Editorial: Overtures Need to Make a Return to Theatre

Chris Santiago, Copy Editor

Nowadays, many musicals do not include overtures, or in other words, orchestral pieces usually played before the showing of a musical or opera. During an overture, there is usually nothing, or little to nothing going on on stage. Simply put, overtures are that special part of a performance that make you appreciate where you are.

An overture helps to emerge the viewers into the story being told on stage, and sets the tone for the whole performance. “…dramatically, it helped to effect a mood transition from the outer world of commerce and cabs to the imaginary world about to be created onstage,” Jesse Green says.

Some musicals that include overtures include Urinetown, West Side Story, and Phantom of the Opera.

Overtures give you an idea as to what the music in the show will sound like, and what you should expect. For some, it may take their minds off everything stress inducing, or frustrating going on in their heads. It seems as though people have begun to appreciate the actors performing on stage, and completely forget about the musicians who keep the show going. Without the pit, we would just have actors singing acapella on stage.

The overture of a show also helps with this issue. When all the instruments are heard being played, it assists the audience to acknowledge the amount of work that the  musicians put in.

Some might say it wastes their time, and that there is no real reason for overtures, since they do not advance the plot in any way. Although, if someone goes to see a musical, they should be there to appreciate the show as a whole, not just what’s going on on the stage.

Due to economic issues in the world of theatre, orchestra sizes for the pit may have shrinked. That doesn’t mean, however, that overtures cannot be composed. Regardless of how many instruments are involved, an overture is a nice little niche, that adds to the magic of a show. “…but a consequence of what might be considered the technology of their operations, so that the need of the performing groups for contributed funds is likely to continue to grow ever larger.” the website Americans for The Arts states.

“When they stopped writing overtures for Broadway, somewhere in the 1960’s, they took away an opportunity for anticipation and recognition and found nothing to replace it with,” Oxford University says.

There are many musicals, usually older, that include overtures. Getting the public, especially hardcore theatre goers, to listen to classic musical overtures, and allowing themselves to be emerged in this fictional world, can help bring a revival to these musical pieces.

Above is a recording of the overture for the Disney musical Newsies. Jack Feldman is the man behind the lyrics, who worked alongside with Alan Menken, the composer. Menken has worked on numerous other theatre productions such as Aladdin, Tangled, and The Little Mermaid. Newsies won a Tony Award in 2012 for best original score.