Plays and Musicals, What’s the Difference?

Plays and Musicals, What's the Difference?

Louisa Hall

Whether you got to see West Ottawa’s musical production of Crazy for You or not, don’t sweat it. Performers are currently rehearsing West Ottawa’s winter play Arsenic and Old Lace, preparing for the upcoming shows on February 10-12. A lot of effort goes into putting on these fantastic performances, both shows have multiple differences on and off stage. Plays tend to be more acting and dialogue based, whereas musicals include the musicality of song and dance as well as acting and dialogue. But that’s just the start.

Tech-wise, musicals often have larger sets and more set changes than plays and can be described as busy.  Constant action is occurring besides the actual plot line, so while it’s the actor’s job to move the scenes along, there are dance numbers being set for and scene changes in the works while songs are being sung. During Crazy for You, one of the biggest changes of the set was right before the song “Girls enter Nevada”. The follies were lined up for their entrances in the stage wings, and the backstage crew was pulling back the 3 building sets that made up the saloon and rotating them to bring them back on for the end of the song as the town of Deadrock. All this occurred while characters Bobby Child and Polly Baker exchanged about 2 minutes of dialogue.

   Plays rely on the actors to move the scenes along, while scene changes are being cued and happening. Arsenic and Old Lace doesn’t have much set changing or moving as the play takes place in a home, but the crew has to make sure every prop is set where is it needs to be for the actor’s use in the scenes. During the intermission of the show, the stage gets reset for act 2. Each member of backstage and props is responsible for something that needs to be set.  

   Director Joe Huber has been with West Ottawa since 1999 and has been part of 47 productions varying in difficulty and style. Huber has continued to be a director because he enjoys the collaborative aspect of building the shows. According to Huber, musicals are harder to direct. “They are far more complex and need much more people to create the story,” Huber said. The difficulty of directing is just the basis of deviations between shows. “Plays are often based on some truth.  Whether comedy or drama, there is a story to tell with some truth. Musicals have a story as well, but they add a certain element of disbelief.  In real life, people don’t tend to walk around singing about how they feel or dancing in the middle of the street because someone just told them they love them. Musicals are a different form of entertainment. They are more of a fantasy world to which we are temporarily invited,” Huber said.

   Huber isn’t the only one that thinks musicals are harder; many of the returning crew members that have worked both plays and musicals are in agreement. Jr. Aubrey Klavon is currently participating in her fifth show, Arsenic and Old Lace. She prefers working in the stage wings; as she has experience with backstage, floor manager, and stage manager, which are all very big responsibilities. As stage manager, Klavon is in charge of taking all of the director’s cues and communicating them with the rest of the backstage crew. She typically goes to the rehearsals before any of the other crews as she’s learning the show with the actors.

   Klavon compared typical days at rehearsal for plays and musicals with fellow stage manager Soph. Tyler Zoerhoff. Musical rehearsals are “very hectic, [with] a lot going on. You need to be on top of it. You get so many queues and you have to be focused and intense, more aware of everything,” Zoerhoff said, whereas plays have the “same intensity but less going on. More sitting and listening.” Klavon added that plays have the same intensity, because while the crew for musicals has more work as they are bigger productions, for plays “[the] crew doesn’t start until marathon right before tech week so we have to learn and perfect everything in those five rehearsals….from my experience there haven’t been as many/as difficult set changes for the play,” Klavon said.

   No matter the variation between shows, they are all very fun to be apart of and very entertaining to watch. So even if there is a big difference between shows, and may musicals be harder from a crew perspective, or plays are more truthful and realistic, both shows take a lot of effort to create and that should be recognized more. A good way of recognition is seeing the show, so come support fellow peers on stage and see them!