Monday, July 26, 2010

My Fave Five Broadway Belters

Patti Lupone
Need I say more? Well obviously I'm going to. This woman is stuffed to the gills with attitude and sass. She doesn't take any crap from anybody, and that intensity and passion comes out in her voice. Sure, she is known to be a bit of a diva and has even screamed at the occasional audience member for taking photos during performances, but my goodness can this broad belt! From the title role in Evita to Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and most recently, Mama Rose in Gypsy, she has played the roles that every actress dreams of taking on. Listen to "Buenos Aires" from Evita for a taste of Patti's belting.

Sherie Rene Scott
She burst onto the scene in 1993 as Sally Simpson in The Who's Tommy and hasn't looked back since. She is choosy when selecting theatre roles, careful to take on roles that truly show off her vocal skills. Highlights of her career include Amneris in AIDA, Cathy in The Last Five Years, Ursula in The Little Mermaid, and Christine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, where she ranges from sultry to quirky to heartbreaking. The best representation of Sherie as a performer is in her recent show Everyday Rapture, where she portrays a stylized version of her life story. Her range is incredible, from gospel and blues, to motown and ballads, but the most impressive thing...her crystal clear belt. She makes belting sound effortless, and any singer will tell you, it is certainly not an easy thing. Check out "My Strongest Suit" from AIDA for a great example of Sherie's soulful side.

Idina Menzel
Whether you know her as Maureen in Rent, Elphaba from Wicked, or Glee's Shelby Corcoran, you know Idina Menzel can belt her face off. She definitely doesn't have the clear effortless sound of some of these other ladies, but her powerful, rock sound has served her just fine. Fans love her sound and from personal experience, I know that she is quite thrilling live. For some, she is an acquired taste, and for others, her voice is a bit too grating and rough around the edges. But regardless, nobody can dispute that this lady can belt, and she can belt high. "Defying Gravity" from Wicked is a great example of Idina's belting range and soaring rock sound.

Stephanie J Block
She is certainly the least known of these five women, but in my own humble opinion, she has the best voice. She made her Broadway debut as Liza Minnelli in The Boy From Oz, and after being replaced by Idina Menzel for the Broadway production, went on to play Elphaba in the first national tour of Wicked. Recent roles have included Grace O'Malley in The Pirate Queen and Judy Bernly in 9to5: the musical. While some belters use sheer force to produce sound, Stephanie doesn't even sound like has to try to belt and I could listen to her for hours. This woman has unfortunately been a victim of the all too frequent "great performer, average show" syndrome with all of her Broadway endeavors resulting in flops, despite her outstanding performances. I have never seen a single performer live as many times as I've seen Stephanie and I will continue to see any production that has the privilege of casting her. This woman has so much to give to Broadway and I can only hope she gets a change to play a fabulous role in a blockbuster show. I'm crossing my fingers that she is offered the role of Fanny Brice in next year's revival of Funny Girl and maybe one day she will be Gypsy's next Mama Rose. Run, don't walk to listen to Stephanie sing "Get Out And Stay Out" from 9to5: the musical. Her voice will break your heart and lift you up all in the same song.

Ethel Merman
Last but not least, the woman who needs no introduction, the original Broadway belter, Ethel Merman. They broke the mold when they made this broad, and while we have some great voices on Broadway today, there will never be another Merman. She was bawdy, foul-mouthed, and the definition of the word "DIVA". She introduced audiences to some of the greatest musical theatre roles ever from Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun to Mama Rose in Gypsy. Other actresses went on to play these roles (Bernadette Peters played both) but none could erase the memory of the incomparable Merman. Her rendition of "Rose's Turn" is not to be missed. She was a machine and a work horse who rarely missed performances, if ever, and did it all before the age of microphones. That only intensified her greatness, as her belt was entirely natural with no help from amplification or auto-tuning. Because she had to produce enough volume to be heard in a Broadway house over a full orchestra, her voice lacked the nuance and detail of some of today's singers, but in any case, she was a revelation. There isn't a Broadway belter alive who wasn't influenced by Ethel Merman, and if they say they weren't they are lying, because my lord, they don't make them like that anymore.

Special thanks to Rick Westerkamp for contributing to this post!


  1. i would have foregone stephanie j. block in favor of barbra streisand, but it's a fabulous list all the same.

  2. I'm with Miss Samantha. Barbra needs to be on that list.

  3. It was very hard for me to narrow it down to 5, but Stephanie J Block has a very special place in my heart. There may be a part 2 coming along. Barbra and Alice Ripley were the last to be cut. Judy Garland and Liza need to be on the list also. Actually, I may do something with Broadway Divas or Legends or something for Barbra, Judy, Liza, Elaine Stritch, Angela Lansbury, etc.