My Musical Theatre Song/Singer Christmas List
- OnStage New York Columnist
When you make a Christmas list as a kid, you stand a pretty fair chance at getting what you ask for, which is probably mostly toys. Santa Claus takes care of kids very well. Adult wish lists tend to be more complicated, and Santa is busy fulfilling the wishes of children. His elves don’t build debt relief in their North Pole workshop. But that doesn’t mean we stop wishing and hoping and dreaming, and if we do it right, we can at least have fun imagining the possibilities. I’m not crazy enough to wish for tickets to Hamilton quite yet, but I do have a musical theatre-themed wish list I have been building for a while, and that is what I want to share with you now.
Here is my list of Broadway songs I would love to see or hear performed by certain Broadway personalities:
“Til I Hear You Sing” sung by Michael Crawford:
Nothing against Ramin Karimloo or his interpretation of the Phantom, but everyone who plays that role in The Phantom of the Opera or its Andrew Lloyd Webber sequel Love Never Dies still sings in the shadow of Michael Crawford. And while I don’t quite buy Love Never Dies as a plausible sequel to Phantom, the song “Til I Hear You Sing” does beautifully capture the mania of the original monster. I would love to hear Crawford’s Phantom, who, unlike Karimloo’s, I consider capable of murder, sing about just how crazy his obsession with Christine makes him in his exile. I think it would give anyone who hears it a strong sense of dread for poor Christine to think he hasn’t given up on her yet.
“Defying Gravity” sung by Bernadette Peters:
While there are many witches of Broadway, only two of them are real contenders for the great witch of the Great White Way: Elphaba from Wicked and “The Witch From Next Door” from Into the Woods. Idina Menzel, who originated the role of Elphaba on Broadway in 2003 and won a Tony for it, has a stellar voice and made the song “Defying Gravity” the smash it deserved to be. But one of the first cast recordings I listened to when I was learning about musical theatre was Into the Woods, and when Bernadette Peters started singing during the intro, I distinctly remember thinking, “That is how a witch sounds.” Peters, of course, has a voice that can really do everything, but Wicked is about the fluid definition of the word “wicked,” and I would really love to hear Peters bring her brand of “wickedness” from Into the Woods to Elphaba’s signature song. Imagine her shriek from the end of “Last Midnight” topping off her “Defying Gravity” and try to sleep at night.
“Telephone Wire” sung by Sutton Foster:
Unlike most on this list, this is not a pairing of a performer from one era of musical theatre with a song from another. Sutton Foster and Fun Home are both important features of our current moment, and I would love to hear Foster do “Telephone Wire,” one of the most heart wrenching songs from a score full of heart wrenching songs, for no other reason than that, from her Tony winning turn in Thoroughly Modern Millie to her celebrated work in the revival of Violet, she seems a perfect fit for the work of Jeanine Tesori, composer of those two musicals and Fun Home. Prominent among the things that make me excited for the future of musical theatre is the pairing of those two women, and the possibilities. They may never work together again, but I can still hope.
“It’s a Fix” sung by Angela Lansbury:
My reason for this pairing is not as highfalutin as others, it’s sheer comedic value. Sure, Lansbury played the obsessed Mama Rose in Gypsy and is well known as the deranged Mrs. Lovett from the original cast of Sweeney Todd, but she is also known for more demure characters, like Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, and often has a highly dignified air no matter who she plays. It would therefore be hilarious to see this Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire sing the song “It’s a Fix” from Hands on a Hardbody, in which the character sings that she and her husband “are rednecks, but we ain’t no goddamn hicks.” No one will ever be able to replace the impression of Dale Soules’s original frog-voiced rendition from the Broadway production, but that is all the more reason to go in the complete opposite direction with someone like Lansbury.
“The First Time” sung by Antonio Banderas:
Back in 2010, mere months after I had suggested to several people what a good idea it would be, it was announced that Antonio Banderas would play the title character in a Broadway revival of Zorba. It has yet to take place, but remains a great idea. Banderas has just the right voice and personality to play the famous Greek mine-worker who gives his new American (in the musical) boss some valuable life lessons, starting with, through the song “The First Time,” how he manages to experience all of life’s pleasures as they come along as though he has never experienced them before, even when he has many times. It keeps life fresh. Antonio Banderas could really sell that idea, and however many times I saw him do it, I’m fairly certain that each time would be the first time.
“A Little Bit Naughty” sung by Andrea McArdle:
Though she never explicitly sang it in the musical, Little Orphan Annie, originally played on Broadway by Andrea McArdle, knew that sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty to get by in this life. The most recent little rascal to rule the musical theatre is Roald Dahl’s Matilda, who proudly sings that philosophy in her own musical, but I think it’s time Annie herself just came out and sang it. I’m sure each of the girls who have played Matilda over the musical’s run have at one time or other sung one of Annie’s songs, so it’s only fair she sings their song.
Anything from Gypsy sung by Audra McDonald:
It was recently announced that the Imelda Staunton revival of Gypsy would be transferring to Broadway, something I take absolutely no credit for even though I wrote very flatteringly about it on this very blog not long ago after seeing the PBS broadcast of the British production. In fact, I believe I specifically wrote that the next major revival should star Audra McDonald. So what the heck, Broadway? Well, my opinion has not changed just because reality has (oh dear, am I becoming one of those people?) and I would still love to hear McDonald’s renditions of the classic Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim songs, and I plan to take every opportunity to say so publicly.
“I’m Still Here” sung by Carol Channing:
Because she is. I’ve searched her life status more often than any other celebrity, sometimes just out of curiosity, not connected to any writing project I’m doing, I just forget. She will be 96 next year. It would be nice if each of my searches would lead me to a video of Channing singing a song Elaine Stritch once said a woman should not sing until she surpasses the age of 80 ( which Stephen Sondheim wrote in his late thirties/early forties). Channing qualified a while ago. Earlier this year there were rumors she might do some matinees during the coming revival of Hello, Dolly! I hope to see her perform “I’m Still Here” before the parade passes by.
“Paciencia y Fe” sung by Chita Rivera:
“Paciencia y Fe” may be the best song in In the Heights. It’s a very tight race, but it’s at least in the top three, and Olga Merediz’s performance of it is one of the highlights of the cast recording and was a Tony nominated highlight of the Broadway production. And as usual, this item on my list is not a knock on the original performer of the song, but even back then I wanted to hear Chita Rivera sing it. Rivera does come up, as well she should, in the musical. “Does your cousin dance?” Vanessa asks Sonny. “Like a drunk Chita Rivera,” Sonny replies. Perhaps there was an element of wanting to see Rivera in a musical in which she is referenced, but I also think that, with the career she has had, all she has seen in all of the decades, and just who she is and how she works a song, she would bring a tremendous spark to it. It would also serve as a reminder of how far Broadway has come since the last name of the character of Rosie in Bye Bye Birdie was changed from Grant to Alvarez when Chita Rivera was cast in the role for the original production in 1960.
“I Believe” sung by Donny Osmond:
Back in 2011, in an interview with Joy Behar, Donny Osmond expressed less reluctance than his sister Marie about see the musical The Book of Mormon. He seemed to see more value in its existence than she did, though he had his reservations. And so there was hope. Andrew Rannells’s performance of the song “I Believe,” in the musical and on the Tonys, is a perfect example of why the show is great: it’s about enthusiastically, unabashedly embracing the things about yourself that others might consider weird because they are what make you you and what make you important to the people who matter, the people who love you. Rannells himself is not Mormon, but Donny Osmond is, and Osmond could sing the heck out of “I Believe” if he wanted to, and it might even prove to be a moment of Mormon empowerment. I have personally fact checked the song against Mormon websites, the book itself, and a few actual Mormons, and I believe it is a most desirable combination of singer and song, even if it is unlikely. But that’s the fun of believing, whether in Santa Claus or upstate New York prophets.
Aaron Netsky writes about musicals (http://366days366musicals.tum blr.com) and books and culture (http://cantonaut.blogspot.com ) on his personal blogs, and has written a yet unpublished musical theatre novel. His writing can also be seen on AtlasObscura.com, TheHumanist.com, ThoughtCatalog.com, and Medium.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronNetsky.