Celebrate Broadway Vol. 6: Beautiful Girls
This sixth volume of Celebrate Broadway is dedicated to the women who make Broadway musicals great. The lyrics of “Beautiful Girls” from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies is the perfect introduction to what this compilation is all about.
Ethel Merman commanded the Broadway stage from her historic debut in George Gershwin’s Girl Crazy in 1930 until her final appearance in Hello, Dolly! in 1970. In between those two theatrical landmarks were shows written for her by the best composers and lyricists that Broadway had to offer. Cole Porter (Red Hot and Blue, Anything Goes), Irving Berlin (Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam), Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim (Gypsy) and Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly! – although she turned that show down when it was initially offered to her).
Speaking of stunning Broadway debuts, Liza Minnelli’s performance in Flora, the Red Menace won her a Tony Award® for Best Actress in a Musical. She has returned to Broadway four times since then: in her own concert at the Winter Garden (Special Tony®), replacing an ailing Gwen Verdon for six weeks in the musical Chicago, as a nightclub singer making a comeback in The Act (another Tony®), and as Chita Rivera’s runaway daughter in The Rink. (Ms. Minnelli was nominated but lost out to Ms. Rivera.) In between Broadway engagements she has won dozens of awards and the hearts of audiences throughout the world.
When Mary Martin sang “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” in Cole Porter’s Leave It to Me, theatrical history was made. The following week found her on the cover of Life Magazine. She won Tony Awards® for her performances in South Pacific, Peter Pan, and The Sound of Music. In 1966 she co-starred opposite Robert Preston in the wonderful two-character Jones/Schmidt musical I Do! I Do!. Thanks to television her performance as Peter Pan is permanently etched into the minds of at least two generations – with many more to come.
Bernadette Peters made her Broadway debut as an understudy in the short-lived comedy The Girl in the Freudian Slip, followed by appearances in Johnny No-Trump and George M!. However, it was her performance as Ruby in the Off-Broadway sensation Dames at Sea that put her on the theatrical map. She went on to star on Broadway in La Strada, On the Town, and Mack & Mabel. She then left New York for Hollywood and appeared on television and in several films including Silent Movie, The Jerk, and Pennies from Heaven. Her return to the musical stage was with a mesmerizing performance in Sunday in the Park with George. (She too lost the Tony® that year to Chita Rivera in The Rink.) However, the next year she won for her performance in Song and Dance. Since then her musical appearances have been in Into the Woods and The Goodbye Girl. Bernadette Peters has succeeded in carving out an extraordinary musical theater career, when careers in the musical theater are few and far between.
Prior to 1978, Nell Carter had appeared all over the island of Manhattan, on Broadway in Soon and Dude, Off-Broadway (The Dirtiest Show in Town), and Off-off-Broadway. But it was with Ain’t Misbehavin’, which began at Off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club, that she staked her claim to stardom. For her performance in Ain’t Misbehavin’ Ms. Carter won a Tony Award®. She left New York to star for five years in the television series Gimme a Break and has returned to Broadway to star (along with the other original cast members) in the Tenth Anniversary revival of Ain’t Misbehavin’ as well as in her highly acclaimed nightclub act.
Inga Swenson made her Broadway debut in New Faces of 1956. She went on to appear in The First Gentleman and several productions at the American Shakespeare Festival. When she opened in 110 in the Shade, John Chapman of the Daily News proclaimed “a dazzling new musical star took over the stage for keeps. She is perfect and sings like a dream.” She was nominated for a Tony Award® that year (her competition was Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand, and Beatrice Lillie). Following her move to Los Angeles, Ms. Swenson appeared as a regular on the popular series Benson and in numerous films and television movies.
Patti LuPone was a member of the first graduating class of the Drama Division of the Juilliard School. She made her New York debut with The Acting Company in a variety of plays. Her musical debut in The Robber Bridegroom won her a Tony® nomination, followed by performances in The Baker’s Wife, Working, Evita (Tony Award®), The Cradle Will Rock, Les Misérables (Olivier Award), Oliver!, Anything Goes, and Sunset Boulevard. In between musicals she appears in films (Witness, Driving Miss Daisy) and plays (The Water Engine, Accidental Death of an Anarchist) as well as having a role on the popular television series Life Goes On. Her debut solo recording Patti LuPone Live! Is available on RCA Victor and this powerhouse performance of “Being Alive” is taken from the recording of Sondheim: A Celebration at Carnegie Hall.
Debbie Shapiro-Gravitte made her Broadway debut in the Frank Loesser revue Perfectly Frank, stopping the show with her knockout rendition of “Junkman.” This was followed by her appearance in the pre-Broadway flop Swing and in shows such as They’re Playing Our Song, Blues in the Night, and Zorba. However, all of this paid off in 1989 when she starred in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and won a Tony Award® for a variety of roles including this performance of Irving Berlin’s “Mr. Monotony.”
Eartha Kitt began her career as a dancer on Broadway in Blue Holiday and Caribe Song. In 1952 she began a record-breaking six-month engagement at the Village Vanguard where she was spotted by Leonard Sillman for his New Faces of 1952 revue where, with “Monotonous,” she became a star. It defined her as the sultry sophisticated chanteuse of the fifties and early sixties. Her other Broadway appearances include Mrs. Patterson, Shinbone Alley, and Timbuktu. She now tours the world with her highly acclaimed nightclub act.
Georgia Brown took London by storm when she appeared as Nancy in the musical Oliver!. The response by the critics and public alike was no different when she recreated her role on Broadway two years later. She later appeared on Broadway in Side By Side By Sondheim, Carmelina, Roza, and her final appearance in The Threepenny Opera (starring opposite Sting), for which she received a Tony® nomination. Ms. Brown died in London in 1992.
The extraordinary Barbara Harris made her New York debut in 1961 in From the Second City and followed that by starring in Oh Dad, Poor Dad … . In 1966 she starred in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Tony® nomination) and The Apple Tree (Tony Award®). Her films include Oscar®-nominated roles in Who Is Harry Kellerman and Nashville as well as Alfred Hitchcock’s Family Plot, Peggy Sue Got Married, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, and A Thousand Clowns. She hasn’t appeared on Broadway since The Apple Tree and that is truly Broadway’s loss.
Barbara Cook made her Broadway debut in Flahooley, and followed that performance with a string of successes as Broadway’s brightest ingénue in shows such as Plain and Fancy, Candide, The Music Man (Tony Award®), The Gay Life, Something More, and She Loves Me. In the early seventies, however, she reinvented herself as one of the supreme cabaret and concert singers of our time. In the 1985 concert performance of Follies, she left audiences breathless with this peerless rendition of “Losing My Mind.”
Julie Andrews made her Broadway debut in 1954 in Sandy Wilson’s affectionate 1920s parody The Boy Friend. She followed that triumph with two more Broadway appearances: My Fair Lady followed by Camelot. For the next 30 years Ms. Andrews concentrated on her film career and her family. In 1993 she returned to the New York stage in Putting It Together, an intimate revue at the Manhattan Theatre Club. The result was an immediate sellout of its limited three-month engagement. “Like It Was” from the score of Merrily We Roll Along was the dramatic highpoint of a powerful and sophisticated evening of Stephen Sondheim songs about the nature of relationships.
Angela Lansbury was first of all a film star, winning Oscar® nominations for her first two pictures, Gaslight and The Picture of Dorian Gray. She made her Broadway debut in 1957 in Hotel Paradiso. This was followed by A Taste of Honey and in 1964 she made her Broadway musical debut in Anyone Can Whistle. She became a bona fide Broadway star with her Tony Award®-winning performance in Mame, which was followed by another Tony Award®-winning performance in Dear World. This was followed by another Tony®-winning performance in Gypsy. Ms. Lansbury won her fourth Tony® for her portrayal of Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Since 1983, however, her home has been on television where she’s been starring in one of the most popular television series of all time, Murder, She Wrote, as well as appearing in numerous television films including The Shell Seekers and Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris. Her voice is now familiar to hundreds of millions of fans, thanks to her portrayal of Mrs. Potts in the animated classic Beauty and the Beast. However, like the thirteen women that have preceded her on this compilation, Broadway is where she belongs.
– Bill Rosenfield