“Imitative of No One”: Broadway’s Most Distinctive Female Voices, Part 4

Adriana Nocco

There are so many more women who have paved their own distinctive paths on Broadway, and some of our OnStage readers have helped remind me of that! By doing so, these powerful women also (subsequently and simultaneously) became role models for aspiring actresses and women in general who felt that there was no one they could personally relate to or feel inspired by on Broadway. These revolutionary women forged ahead with their memorable voices in tow, setting an example for and influencing future generations’ pursuit of their own unique performance styles (just like the first five I wrote about did). So why stop at just five when there are so many more distinctive voices/leading ladies worth discussing? 


Liza Minnelli is the daughter of two famous parents, the late, great Judy Garland and stage and film director Vincente Minnelli, who named her after an Ira Gershwin song (“Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)”). Minnelli has always been known for her signature belt and eccentric personality, and although her voice is now considerably more ragged-sounding than it once was, its flair and distinctiveness have remained intact over the years (and have played a crucial role in her career in show business). Minnelli has won an Academy Award, two Golden Globe Awards, two Tony Awards, a Special Tony Award, one Emmy Award, and one Grammy Legend Award, and in 2000, she was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. She began performing professionally at seventeen years old in an off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward (1963), was awarded the Theatre World Award for her performance, and the following year, was invited by her mother to perform with her at the London Palladium. Minnelli then starred in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank, which went to Israel on tour, and at nineteen years old, made her Broadway debut as the title character in Flora the Red Menace (1965, written by John Kander and Fred Ebb). She won the 1965 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, becoming the youngest woman ever to win said award. Minnelli worked as a nightclub performer and recording artist, recording pop standards and show tunes from musicals she’d performed in for albums such as Liza! Liza!, Liza Minnelli, and New Feelin’.

She collaborated with Pet Shop Boys on an electronic dance-style album called Results in 1989, which included singles Don’t Drop Bombs; So Sorry, I Said; Love Pains; and Losing My Mind. Minnelli performed Losing My Mind live at the Grammy Awards ceremony later that year, and later received a Grammy Legend Award. She has acted in films such as The Sterile Cuckoo (1969, earned Minnelli her first Academy Award nomination); Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; New York, New York (1977, alongside Robert DeNiro, gave Minnelli her best-known signature song, aka the film’s title theme); and Arthur (1981, alongside Dudley Moore). She infamously portrayed Sally Bowles in the film version of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret (1972), her best-known film role to date, and her performance earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, a BAFTA Award, a Golden Globe Award, a “David di Donatello Award,” and a “Sant Jordi Award.” “Maybe This Time” (Cabaret) is also known as one of Minnelli’s signature songs. On television, Minnelli has appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Judy Garland Show, Arrested Development, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Saturday Night Live, and starred in a made-for-television secial entitled Liza with a ‘Z’: A Concert for Television. In 1997, she returned to Broadway, taking over the title role in Victor/Victoria. More recently, she has done more work as a recording artist and concert performer (despite having faced a serious case of viral encephalitis in 2000), performed on a live album entitled Liza’s Back in 2002 (which received rave reviews), and returned to Broadway from December 2008 to January 2009 in a solo concert called Liza’s at The Palace. 


Elaine Stritch was known for her powerhouse voice and its extraordinary, brassy tone, and although she unfortunately passed away last year, is considered to be a Broadway legend. She made her stage debut in 1944, and her Broadway debut in 1946 in Loco. Soon afterwards, she performed in Made in Heaven and Angel in the Wings (a revue), and then served as Ethel Merman’s understudy for Call Me Madam (which she later starred in the national tour of) while appearing in the 1952 revival of Pal Joey. In 1961, Stritch starred in Noël Coward’s Sail Away; she had started out playing a minor role in the show, and the creative team decided to give her the lead when they started doubting the original lead’s dramatic talents and further observing Stritch’s talent. She played Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town in 1966, appeared in an off-Broadway revival of Private Lives in 1968, and was the original Joanne in Stephen Sondheim’s Company (1970) in both the Broadway and West End productions. “Ladies Who Lunch” from Company is considered to be her most signature song. Stritch has also appeared in various other musicals, including The King and I. She was nominated for four Tony Awards (for Bus Stop, Sail Away, Company, and A Delicate Balance), was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1995, and was awarded the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance in 2002 for Elaine Stritch at Liberty (her amazing one-woman show).

Stritch also notably appeared in the Broadway revival of A Little Night Music from July 2010 to January 2011 as Madame Armfeldt, and performed a cabaret act at NYC’s famed Café Carlyle in early 2010 and in fall 2011 (At Home at the Carlyle: Elaine Stritch Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time). She appeared in films such as Three Violent People, A Farewell to Arms, Providence, September, and Who Killed Teddy Bear? For her work on television (30 Rock, An Inconvenient Woman, Law & Order), Stritch was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, and won three (for Law & Order, 30 Rock, and for the television broadcast of Elaine Stritch at Libarty). She once said concerning performing: “You cannot tell an audience a lie. They know it before you do; before it’s out of your mouth, they know it’s a lie.”


Last but certainly not least, Lea Salonga, known for her impressive vocal control, clear, sweet, and pure vocal tone, and powerful soprano range, is also known as the first Filipina artist ever to sign to an international record label (Atlantic Records, 1993) and the first Philippine-based artist ever to have received a major U.S. album release/distribution deal. Not only is she one of the best-selling Filipina artists of all time; she is an incredibly versatile and globally renowned performer. A prodigy of singing and performing, she made her professional stage debut at seven years old in The King and I (1978, Repertory Philippines) before performing in various other productions and as part of several television projects. Salonga received a Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences award nomination for Best Child Actress, and won three Alíw Awards (similar to the U.S. Grammy Awards) for Best Child Performer. In 1989, competitive auditions were held all over the globe for the lead role of Kim in the musical Miss Saigon. Salonga auditioned, and after competing with childhood friend Monique Wilson for the role during callbacks, Salonga won the role, and Wilson was named her understudy. She played the role of Kim both in the West End and Broadway productions, and won the Laurence Olivier, Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Theatre World Awards for her renowned portrayal of Kim. Salonga subsequently became a successful recording artist, (I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing, Lea…in Love, etc.) and concert performer (The Homecoming Concert, The Best of Manila, The Millennium Concert, Songs from the Screen, a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall, etc.) and made appearances on television while sporadically returning to play the role of Kim in Miss Saigon in various professional productions.

Salonga is known as the first Asian actress ever to play the roles of Éponine and Fantine in Les Misérables on Broadway. She is also known as the singing voice of both Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Fa Mulan in Disney’s Mulan (1998), and for her esteemed work with the Disney Company, Salonga was named a Disney Legend in 2011.  In 2002, Salonga performed in a reinterpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, and garnered critical acclaim and multiple award nominations for her performance (including Distinguished Performance from the Drama League). She has done extensive work on the stage (Grizabella in the Asia-Pacific tour of Cats, Catherine in Proof in Manila being among her notable credits), has performed in various acclaimed solo concerts all over the world (and received a standing ovation for her solo concert at Los Angeles’ Walk Disney Concert Hall in 2008), and has received the Order of Lakandula Award from Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (recognizing her excellence in the performing arts and use of her talents to benefit society), several Alíw Awards, and a Presidential Award of Merit from President Corazon Aquino (the 11th President of the Philippines). Additionally, the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences presented her with the Golden Artist Award at the 53rd FAMAS Awards to honor her immense international achievements and success in 2005.