Syllables fly, fast and furious, pushing verbal dexterity to its limit. Enunciation-pyrotechnics give us, the audience, a thrill both physiological and intellectual, delighting us, helping us see a character through a different lens.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the patter song. This fiendish tradition dates back to the 16th century, but its ancient roots lie in Greek drama, in which an actor would dispatch reams of text at great speed in a single breath. A triumph of technique over...

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