Walter Mencken 7 p.m., Dec. 10
The microphone could be the most influential development in theater since electric lighting.
Electric lighting illuminated theater in a manner not experienced before. The microphone amplifies theater in a manner not experienced before.
At first blush it may sound overstated but individual microphones on actors have changed almost everything. It certainly changed acting practices and some contend it ruined the singing in musical theater.
How did it change acting? Actors were able to speak in a natural manner when they stopped worrying about their voices carrying to the back of the house. Acting became less presentational and affected with the use of amplification.
How did it change singing? Actors whose singing voices are not developed enough to carry to the back of the house can now sing almost anything they want to. If an actor looks the part but can't sing it very well, it doesn't matter as much if they can be mic'ed.
Microphones have enhanced theater by allowing more natural acting but also diminished theater by allowing mediocre or even bad singers to be heard.
I am a firm believer in bad singers not being heard--at least not in public.
In some extreme cases, the actor doesn't even have to have the notes the role requires. The highest notes can be piped in via soundtrack. A soundtrack doesn't sound too different through the speakers than a microphone. I'm thinking of the "Angel of Music" high notes from Phantom.
On the other hand, microphones allow great singers to create an intimate mood, even in a large house. There is no more magical moment in theater than when you feel the actor is singing directly and only to you.
Whatever the downside or upside may be, microphones are here to stay.