and continues to shape the industry’s sound today.

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