Bewildered voices, simulated sounds: The cultural politics of voice in bio-musicals

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

Description of Activity

This paper will explore the cultural politics of voice in ‘bio-musicals’. In such productions, actors are expected to imitate the voices of well-known artists, being required to ‘sound like’ them.

Employing a tripartite critical framework, I seek to articulate the limitations and potentials of such vocal mimicry. I do this through three case studies taken from Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story (1989), Jolson—The Musical (1995) and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (2013). First, I draw on Roland Barthes’ discussion of the ‘grain of the voice’, to understand the difficulties inherent in any claim to fully ‘sound like’ someone else. Second, I employ Hillel Schwartz’s conception of
‘bewilderment’ to more fully articulate the way an audience’s agency might reside in a space between the original voice of the artist and its theatricalised recreation in a bio-musical. Third, I suggest that strategies from translation studies which focus on adaptation can offer a sense of the
potentials of imitation in this form.

Drawing these strands together, I conclude by offering a neologism that encapsulates the phenomena of simulated voices in popular stage musicals.
Period26 Jun 201929 Jun 2019
Event titleSong, Stage and Screen XIV: (Re)-Inventions: Adaptations and New Directions in Musicals on and between Stage and Screen
Event typeConference
Conference number14
LocationLeeds, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational