A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why we love our Broadway divas, citing the number of great roles written for women in musicals as one of the reasons why we love them so much. A great role is the pedestal on which a great actress can shine. I also suggested that there just aren’t an equal number of plum roles for men and that this is part of the reason why we just don’t have the number of male divas to worship. There are, however, several iconic roles of the musical theatre that men would give their eye-teeth to perform. Today’s blog is a celebration of those juicy parts.
Professor Harold Hill – The Music Man
Leading this list is Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man. Quite possibly the most colorful of all male leading roles in musical theatre, he certainly gets his fair share to do in the show. What makes Harold Hill so appealing to play is that he is essentially an antihero. He starts out as a flim-flam man, on a quest to deceive a small Iowa town into believing he is a legitimate salesman and music teacher, keeping up the ruse just long enough to snatch their money for musical instruments, instruction books and uniforms. In a very short time, he not only finds himself unable to hoodwink these people, but he falls in love with the town and they fall in love with him. With great songs like “Ya Got Trouble”, “76 Trombones” and “Marion the Librarian”, this role is a feast for any lead actor with a knack for comedy.
Professor Henry Higgins – My Fair Lady
He may not be the nicest fellow in the musical theatre pantheon of great male characters, but he certainly is a great role for a middle-aged man who loves to sink his teeth into sharp dialogue and witty patter songs of intricate sarcasm. Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady is a misogynist, he’s pompous, and as the show presses on, he is also quite vulnerable and insecure. He is unable to articulate his true feelings or effectively deal with people in general. His lack of filter and his frank observations make songs like “Why Can’t the English?”, “Let a Woman In Your Life”, “A Hymn to Hymn” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” overflow with wit and brutal honesty.
Jean Valjean – Les Miserables
He’s onstage a lot. He takes us on a journey of several decades and, even though he is technically an escaped convict, he makes the audience fall in love with him. Jean Valjean in the epic story of Les Miserables is a role that most male tenors are just yearning to play (I’m sure some baritones and basses are, too). From his close calls with Police Inspector Javert, through his adoptive parenting of the orphaned Cossette, to his willingness to storm the barricades, audiences just love Jean Valjean and sit in hypnotic reverence when he sings the gentle “Bring Him Home.”
The Leading Player – Pippin
Although this role has now become gender neutral with Patina Miller’s off-the-charts portrayal in the recent Broadway revival, The Leading Player has traditionally been played by men. If you are a triple-threat of epic proportions (or think you are), of course this role has a special allure. Who wouldn’t want to be the embodiment of Pippin’s twisted conscience and get to sing such fabulous numbers as “Magic to Do”, “Glory”, “Simple Joys”, “The Right Track” and the glorious “Finale”?
Sweeney Todd – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Blood, carnage and Sondheim, who wouldn’t be up for this? The chance to play the Demon Barber of Fleet Street has many different things to appeal. First, there are so few musicals that are this macabre, and we all revel in a chance to have Halloween, no matter what time of the year it is. Second, it is a challenging role vocally and any performer worth their salt aspires to meet that greatest challenge. Finally, Sweeney Todd is an important musical, tightly-written with a social message. This is the kind of theatre that can be deeply affecting and transformative and that’s why we all want to swing that razor high!
Albin – La Cage aux Folles
Jerry Herman musicals are usually famous for their colorful leading ladies and the male roles in them are just not as exciting as Jerry’s Girls. The one big exception is La Cage aux Folles. The character of Albin, a gay man and a drag queen, is full of a zest for life. Constantly teetering between audacious camp in his drag show and stark dignity in his relationship with his husband and son, Albin gets a wide range of juicy numbers, from the life-affirming “The Best of Times”, the campy “A Little More Mascara”, and the anthem of self-acceptance “I Am What I Am”.
King Arthur – Camelot
Camelot is a troubled musical that runs about an hour longer than it should, but it doesn’t change the fact that the role of King Arthur is both complex and fun to play. Arthur is a textured character: funny, vulnerable, wise, strong, overly trusting, and an idealist. Much of his willingness to see what is right with the world is what leads to his kingdom crumbling. Along the way, he gets to sing some of Lerner and Loewe’s most delightful songs including “I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight?”, “What Do The Simple Folk Do?”, “How to Handle A Woman” and the title tune.
Che – Evita
There is no other male role in an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical quite as fascinating as Che in Evita. He serves as the narrator of the musical, the voice of the Argentine people, and the conscience of actress-turned-First Lady Eva Peron. He is cynical and mocking one moment, compassionate and understanding the next. Best of all, his songs are some powerhouse moments in the show including “O What a Circus”, “High Flying, Adored”, “The Rainbow Tour”, and “The Money Kept Rolling In”, just to name a few. Who wouldn’t want a chance to sing these amazing numbers?
Georges Seurat – Sunday in the Park with George
In my mind, there is only one Stephen Sondheim role that surpasses Sweeney Todd as a lead role that men should be burning to play. George from Sunday in the Park with George, with his seemingly detached view of the world, is really a challenge to play and keep sympathetic despite the fact that almost every move he makes appears to be cold and self-serving. His best song, “Finishing the Hat”, revealsa hidden side to him where we learn that everything he loves is captured in his art and he cannot separate his feelings into categories like others do. George’s music is rhythmically tough to sing and requires a calculated balanced between controlled and impassioned. It’s the great Sondheim role that every actor wants to tackle.