In December 2018 Stuart completed his PhD at the Royal Academy of Music. His four year research project focussed on the tempo choices that the musical director makes in theatrical performance and the need for tempo consistency in professional musical theatre.
Thesis Title & Abstract
"Defining the role of the Musical Director and presenting the case for tempo consistency in professional musical theatre performance"
The role of the professional theatre musical director is multi-faceted, encompassing artistic and non-artistic responsibilities relating to the leadership of the music department. Akin to an operations manager, the musical director has a responsibility to ensure that the musical quality of the theatrical ‘product’ fulfills the expectations of the audience. In the age of globally branded musicals like Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Operaand The Lion King, performance elements that were previously left to the discretion of the ‘creative team’ have now become integral to the identity of the production branding. The recording revolution has also impacted live performance (Philip, 2004), whereby audiences are likely to arrive at the theatre with expectations about tempi and how the show will sound, which may have been implicitly learned through prior exposure to recordings and other media.
This research project unpacks the role of the musical director and assesses the need for tempo consistency in professional musical theatre performance, based on the experience of the author, and supported by current literature and interviews with leading theatre practitioners. Tempo consistency yields bi-fold benefits, providing a solid musical foundation for the performers whilst fulfilling the musical expectations of the audience. Through analysis of empirical data collected from professional productions of Elf – The Musical, Big – The Musical and We Will Rock You an initial hypothesis was established, which formed the basis for a controlled lab experiment involving three veteran musical directors. The lab experiment was designed to assess the external factors that affect tempo choice, thus providing valuable information about the levels of achievable tempo consistency in live performance. The results of the data analyses strongly suggest that conductors are capable of achieving a high level of performance-to-performance tempo consistency, and that tempo choices may be based on a sub-conscious, pre-learned tempo ‘map’.