Storytelling in Musicals

Lesson #2: Storytelling in Musicals


Objective: Students will demonstrate an understanding of storytelling within musicals by comparing and contrasting music and dance performances in a group discussion, and telling the class the story of their performance piece.


Materials Needed: Performance Videos from YouTube


Hook: Movement Telephone

Select five volunteers to participate in the activity. Have four go into the hallway/behind a curtain to wait until they are called in. The remaining volunteer (Person #1) will secretly be told a short story which they will have to interpret into a movement/dance sequence they will show the next volunteer who enters (Person #2). Person #2 must then interpret the story seen in the movement sequence into a verbal re-telling to be told to the next volunteer (Person #3). Person #3 will listen to Person #2 retelling of the story and interpret it into a movement/ dance sequence that Person #4 will verbally retell to Person #5 who will interpret the retold story into a movement dance sequence.


Transition: Did the integrity of the story stay the same throughout this exercise? Why or why not? How does this connect to musical theatre? Musicals are most effective when performers desperately remember one thing- THEY ARE STORYTELLERS FIRST! It’s very easy to get caught up in the technical elements of musical theatre since they require precision, but they (singing and dancing) become powerless if you the performer forgets to tell the story. They must have purpose. Some people like to separate music – dance – theatre into boxes. However it should be look at like this: When a character can no longer full express themselves with words/acting, they sing, and when sing isn’t enough, they dance. The habit is to forsake the acting and jump to the singing and dancing right away. Don’t fall into that trap. The acting or storytelling permeates throughout it all! Let’s explore some examples of powerful storytelling vs. less powerful storytelling using the elements of singing and dancing.


Step 1: Compare & Contrast

Show two clips of the same musical theatre song being sung (See I’m Smiling) by an amateur performer and then a professional performer. Repeat this by showing two clips of the same musical theatre piece being danced by amateurs or professionals. Was their storytelling effective? Why or why not? What specific things did the performer do to tell the story? Are you seeing acting techniques we’ve learned at work?

  • Amateur Singing:
  • Professional Singing:
  • Drill Team:
  • WSS:


Step 2: Storytelling Performance Pieces

Have the class get out their performance pieces and sit in a circle. Each student will share what their performance piece is about- the story of the song/ show, and their personal goal they want to accomplish throughout the unit.


Wrap Up/ Conclusion:

Remind the students to begin memorizing and practicing their songs since we will start workshopping them next class, and to begin finding information for their presentations.