Thursday, July 29, 2010

Our Musical Theatre Dream Roles, by The Democracy Diva and The BackStage Barbie

The Democracy Diva's (@democracydiva) Dream Roles:

1.      Mama Rose in Gypsy
I know this is one of the Backstage Barbie’s dream roles as well, so I’ll leave the lengthy descriptions of the brilliance of Mama Rose to her. But just know that this is absolutely, undoubtedly, the most important female character in the history of musical theatre. When I saw Patti LuPone perform as Rose, I found myself sobbing hysterically during “Rose’s Turn.” Not because it was sad, but because I couldn’t even believe that Patti was acting. I couldn’t believe she could emote like that – so raw, so pained, so angry, bitter, sad, resentful, desperate, passionate, ambitious – you don’t to be a stage mother (or a mother at all) to feel an unbelievable emotional connection to Mama Rose. She has more depth than any other character I’ve ever seen, and any belter could just dream of blaring out Mama’s notes at full voice.
2.      Fanny Bryce in Funny Girl
As a female Jewish belter, it would be impossible for me to leave Fanny Bryce off my list. Played to perfection by the incomparable Barbra Streisand in the movie and original Broadway cast, Funny Girl’s upcoming revival is the current hot topic in the Broadway community. I won’t bother to go into details about how vocally incredible this role is; just listen to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and you’ll understand what I mean. Everyone can relate to Fanny’s drive and ambition and the struggles she faces, but Jewish girls with less-than-perfect noses feel a unique connection to her, and to Barbra. I’m not too bothered about who will play her in the revival, but I do hope it’s a Jewish girl who sings “Who’s an American beauty rose with an American beauty NOSE!”
 3.      Kate in The Wild Party
The only dream role I’ve had the incredible privilege to play, Kate enters the stage by proclaiming that prohibition can “shove it” as she pulls a flask out from her garter. As a supporting lead, Kate is used more as a device to further the plot than as the focus of the plot itself, but she also sings what I consider the greatest female belter song in modern musical theatre: “The Life of the Party.” A caricature of the 1920s vaudeville performer, Kate drinks to excess, snorts cocaine, seduces her friends, and is a diva in the truest sense of the word. Being Kate was absolutely thrilling; it made me feel as if there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish, and I’d give anything to play her again.
4.      Cathy in The Last 5 Years
Cathy is possibly my saddest dream role, because I am far, far too Jewish to play this “shiksa goddess.” But she’s a dream role none the less. She is incredibly real and incredibly relatable – her story is not one of trying to drag her children or herself into show biz or vaudeville; there’s no exaggerations, it’s not over-the-top or showy. Cathy is just a woman in love with a man; and she tells her story beautifully, through tearful ballads and brassy, jazzy tunes. A high belter, the role of Cathy is incredibly vocally demanding, but listen to “I Can Do Better Than That” and you’ll understand why she’s the best.
5.      Maureen in Rent
Sometimes your first dream role sticks with you forever. And when I was eleven years old, I knew that I wanted to play Maureen. Who needs to be in Act I when “Christmas Bells” serves as the build-up to your epically divalicious first line: “Joanne, which way to the stage?” And she more than makes up for lost time by immediately diving into “Over the Moon,” kissing her girlfriend and showing her ass during “La Vie Boheme,” and belting like there’s no tomorrow in “Take Me or Leave Me.” This role catapulted Idina Menzel into the spotlight and made her the stuff of Broadway legends; Maureen is by no means the largest or most powerful role in the show, but nobody has more fun than Ms. Maureen Johnson.

The Diva's Honorable Mentions:

6.      Moritz in Spring Awakening
Yes. I would rather play Moritz than Wendla. Moritz is by far the most interesting character in the show, and while I loved everything about Spring Awakening, nothing struck me as much as John Gallagher Jr.’s portrayl of this tragic figure.  Moritz truly makes you laugh and cry, and he steals the show from the rest of the impeccably talented cast because he has this angsty rock star in his soul just bursting out of him. Moritz’s self-doubt is universal, and his expressive rock anthems are incredible to listen to and to watch. I’d give anything to be screaming “Don’t Do Sadness” into that microphone, red lights flashing around me.
7.      Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch
It’s confusing to be a girl wanting to play a man who dresses as a woman, but so is life. Hedwig is a post-op transgender punk rock singer from East Berlin, Germany; the rock score tells stories of her botched sexual reassignment surgery, her rejection by the boy she loves, her incredible passion for music and performance, the impact of the fall of the Berlin wall on her youth, and her desperate, starving need for attention. (She’s the East German Lady Gaga, if Lady Gaga used to have a penis.) The music is different from every other rock musical in that it is indistinguishable from actual rock musical. Nothing about it feels like musical theatre; while watching Hedwig, you’re undoubtedly at a rock concert. Hedwig is a refugee, a victim of abuse, a so-called sexual deviant, a songwriter, and a cutthroat, angry woman who has faced an incredible amount of pain. But she has a soft side, as evidenced by the chilling and inspiring song, “The Origin of Love.”

The Backstage Barbie's (@barbiebackstage) Dream Roles:

1.     Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera
I fell in love with the role of Christine when I saw The Phantom of the Opera, my first Broadway show, at the tender age of four. I was completely captivated by those glorious high notes written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, specifically for the original Christine, Sarah Brightman. I used to run around my house attempting to sing the high E-flat at the end of the title track and although I'm sure it didn't sound great, those notes were inspiration nonetheless. When I began to study classical voice technique and decided to focus on training my head voice, my goal was that high E-flat because it was a requirement for the role of Christine. To this day, reaching that E-flat, and now the G above it, is the greatest milestone in my vocal training. I love that Christine has such a difficult decision to make, between Raoul and the Phantom, which torments her throughout the entire show. She loves that Raoul is safe, but has always felt pulled toward the Phantom for helping her find the power of her voice. While the Phantom's name is in the title, I have always felt that the show was really Christine's story.
2.      Glinda in Wicked
Anybody who knows me knows that this role is a given for me. I have dreamed of playing Glinda since the first time I saw her descend from the rafters of the Gershwin theatre in her bubble and that dream has lingered with me ever since. I love that Glinda gets to sing all over the map, from the coloratura notes in the opening numbers of each act, to the pop belt in Popular and the heartfelt duet For Good with Elphaba. The most extraordinary thing about this show is that it truly celebrates two powerful women and the strengths and the differences that allow them to succeed in their own ways. This is a piece about friendship, which is actually quite rare on Broadway. While Glinda may seem the more shallow of the two witches, I find that she actually undergoes a deep transformation from a spoiled, selfish girl to a strong-willed, independent woman who learns to think for herself and make her own choices.
3.     Nellie in South Pacific
As a soprano with the look of an ingenue, I've always found the Rogers and Hammerstein shows to suit me very well. While some of their shows are quite fluffy, I always thought of South Pacific as delving a bit deeper and being quite revolutionary for it time in its discussion of racial tension and ultimately acceptance. Nellie gets to sing some of the best songs every written, from Wonderful Guy to Cockeyed Optimist. In the roles that I love, I tend to be drawn to strong, take charge women and Nellie, a World War II military nurse is certainly one of those. While she appears to be bubble gum sweet on the surface, she actually has her own deeply rooted issues as she was brought up to judge those of different races. She eventually overcomes this and learns to love Emile de Becque's bi-racial children as her own. This role is particularly special to me because my great-grandmother's name was Nellie and the two actually have a lot in common: courage, compassion, and moxie. 
4.     Val in A Chorus Line
Anyone who has ever seen A Chorus Line knows that Val has the foul mouth of a sailor, but is really just a sweetheart. Now I'm not saying that this necessarily describes me, but it would be so fun to play. First things first, this show celebrates dancers, and dancing has always been my first love. This was the first musical that led me to tears, and not just a few tears, I cried buckets because of its message of the importance of dance and the sacrifice that dances make: "what we do for love." What attracts me to Val is that she puts on a tough girl act to mask her fear in the audition, which is something all dancers can relate to. And most of all, it would be pure enjoyment to sing "Dance Ten, Looks Three" and play that bawdy, sassy character on stage eight times a week.
5.     Mama Rose in Gypsy
Like the Democracy Diva, and probably every other actress in the musical theatre, I dream of one day playing Mama Rose, the ultimate stage mother. Its been said that this is the greatest role for an actress in the entire musical theatre repertoire and I have to say that is correct. She is a character that is so well written with depth and emotion, but also allows for great interpretation by the actress given the opportunity to take her on. There is something so incredible about her resilience because even though June, whom she poured all her loved and attention into, leaves her at the end of act I, she is able to quickly switch gears in order to focus on making Louise a star. Rose gives up everything in her life to try to make her daughters actresses, even the chance to have a normal, comfortable life with Herbie as a husband. But she cannot shake the dream of getting her family into the spotlight and when Louise becomes a burlesque star and realizes she doesn't need her mother anymore, everything comes crashing down. This results in Rose's Turn, which I believe to be the single greatest song every written for the musical theatre. There is nothing more heartbreaking than Mama Rose, in all her desperation, shouting "I had a dream, I dreamed it for you June, it wasn't for me Herbie, and if it wasn't for me, then where would you be, Miss Gypsy Rose Lee." While the Democracy Diva cites Patti LuPone's performance in this song as the most thrilling, I prefer Bernadette Peters' rendition. What I love about Peters' performance is that she has an inherent sex appeal in the song, which makes it very believable to the audience that Mama Rose really could have been a star if she would have focused on her own career instead of her children. And since I am not a belter, I love that Bernadette was able to find a way to give a powerhouse performance in the role while mixing into her head voice.

The Barbie's Honorable Mentions:

6.     Cunegonde in Candide
I love that this show is a musical, operetta, and a farce all wrapped in one, which happens to showcase my greatest strengths as a performer. And after spending a great deal of time with my voice teacher mastering Cunegonde's aria Glitter & Be Gay, I would love the opportunity to sing it in the show.
7.      A trio of Sondheim roles (because I love the music so much to choose just one)
Cinderella, Into the Woods
Song: No One Is Alone
Desiree, A Little Night Music
Song: Send In the Clowns
Sally, Follies
Song: Losing My Mind, In Buddy's Eyes


  1. LOVE both of you too much for words!!

    (PS Not a Day Goes By is from Merrily, We Roll Along)

  2. I knew that! I was thinking "In Buddy's Eyes" and I had my wires crossed. I edited it!