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

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation

Dr Ben Macpherson (Speaker), 26 Jun 201929 Jun 2019

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.
26 Jun 201929 Jun 2019

Event (Conference)

TitleSong, Stage and Screen XIV
Abbrev. TitleSong, Stage and Screen XIV
Web address (URL)
LocationUniversity of Leeds
CountryUnited Kingdom
Degree of recognitionInternational event

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