Dream Casting Our Favorite Broadway Divas

Dream Casting Our Favorite Broadway Divas

Last week, I wrote a piece about Broadway divas who showed exemplary acting skills. It got me thinking about some of our greatest living actresses of the musical stage and what classic musical theatre role I would most like to see them tackle next. Playing casting director is always a great deal of fun, and I hope you will chime in with your thoughts as well. For me, this is where I'd like to see some of our favorite leading ladies of the stage try their talents. 

Patti LuPone
Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!

I know that Bette Midler is wowing the crowds as the matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi, and her casting in the role is inspired. There was, however, a time when a revival of Hello, Dolly! was being considered with Patti LuPone as the star, and I think it would have been fantastic. I love LuPone, especially when she plays comedy, because she has excellent comedic timing and that larger-than-life personae that would make her an ideal Dolly. Perhaps, when Midler’s tenure in the show is up, they will consider Ms. Patti and my Dolly dreams will come true.

Bernadette Peters
Mame Dennis in Mame

As excited as I am about the Hello, Dolly! revival, I am even more eager for a revival of Jerry Herman’s Mame. Bernadette Peters is warm and witty in her delivery, and there has always been something about her style that reminds of the 1920s (where Mame begins). She’d have a ball (not Lucille Ball) with the comedy, but she would also bring real heart to this lady who takes a child on a whirlwind celebration of life. I can already hear her singing “If He Walked Into My Life”,

Laura Benanti
Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady

Since the Lincoln Center revival of My Fair Lady has already been announced, and I have written on several occasions about how much I’d like to see Laura Benanti do the role, it should not come as much of a shock that I suggest she play Eliza Doolittle. Benanti is an eclectic actress who can do anything and watching her transform from a cockney flower girl into a society sensation seems like the perfect challenge to employ her wide-range.

Cynthia Erivo
Lutiebelle Jenkins in Purlie

I want a revival of Purlie so badly. The score is explosive, full of great song after great song, and the story is compelling. You need a great voice and actress to sing the role of Lutiebelle Jenkins, the love-stricken sidekick of the title character. Who better to belt out the musical’s most famous number “I Got Love” than Tony-winning Cynthia Erivo, who blew our minds with her performance as Celie in recent revival of The Color Purple?

Idina Menzel
Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun

Ms. Menzel is famous for her signature belt, but she is also adept at playing comedy. Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun would definitely capitalize on her strengths, and I think it is time that we see her in a more traditional musical comedy role. She’s not afraid to exude a tomboy strut and I’m convinced her “Moonshine Lullaby” would be one of the most lovely renditions of the song.

Christine Ebersole
Miss Hannigan in Annie

Is it wrong that I want to see Christine Ebersole torture orphans? Ebersole can be lovely and elegant onstage, but she also has a sharpness and comedic delivery that would make for one snarling and overwhelmed Miss Hannigan. “Little Girls” would be delivered with camp and psychotic aplomb. The syrupy musical that is Annie would be kept in perfect balance with Ebersole’s cutting portrayal of this comic villain.

Donna Murphy
Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd

What’s not to love about Donna Murphy? Her chameleon-like ability to take on any role continues to astound. Her portrayal of Fosca in Sondheim’s Passion is legendary. Why not graduate her to the greatest of Sondheim roles: Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd? Murphy is not intimidated by the need to dig deep and create complexity and Lovett would present her with the greatest challenge of her career. 

Kristin Chenoweth
Miss Adelaide in Guys & Dolls

This seems like a no-brainer to me. Chenoweth is great at playing bubbleheads with heart, and she is also delectably invested when performing musical comedy. Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls plays to all of Chenoweth’s strengths while providing her the platform to show off her acting abilities. This is an actress I would actually believe in this role. Her “Adelaide’s Lament” is already playing in my mind.  

Bebe Neuwirth
Liza in Lady in the Dark

Lady in the Dark is a musical that deserves a revival. It is a mostly-forgotten, but an intriguing piece of theatre about a magazine editor names Liza who goes under psychotherapy. A bit detached and a bit of an ice queen, the character is having a hard time connecting to the men in her life. Bebe Neuwirth, who excels at playing a lovable chilliness, seems like the perfect fit for this role.

Jessie Mueller
Nellie Forbush in South Pacific

It’s not exactly time for a South Pacific revival yet, but we live in a Broadway where Gypsy is revived every five-minutes, why can’t I have my Jessie Mueller as Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. Possessing an untethered energy and a vibrant voice, I’m particularly interested in hearing Mueller lend her pipes to “A Cockeyed Optimist” and “A Wonderful Guy.” She can also act, and she’d probe the depths of this conflicted character and make her entirely flawed but relatable.

Tonya Pinkins
Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music

Tonya Pinkins is all things talented, sexy, and larger-than-life. She is also great at making subtle, nuanced choices and I’d love to see what she would do with the role of Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. She’d make a meal out of the scrumptious Hugh Wheeler one-liners, and I bet her “Send in the Clowns” would make her the most hearfelt Armfeldt of them all.

Joanna Gleason
Charlotte Malcolm in A Little Night Music

I feel guilty relegating one of theatre’s most-talented ladies to a supporting role, but I selfishly want to see how Ms. Joanna Gleason would wrap her indelible interpretation around A Little Night Music’s Countess Charlotte Malcolm’s acerbic, deadpan lines. Gleason could read the phone book and find ways to make it sizzle and pop, so why wouldn’t I want to see my favorite actress tackle my favorite Sondheim role? I feel it would be magical.

Chita Rivera
Joanne in Company

Chita Rivera is ageless, and to witness her talents onstage is a reminder that, no matter how seasoned you are, vigor and youth can always be with you. Chita is remarkable, a creature of the stage, and although people always remember her as a dancer first, she is a wise and willing actress who makes decidedly clever choices. She has a sassy and sultry way that would make her the perfect Joanne in Company. Her “Ladies Who Lunch” would bring down the house. Those who argue that she’s “too old” for the role have not witnessed how the years melt away when she’s ignited by triple-threat talent.

Sutton Foster
Florence Vassy in Chess

More than anything, Florence Vassy in Chess requires a powerhouse voice. Sutton Foster can shake the rafters with her signature belt, so songs like “Nodbody’s Side”, “Someone Else’s Story”, and “ I Know Him So Well” would be given their due. Also, Florence is not the most-likeable character, so Foster’s inherent charm would do a lot to make the character more-relatable.

Lea Salonga
Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins

For some reason, I have always imagined Lea Salonga playing the character of Mary Poppins onstage. She exudes a positive energy and composure that seem so right for the role. We mostly remember her playing heart-wrenching, tragic types, but when plays comedy, she simply sparkles. There is a joy that comes from her that would make you believe she is capable of magic.

Betty Buckley
Cora Hoover Hooper in Anyone Can Whistle

Ms. Betty Buckley floats on a cloud of elegance and steely determination in any role she undertakes, but she can also be funny and physical in a playful way. Not many people know the role of Cora Hoover Hooper, the corrupt mayoress in Stephen Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle, but Buckley would mine every drop of pathos and humor this character can provide. Particularly wonderful is a song called “A Parade in Town” which just demands the Buckley interpretation.

Judy Kuhn
Mother in Ragtime

If Joanna Gleason is my favorite Broadway actress, Judy Kuhn is (bar none) my favorite Broadway voice. Her mellifluous tones take me into the stratosphere. I have always wondered what Ms. Kuhn would sound like singing the role of “Mother” in Ragtime. Equally capable of a heart-bursting belt and ecstasy-inducing head voice, I am constantly imagining her renditions of “Journey On”, “Our Children” and “Back to Before” inside my head, even though I’ve never actually heard her sing any of them. 

Audra McDonald
Emma in Song & Dance

Audra McDonald has proven herself, time and again, as one of Broadway’s favorite leading ladies. Literally capable of just about anything, I thought I’d throw her one of the biggest challenges on the list: Emma from Song & Dance. The “song” part of Song & Dance is essentially a one-woman show that requires the leading lady hold our attention, elicit sympathy, exude warmth and vulnerability, and build her character toward a strong and determined woman. Who better than Ms. McDonald to embody so much?

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