7 Broadway Powerhouses Spill Their Vocal Health Secrets

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Photo Source: Matthew Murphy

You can train and train and train and still, nothing can prepare you for the realities of eight shows a week other than actually performing eight shows a week. While the life of a stage actor is tough on both stamina and mental health, the toll is taken hardest on your voice. When you’re in the grind long enough, it’s natural that you find various elixirs, exercises, and the like to make sure those chords stay in tip-top belting shape. From Hennessy to “straw buzzing,” here are a few ways Broadway heavyweights do just that. 

Try “straw buzzing.” 
As soon as ‘Mama Will Provide’ [the ‘Once on This Island’ showstopper] is over, I almost instantaneously start warming down. I do a cool down just making sure my cords are back into a normal flow. I warm up twice a day: once when I wake up in the morning, I just do a 30 minute [warm-up], and then when I get to the theater, I warm up, I sing through ‘Mama Will Provide’ a couple of times, and then I’ll drink a concoction which I call my ‘throat,’ which is ginger crystal, oregano oil, ginger oil, and manuka honey. It’s awful. It feels like straight gasoline on the cord. But you know what? It rips through anything down there. And I get checked up all the time. You gotta keep everything fresh! I’m not 18 anymore, I can’t just wake up, cough, and go.”

“[As an exercise] you put a straw in your mouth and you just buzz through it. It creates tension to make your cords [touch]. You can also put it in a little glass of water and just make bubbles. You know your parents used to yell at you for doing that and now I’m just like, ‘Look at me, mom!’ ” —Alex Newell,  original star of “Once of This Island”

Mind your voice all the time, even onstage. 
“[With] a long run, you’ve gotta prevent the snowball. So if something starts feeling weird one day, you’ve gotta deal with it that day or it’s gonna turn into a bigger thing the next day. And it’s taken me a long time to learn that and to kind of tap into what that is. But you just take care of yourself, you know your body, you know your instrument, and you continually work at it. I can go through my career of just doing long runs, and I know so much more now than I did at the beginning, and I wish I could’ve told myself, ‘Save yourself on that.’ ‘Don’t kill yourself here.’ ‘Don’t do that.’ The only answer to that is just know yourself as well as you can.” —Santino Fontana,  original star of “Tootsie”

Your diet is as crucial as your vocal warmup. 
“[F]or me, it’s really, really basic. I sleep at least eight hours every night, I’m not going out drinking, I’m hydrating a ridiculous amount, I’m eating light but protein-rich, a lot of salads with salmon and things like that. I have a little office studio in my apartment and I warm up in there every single day, and I stretch every day and I meditate in between shows. I’m doing all the corny stuff that we must do when we’re working this hard.” —Will Roland,  original star of “Be More Chill”

READ: How to Become a Musical Theater Actor

This potion is fetch. 
“I hydrate a lot. Every day before the show, I stretch and I gargle with a little bit of apple cider vinegar and warm water. I have lemon slices—I have a lot of phlegm for some reason; I’m allergic to everything in the theater—and I’m always clearing my throat. So I take a little bit of lemon juice and put it on my throat and it just cuts the phlegm. I really feel like a lot of [self-care] is mental, especially when you have to do eight shows a week.” —Ashley Park,  original star of “Mean Girls”

There really are “wellness formulas.”
“I’ll take a shot of apple cider vinegar before I go to bed or if I feel like something’s going on with my throat. And I do those wellness formulas, a couple dollops in water, just to try to keep healthy. A little ginger sometimes—but that’s only when I feel like something’s going wrong.” —Renée Elise Goldsberry,  original star of “Hamilton”

Try alcohol—gargling, not drinking.
“I’m a champion texter because there’s a certain time in the evening I don’t speak. The best vocal rest is literally vocal rest, you just have to shut up. Obviously, don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I try not to yell at people driving foolishly in the streets. I do take Slippery Elm tablets twice a day religiously. This is my own personal trick: I always tell the cast, listen, I don’t drink so if you smell it on me [it’s because] I gargle with Hennessy. I have for my whole life. I spit it out, but I gargle with Hennessy. Many years ago I got it into my head that it kills germs—and it does!” —Orfehoriginal star of “Pretty Woman”

Water and steam, you’ll sing like a dream. 
“Drink as much water as you possibly can. Like, if you’re not peeing all the time, you’re not doing it right. Just take care of yourself—don’t scream, don’t talk loudly, don’t run your voice down. I try to stay quiet. I don’t go out after shows, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke. Take all the fun things away and you can sing eight times a week. But then it’s also things like taking voice lessons. I take a voice lesson every month, I use my steamer every day, I warm up before the show, I cool down after the show. It’s like any sort of athletic event. You have to take care of your voice the same way you take care of your body if you were going for a run or dancing or any of that. You have to warm up, cool down, stretch.” —Caitlin Kinnunen,  original star of “The Prom”

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Casey Mink
Casey Mink is the staff writer at Backstage. When she's not writing about television, film, or theater, she is definitely somewhere watching it.
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