The Voice Behind The Voices: Top Vocal Coach Liz Caplan

You’ve heard her joyously thanked in Tony and Emmy Award acceptance speeches, and you’ve sung along with the fruits of her work on record-breaking pop/rock albums, blockbuster movie musicals, and Broadway shows about Mormons and Dublin street musicians. As the voice behind the music industry’s top voices, vocal coach-teacher-supervisor Liz Caplan is a story all her own. Since arriving to New York in 1978 with just $300-worth of babysitting money, she’s amassed a clientele that includes The Goo Goo Dolls, James Blunt, Lily Allen, Neil Patrick Harris, the Broadway casts of Book of Mormon and Once, and more. And when you couple her students with her two apps, her consultation to all major record labels, and her team of associates that teach her licensed technique, a Liz Caplan empire is born.

But you’d never know it when you meet her. Clad in a bright tunic in her sun-lit Chelsea studio where you’re greeted by her very vocal and gentlemanly dog Schanuzee, Liz is the image of contentment. Better yet, joy. The secret: her mind-body approach to coaching. By mixing homeopathy, physical alignment, and nutrition, Liz has created a style that seeks to, as she explains, "melt" people – drawing forth their true spirit, and giving it the freedom to be heard in their voice. 

And she does exactly that. For an afternoon, I had the chance to have a lesson and conversation with Liz, where she shared some of the most thrilling moments of her career, a shocking singing no-no, the truth behind tone-deafness, and one miraculous story.

You have a kind of sixth sense, and you’re also a bit of a guru. When did you realize you have this talent to understand voices?
Since I was a child, I’ve always had this freaky gift of being able to hear what frequencies are missing in somebody’s voice. I’m able to locate it and hear when someone is locking their head, their shoulders, tensing their feet. The moment that tension is released, the sound pops open. I truly believe the voice is completely perfect; it’s what we do to it before we breath and sing that makes it imperfect. 

What’s it like for you to watch a live performance? Are you constantly in coaching mode?
I can’t help it, but the answer is yes. For instance, I work with Amanda Seyfried, and worked with her on the movie version of Les Miserables. When I sat down next to her to watch the premiere, which was so exciting, I told myself, "Okay self, relax, let the movie just wash over you." But I couldn’t help but dive into every person’s voice. It’s just what I do. When it comes to what you were put on this Earth to do, for me it’s analyze voices.

How did you prepare her for the role of Cosette?
Amanda didn’t just get an offer; she had to audition a bunch of times. She came into classes pretty much everyday for six months. There was a moment where I said, "I’m going to make this happen for her. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get her this role." And I still have the voicemail on my phone when she called and said, "Hi. I’m calling to let you know I just got off the phone with the director. And I’m Cosette." 

You have so many thrills like this.
I think it’s the kind of thrills I’m supposed to have in my life. When I was a singer, I couldn’t handle them, but when I apply them to my students, I can; it’s so joyous because it’s in my heart but outside of me. It’s like the energy my client, composer/lyricist and performer Lin Manuel Miranda, gives off everyday. It’s pure joy, because you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to do. So my applause is when my client gets the part.

What about the time Book of Mormon actress Nikki M. James won the Tony? 
I was in the third row because I was working with Neil Patrick Harris on the Tony Awards, as I always do, and when Nikki said, "to Liz Caplan, my voice teacher who saved my life and my voice," my husband turned to me and said: "She just said your name." And I went into this place where a vacuum happened and I had to watch it myself to remember it. 

You work mostly with clients sent by Broadway producers and management companies. But you also do emergency consulting work with record labels. 
Yes, recording companies will call me when an artist has to do a really huge gig and they were on tour and suddenly lost their voice. I’ll be with them for an entire day and give intermediate voice lessons – 15 minutes here, 20 minutes here, 30 minutes here – from 9am to when they do their gig at night.

And that doesn’t overwork their voice?
Nothing I do will ever fatigue the voice. I feel like when I’m teaching, I have a miner’s cap on with a flashlight. I’m always inside the voice and throat and trying to get a feel for what’s going on. Everything I do is to limber up the intrinsic muscles that cause that fatigue and are overcompensated. 

What’s it like promoting a healthy, holistic vocal approach in an industry known for debauchery?
I’ll never judge what artists want to do with their mind and body, but I do feel that if you want to be at the top of your field and aim for that award, then you want to take care of yourself; do yoga, meditate for just 10 minutes a day, eat properly. It can be a hard, depressive industry, and if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’ll always feel a step behind the artists who work out, eat right, win awards. If you treat yourself positively, all of that will actualize itself positively into your career. 

Besides drinking and depressing yourself to death, what’s the #1 worst thing for your voice?
Advil. Do not take Advil. Ibuprofen is a blood thinner, so it thins the blood going to the vocal cords. If you’re singing something really hard and you’re taking ibuprofen, the risk of hemorrhaging your vocal cord is tremendous. Take extra strength Tylenol. 

Be honest: do you think anyone can sing?
Yes. If you can hear the pitches of police or fire engine sirens, then you can sing.

Then what about tone-deafness? Does that exist?
Actually, no. People who say they are tone deaf were just not exposed to music growing up. I call them "tone-ignorant." They were usually very into athletics as a kid, and rarely saw shows or listened to music, so they weren’t exposed to any music. With a good deal of lessons, it’s easy to reverse, and always a revelation for them when they finally hear themselves sing in-tune. 

Four paws appear underneath the door, as Schnauzee scratches to come in. Liz opens the door, and he takes a seat beside her.

Your dog can really sing. How old is he?
Eleven. He got diagnosed with cancer in June, during Tony week when I was working with Neil. They gave him 30 days to live and said he has the worst kind of cancer an animal can get. So I called all of my homeopathic healers and medical intuits, and today is day 188. He’s on supplements and enzymes and I cook him organic food. 

And it’s gone?
He’s in remission. He went into remission on the day they said he would not live. While the medical professionals told me nothing would help him, my homeopath said, "This is going to be hard, but if you do this regimen, you might be able to get him okay." And he was. I will tell you, I have had students who have won Tony Awards, Grammys, all of that, and this is my biggest accomplishment yet.

Josh Gad

Your Daily Guide To Trending Topics

Every day there are some topics that are trending. Since many of them don’t make sense, we provide easy contextualization. Also, this way, you won’t actually have to know anything about anything.

Tony Awards

Who knew Google users were so theatrical? The trendingest term on the site this morning has to do with last night’s awards show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, which celebrated all things theater. Once, adapted from the twee movie of the same name, took the award for Best Musical, and the beloved revival of Clybourne Park took the award for Best Play.

Auburn University

Googlers are also curious about Auburn University or, more specifically, the shooting that took place near its campus Sunday. A pool party was interrupted, cops say, when Desmonte Leonard arrived at the soiree, shot three people dead and wounded three others in what might have been a fight over the affections of a lady. Leonard is still at large. Though people are tying the crime to the nearby school and its football team, but Auburn’s police chief has said, “The only connection that the Auburn football team has to this is they are victims of a brutal shooting. Sometimes the young men get a bad rap, I feel like, but they are the victims today.” 

Deena Cortese

Yahoo! users are more interested in the crimes of Jersey Shore star Cortese, who was arrested Sunday in Seaside Heights, NJ for disorderly conduct. According to TMZ, this came after a weekend that saw the show’s gents get into a bar brawl that left one cast member with a sprained ankle.  Since Snooki’s about to be a mom, someone’s gotta take over her role of being an out-of-control boardwalk hobbit. You can check out a video of the ordeal here.

Joe Paterno’s Will

Something else capturing the minds of Yahoo searchers this morning is the odd news that the will of the late Joe Paterno, the Penn State coach who died in January (and was tied up in all of that nasty pedophilia scandal stuff), has been mysteriously sealed. And it goes deeper than that. “Even the judge’s sealing order and the petition a Paterno attorney filed to request the order were sealed, erasing from the public record any explanation for the maneuver, which estate law experts and the Centre County register of wills called exceedingly rare,” reported Citizen’s Voice, a local newspaper. Something creepy’s going on! 


You’re doing better today, Twitter. While most of your worldwide trending topics are still exceptionally simple minded, in the U.S., news about tennis and the alleged butchering of some interesting Jeb Bush quotes are trending. Unfortunately, it’s just people postings the same stories again and again. Here and here. For variety in tweets, we had to go with this charmer. You’re welcome.  

THe One 4

The One 3

The One 2

The One 1

Rupert Gets Spanked and a Queen Is Crowned

Happy May Day! Occupy Wall Street’s general strike is today with protests planned in 135 cities. [Occupy]

In case you want to see some action on the screen, the third trailer for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming mother of all films, The Dark Knight Rises, has been released and features even more explosions and flying cars than we had previously seen. Don’t pretend like you won’t be waiting in line to see this one opening weekend. [YouTube]

In dethroning news of the day, in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, a British parliamentary panel has decided that media mogul Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run his empire. [NYT]

The nominations for the 2012 Tony Awards were announced this morning, and the little guy doesn’t always lose—the musical that could, Once, based on the sweet albeit twee film of the same name, swept up, garnering 11 nominations. [Tony Awards]

If you know gay people, and you should, you’ll know that last night RuPaul’s Drag Race, perhaps the best reality show around, crowned a winner for its fourth season. We won’t spoil it for you, but we will say that we are very, very pleased with the outcome. Oh whatever, fine, it was Sharon Needles. [EW]

Markèta Irglová: Star of Movie “Once” on its Move to Broadway

When most 19-year-olds were grinding through midterms, Markèta Irglová was accepting an Oscar for her music in the film Once. Five years later, her passion project is coming to Broadway.

The first time she saw rehearsals for the stage adaptation of Once, Markèta Irglová knew it would be a success. "I simply couldn’t find any faults with it," says the 23-year-old Czech-born singer and songwriter. The musical, which had barely begun its off-Broadway run when it announced its move to Broadway, is the latest iteration of the hit 2006 movie of the same name, a story of unattainable love between two musicians which co-starred Irglová and fellow singer/songwriter Glen Hansard. The stage adaptation of Once is performed by a whole new cast of actors, and the stage itself transformed into a jovial Irish pub. But the music – co-written by Irglová and Hansard and fashioned with heart and soaring melodies –  remains the same. 

"I was always award that that what you do affects those around you, but I was honored to see it affecting other people who worked with it and molded it into their own thing," she says.

Though being a part of the audience is a new experience for Irglová, she welcomes the change. Since being discovered by Hansard at the age of 13, she’s won the Oscar for Best Original Song for "Falling Slowly," toured the world with Hansard under the moniker The Swell Season and, after they ended their two-year relationship, released her solo record, Anar, which she’s currently touring in support of. 

"What’s different is I’m now in a position of leadership,"  Irglová says. "I have to dream everything up and manifest it and put a lot of thought and energy into it, but the rewards are bigger.

Cristin Milioti Leads the Musical ‘Once’ to Broadway

Perhaps you’ve seen her as a cranky bridesmaid on The Sopranos. Or maybe as a pigtailed, threesome-loving writer on 30 Rock. But starting now, you’ll see Cristin Milioti on the Broadway stage as “Girl,” a Czech singer/songwriter in the stage adaptation of the 2007 movie Once. With its Oscar-winning, soaring song  “Falling Slowly,” and powerfully complicated romance, this musical announced its move to Broadway just minutes before its off-Broadway run even began. Here, Cristin Milioti shares all — what’s fresh about the adaptation, her fears about moving to Broadway — and what continuously keeps people coming to see the show, more than once. 

How did you first become involved with Once?
They asked me to do a reading of it back in February. At the time, I was just playing the trombone for it, but John, the director, and I really hit it off and he pushed for me to audition for the role I’m playing now.  I auditioned for him, but they had someone else cast as the girl at the time — Nellie McKay — but then he still really pushed for me. There was a whole issue; I can’t sight-read and I couldn’t play the music, so they gave me ten days to learn it, and I did!
Have you been taking piano lessons for a while?
No, my friend — he’s an actor, an amazing piano player- he wrote out numbers for fingers and letters on top of the keys, so it’s all muscle memory. So then once I did that and learned the songs, they were like, “Okay, great.” And then they brought me to Cambridge, Massachusetts for a pre-Broadway workshop, and now we’re here.
How many songs did you have to learn?
Six or seven. I probably only play about five on the piano because “If You Want Me” I sing just by myself — I’m accompanied, but the rest I play. I also play a classical piece really early on.
Do you write any of your own stuff in your free time?
Yep, but I couldn’t tell you what I’m playing. I can play it for you, but I wouldn’t know what it is; that’s why the sight-reading was so difficult. Everyone in this show is, like, the best musician you’ve ever met. They’re insane. This one woman in the show learned the accordion, this other guy learned the drums and the banjo, and when he plays them, you’re like, “Oh, I’m sure he’s played the banjo since he was eight,” but he’s only been playing it for a couple of months. I’m surrounded by geniuses.
What about Markèta Irglová and Glen Hansard, the original stars and songwriters of the movie Once?
They’re incredible musicians. It’s intimidating. And I know she plays guitar as well as piano, and he plays piano as well as guitar. They can kind of pick up and just go.
Cristin Milioti
When did you first meet them?
Well, Glen came up and played with us for a night in Cambridge and jammed with us. We hung out with him a couple of times in the break, before we started rehearsals. Steve and I played with him at a bar one night and I sang a couple tracks on his album so we got to hang out that way. We met Markèta one day before we went into tech — really, really late. It was really intimidating and she’s a lovely, lovely person. She just sat in on rehearsal and then she came to opening night. I only met her twice.
What did they think of it?
They both love it, from what they’ve told me. But I would imagine it’s a strange thing to watch; I’ve never seen the film and I’ve been told it’s definitely different in its own thing. On stage, we tell it differently.
I heard that you have additional subplots going on, and characters that were merely peripheral in the movie are more fleshed-out in the musical. I’m assuming "Guy’s" vacuum-repairing dad is one of them.
Yes, he’s one of them. The guy who owns the piano store is also more of a presence. We get into my family a little bit more, but again, I don’t know since I haven’t seen the film. I know that a lot of people who are obsessed with the movie have come with these expectations that it’s not going to live up to it, and they love it — just as fanatically — even though it’s its own thing.
What’s been the most memorable audience reaction so far?
Wow, I don’t know. Opening night was pretty surreal because they told us we were going to Broadway, like, right before we went out on stage. Glen and Markèta were there. All of our families were there. All of our friends. I’ve had great feedback from audience members; if I’m walking down the street and someone saw it the night before, they’ll say, “I can’t stop thinking about it,” or “It’s incredible.” 
This is your third Broadway show. Have any of your previous roles informed this one?
No. I feel like every time I do a play, I forget that I’ve done other plays; I’m always confused, it’s always brand new. I never know what I’m doing. Every time feels like the first time, which is a great thing. I’ve always wanted to be a musician and never really pursued it, and I feel like this is the closest something has been to my heart, in a way, because I get to sort of live that out.
I read that Markèta said the Girl she created is who she wants to be because of the character’s honesty and integrity. How do you feel about the Girl you’ve created? Who do you think she is?
I’d say the same thing. She’s the girl I want to be. It’s interesting though, because when I met Markèta, I looked at her and thought, “I wish I could be you.” More who she is as a person. She’s very honest. She says everything very simply but you’re like… oh my God. And she seems very confident and very gracious. There’s an incredible grace about her that I really admire, so I find it interesting she would say that because I feel that way about her, but I do feel that way about this character as well. But there are things about this character that I wouldn’t want to be.
What are those?
The fact that she’s selfless to her own detriment, but also such a positive presence. She does, I really believe, the right thing. She made a commitment to someone, she has a child, and they can’t work. But yeah, I still wish I could be more like her.
Cristin Milioti
In an article, you said that you “like acting because you have so many things you can do in performance to hide behind when you’re nervous during a moment onstage. “ Have you had moments like this with Once?
No, so far I feel like for the amount of adrenaline that you go through up there, I find it to be very… not safe, I’m trying to look for the right words… anything can happen up there. And it’s all magical. You feel like you can pull something from thin air. In a way, it’s more comforting than actual life, where things seem much more black and white or concrete. You’re just in a fantasy up there, and yet it’s so real. Especially with this piece.
How did it feel having Markèta Irglová and Glen Hansard sit in on rehearsals?
Terrifying. I got a little used to Glen since we had played with him in Cambridge, but I was intimidated by Markèta. She’s such a good musician that I was worried I wouldn’t live up to her standards. She was gracious and wonderful. The acting had nothing to do with it because I’m not playing Markèta, I’m playing Girl. She’s not gonna be like, “She’s playing me wrong,” because I’m not playing her, but I was still worried about performing her music for her because that’s such an intimate, delicate thing in life.
Did they ever talk about their real-life romance?
Only once, in an interview. She’s married now, he’s dating a lovely woman. But this changed their life. And I think they both changed each other’s lives. From what I can tell, there’s a beautiful bond there.
And how does it feel to be coming back to Broadway?
Since it’s an open-ended run, it’s all very unknown. Off-Broadway, we had an open and close date, but with this, do we run for a month?  Do we run for six months? A year? No one knows.  But I can say this show has been the best experience I’ve ever had, hands-down, theatrically. I kind of feel like I’m the luckiest girl alive. Not alive, but… I just feel very lucky.