British accents can vary in Broadway shows
NEW YORK — That special sound you hear on Broadway these days could be a British accent.
Three hit shows — “Matilda the Musical,” “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” and “Kinky Boots” — all have mainly Yanks in their casts playing English men, women, boys and girls.
How are they doing? For the most part, not too bad, said Patricia Fletcher, a dialect coach for film, TV and stage actors who teaches at the New School for Drama and has seen all three shows.
“They all delivered in different ways,” said Fletcher, who has trained such actors as Harvey Keitel, Lynn Redgrave, Jean Reno, Drea de Matteo, Elias Koteas and Gina Gershon. “They really came through for the most part.”
The show that fared best in her book was “Gentleman’s Guide,” a show set in 1909 in England about an impoverished man who discovers he’s ninth in line to inherit a fortune, so he decides to eliminate the eight heirs of the D’Ysquith family standing in his way. All eight victims are played by Jefferson Mays — two women and six men.
“They really had character within dialect,” Fletcher said. “I don’t have that much real criticism, especially if I’m focusing on dialect. I think people are going to be entertained and have fun.”
The other two shows had some problems: “Kinky Boots,” the high-energy Cyndi Lauper musical about a British shoe factory that finds new life in drag footwear, had accents that were inconsistent, Fletcher found. But, she added, few may notice amid the cross-dressing, dancing and jokes: “It’s so wild that you almost expect the dialects to be just over the top anyway.”
The dialect in “Matilda,” a witty musical adaptation of the beloved novel by Roald Dahl about a telekinetic schoolgirl, was good, but it often got washed out by overlapping voices and complex choreography, she said.
“The best one technically was ‘Gentleman’s Guide,’” she said. “‘Kinky Boots’ was in and out. With ‘Matilda,’ I don’t think it was the dialect as much as the staging and the fact that they had everybody doing everything at once.”
A spokeswoman for “Matilda” declined to comment, saying the show speaks for itself. Rick Miramontez, a “Kinky Boots” representative, replied: “We think our American cast members do a fantastic job with their characters’ dialects. The characters’ genders, however, are indeed often inconsistent.”
Perhaps one of the reasons “Gentleman’s Guide” was tighter dialect-wise is that the show has an unofficial accent cop — Jane Carr, an English-born former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company who has been on the TV show “Dear John” and on Broadway in “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” and “Mary Poppins.”
Carr will diplomatically take aside an actor if he or she has made a mess of a pronunciation at least three times. “It’s not easy to be consistent in another accent, things do get stretched a little. I try to readjust it when it starts sounding wrong.”
Ultimately, Fletcher doesn’t think most Broadway audiences will much care about some poor pronunciations. The fact that all three are exuberant musicals and not serious dramas gives the actors plenty of leeway.
“If you’re not a dialect coach, you’re not going to be bothered that actors are dropping things a bit,” she said. But, Fletcher added with a laugh: “They wouldn’t get away with it in England.”