Students learn pop-rock musicals

Andrew Henderson

And five, six. seve, eight. Pitches were raised several octaves and disco dance moves were thrown down on Tuesday in the Fine Arts Recital Hall as students attended a masterclass hosted by Sheri Sanders. 

Sanders is the author of “Rock the Audition: How to Prepare For and Get Cast in Rock Musicals.” Sanders said she wrote the book to address a problem in the musical theater community. 

“There is a crisis in the musical theater community in that all the musicals were turning into rock musicals, but everybody was trained in legit musical theater,” she said. 

In response, Sanders wrote her book and began offering workshops on how to prepare for this rising of pop-rock musicals. The workshops started in 2004 in New York City, and she said three years ago, she took to the road to present her workshops to college campuses. WKU is the 41st school Sanders has visited.

Visiting assistant professor Bradley Vieth organized the event. Vieth said he has known Sanders through working together. When Sanders began her workshops, Vieth saw it as an opportunity for his students to gain crucial insight. 

“I think, more than even benefitting from it, I think it’s absolutely essential in the musical theater world,” Vieth said. 

Several students from Vieth’s class performed during the workshop. Students were assigned a style of music from the pop-rock genre, such as soul or disco, which they would then research and perform during the workshop. Abby Kohake, a Florence  junior, was one of those students.

Kohake performed “The Main Event/The Fight” by Barbra Streisand. Kohake said the first time she performed it, she was portraying having fun and trying to get others to join. As she went on, Sanders gave her different perspectives to try with the piece such as having Kohake imitate a drag queen or a nun from “Sister Act”.

“The freedom one has when auditioning for a pop-rock musical is different than the freedom of expression you have in legit musical theater,” she said. 

The students not performing on stage, sitting attentively in the audience, also learned from the comments Sanders made on the performances.

“I’ve never been to a workshop like that before,” said Somerset freshmen Mason Stevens. 

Stevens said he caught word of the event when he heard talk of it as concerning auditions for modern musicals.  He said that while the performances were happening he was diligently taking notes over the styles used and the corrections Sanders gave the performers.  

“It was interesting. The first time that they would do their performances I would think, ‘Oh, that was really good’, but then she (Sanders) would stop them at the end and brought up all these corrections,” he said. 

Kohkae said that she learned from the criticisms she received from Sanders. She said that in traditional musical theater performers are given a story, but in pop-rock performers have to learn to create the story for themselves. 

The lesson Kohake took away from “Rock the Audition” is one that Sanders hopes all her students take away from her workshops. 

“The hope is that they actually study the style, get a great song, rehearse, research the show, audition and then book it,” Sanders said.