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From Broadway to Hollywood

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Genny Cotroneo | 16:47 UK time, Tuesday, 23 October 2012

On Friday 19th October, BBC Radio 2 broadcasted a special Friday Night is Music Night with musical theatre as the central theme. A fitting backdrop for Training in Musical Theatre 2011 beneficiary, Emily Dunn, who was given the chance to perform a solo piece. So what’s it like to get ready for radio?

Emily Dunn with an orchestra pit in the background
My Friday Night is Music Night experience - by Emily Dunn

“Waiting expectantly in the wings, I took a deep breath to calm myself before I walked onto the stage. In some respects it seemed the enormity of what I was about to do had only just hit me. In about 30 seconds I would be singing live on Radio 2 with the BBC concert orchestra. I would be watched by a 500-strong audience and, more than that, heard by an estimated 600,000 radio listeners. I thought back to the beginning of this whole process and how extremely lucky I was to be there and to be given this amazing opportunity. But before I had to time to dwell on it, I heard Michael Ball announce, “Here’s the song that Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd-Webber wrote for Mary Magdalene, and it’s sung this evening for us… by Emily Dunn…”

The Audition
In May, we were told that our school - Arts Educational Schools London - was to take part in a very special and exciting live broadcast of BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night (FNIMN) Our director of Musical Theatre, Chris Hocking, told us that the entire year would participate as an ensemble, and there would also be parts available for soloists. I remember his words vividly, “To be a soloist you will need to have “nerves of steel!” (I’d always thought that I worked well under pressure but, as I’d never done anything like this before, I wondered if a live radio broadcast would change this). I had to admit, I wasn’t that familiar with the programme- so I went straight home that night to research it. I was surprised to find that FNIMN is the ‘world’s longest running orchestral live music programme on radio,’ which features the highly acclaimed BBC concert orchestra. Armed with this knowledge, I was delighted to find that I had been selected to audition for a solo in front of the BBC panel - Executive Producer Anthony Cherry and Co-Producer Ruth Beazley.

On the day of the auditions the panel was incredibly friendly and supportive and I left feeling that, even if I weren’t to be chosen as a soloist, it was a wonderful experience (although that didn’t stop me from feeling the gut-wrenching uncertainty that comes after an audition!) A week later I was put out of my misery with the fantastic news that I was to be one of 13 soloists.

I instantly set about working on my two songs- a duet with Robin Lake, ‘You are my Lucky Star’ from the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain and the famous solo, ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him,’ from Jesus Christ Superstar. I rehearsed intensively for the next few weeks with singing teacher Ann James and Head of Music Dane Preece on my material- working particularly on the low vocal ranges which both songs covered. I worked particularly on my solo, trying to create my own interpretation of this well-known song. The BBC producers and MD Richard Balcombe came in to help all the soloists, giving us tremendous support and invaluable advice for coping specifically with Radio singing. Their tips included, when singing a high or loud note, pulling the microphone sharply away from your mouth ‘diva-style’ is a big Radio ‘no-no’! 

Masterclass with Michael Ball
With only a couple of weeks to go, we were given the exciting news- our programme was to be fronted and presented by none other than West-End legend Michael Ball! So, in the last week of rehearsals, he came in to Arts Ed give the soloists a masterclass in performance and radio technique. It was an event for which we all eagerly awaited! He was extremely friendly and encouraging, giving us all lots of vital advice; from radio techniques like how to handle a microphone without creating distracting noise, to avoiding  looking into “musical theatre middle distance” (staring into space) while performing. As the countdown to the big day began, my excitement and anticipation grew even further. I’d already had so many fantastic experiences- auditioning for a BBC panel, performing in front of Michael Ball- and we hadn’t yet made it to the performance!   

Friday Night
The day of the broadcast had arrived, and I was a bundle of nerves, excitement and anticipation. After becoming initially dumbstruck by the awesome sound produced by the BBC orchestra, I knew I had to focus my attention on the task at hand. I was prepared and ready to perform. We’d rehearsed with the orchestra and Arts Ed ensemble for the past couple of days, and now the audience was beginning to fill the Mermaid theatre. Sitting on-stage, we were tuned into the 8 o’clock news on Radio 2-and then it all began.

Producer Anthony Cherry told us all that the performance would go by in a flash- and he was right. Before I knew it the FNIMN theme tune had been played, the programme had begun and, all too quickly, it was my turn to sing.   

After I’d sung the first few notes of my song, I felt like everything was going to be ok, and I could relax and enjoy it. As clichéd as it might sound, it really was the best experience of my life. Thinking back on it now, I feel so proud of myself and all my classmates and what we had achieved. This whole experience made me realise just how essential and beneficial my training at Arts Ed has been- without which I wouldn’t have had the technical skill and confidence to sing on live radio. I would also like to thank the BBC Performing Arts Fund for all they have done to support my training for the past couple of years. If I could give any advice to anyone currently auditioning for musical theatre schools or perhaps trying to raise money to fund their place, it would be to absolutely keep going.  The training and experiences you get (like FNIMN) make it completely worth it in the end.”

Emily Dunn was awarded with £1500 towards her training at Arts Educational Schools London as part of the 2011 Training in Musical Theatre scheme. More information about the scheme can be found here.


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