I’ve been wondering about this one for a long time. Why don’t more musical theater actors read music? It seems like a no-brainer, but still, we’re stuck plunking out notes to actors who can’t read. Why is this the norm?

As far as I can tell, lots of people want to be on Broadway. They vary in talent, sure, but there seem to be more talented people than there are roles in musical theater at any given time. So, casting directors weed out the bad ones, and based on an off-book audition, or recommendations from other people, stick some talented actors in shows. The talented ones who don’t get work are left to keep trying.

Now, it seems to me this whole scheme could be a lot more merit-based if there was a sight-singing element to the audition process. Now, you don’t only have talented people, but you have talented people who can read music. The field is smaller for a while, and now you’re picking people based on real merit and abilities rather than splitting hairs over similarly-equipped actors.

Actors take lessons in singing, movement, interpretation, even auditioning specifically. If they’re already pouring all of this money into honing their craft, can’t they take the comparatively small step of learning how to read music? This would be one very easy prerequisite to implement, and it would smooth the whole process.

This has an economic advantage to producers, as well. When actors read music, they don’t have to spend as long in rehearsal. When they can sing through their parts the first time, and not go through it note-by-note by ear, everyone goes home early, and fewer bills have to be paid.

Usually I’m OK with the differences between the music world and the musical theater world. I understand the time crunches in the latter, and can accept the more free-flowing, frenetic attitude of it. Maybe technique should come second to meaning in theater, fine. But here, it would actually help everyone if actors had to read music. It would speed up the process, cost less, and make the singers more precise.