0. Corbin Bleu – as Usnavi in In The Heights
His face may be plastered all over teenage girls’ walls and little kid lunch boxes, but Corbin Bleu was an unlikely replacement for a lead role in a Broadway show. Or at least, that’s what everyone thought. Most people doubted Lin-Manuel Miranda’s choice to let the High School Musical star take over the role he received a Tony nomination for. Many said that they didn’t believe Bleu would have the chops and be able to hold his own on stage. They called it and blatant stunt cast and said it would fail. How wrong they were. Mister Miranda stuck up for his choice and let Corbin’s performance speak for itself. Over the last few months, Corbin Bleu has won over not only Broadway fans in general, but some of the most die-hard In The Heights fans as well. Although he’s a very handsome fellow, he seems to play the geeky, self-conscious Usnavi very well. We know from seeing him on t.v. and the big screen that the guy can dance, but you’d never know it when you see him pull on that cap and play the lead role in his show. As Lin said, he raps the heck out of the part and sings the musical lines better than we could have hoped.
9. Elaine Stritch – as Madame Armfeld in A Little Night Music
If you saw Angela Lansbury in this role, you probably thought in the moment, “This is as good as it gets!” The woman was brilliant, funny, warm and yet somehow snarky, but always put together. It was a great performance. We all thought, how can they replace her? Enter Elaine Stritch. Known as the eternal lady who lunches, Stritch (as she’s more affectionately known amongst theatre fans) has been performing longer than my parents have been alive, yet it seems this is the role she was born to play. While Angela Lansbury gives you a warmer kind of grandmother, Elaine Stritch’s Madame Armfeld is a no-nonsense woman, passing on all the knowledge she’s acquired over her life and trying to help her daughter raise her granddaughter. To call her hilarious is a gross understatement, and you can’t help but love her, no matter how snarky (feel free to replace this word with the b-word). It’s hard to find theatre fans who don’t love Elaine Stritch on principle, but seeing her in such a classic role is a joy many of us will remember for the rest of our lives. The show was good before, but she took it to the next level.
8. Annaleigh Ashford – as Jeannie in Hair
As far as most of her fans are concerned, Annaleigh Ashford can do no wrong. On top of that, she can play any role. While some (including probably she herself) wouldn’t go that far, Jeannie was a no brainer for this comedienne. She embodied the role of the pregnant-hippie-chick with a good natured flare that made everyone fall for her. Not only does she have a unique voice, she has a spunky air about her that made her perfectly lovable in the part. Many went as far as to say she was the most believable in her role. She managed to keep the same feeling that Kacie Sheik gave the character, but also put a new spin on it, making it all her own.
7. Katie Rose Clark – as Glinda in Wicked
Katie Rose Clark plays Glinda with a natural ease. She’s got a beautiful soprano voice with lovely belty undertones to it. She’s giggling and ridiculous (as Glinda should be) in act one, but by the time act two comes around, she will wow you with her chops. This woman gives Glinda the character arc that the song “Thank Goodness” is meant to have. She shows the sadness in her eyes, you can hear it in her voice. Many actresses who take on the role of Glinda Upland miss that very important emotional depth, it makes her such a more interesting character. It makes her a character people can relate to, rather than play the upper east side princess all the time. It’s been quite some time since the ever famous Kristin Chenoweth created this role, but many fans are saying that Katie Rose Clark is the best Glinda they’ve seen since.
6. Ace Young – as Berger in Hair
It’s always rough to follow someone who was nominated for a Tony in the role just a short while before you have to take over, but Ace Young didn’t seem to be bothered by the feat of stepping into Will Swenson’s shoes. Physically he’s easy on the eyes, and can we talk about those arms for a moment? One fan summed it up by saying, “He was the role, he looked the role, he sang the role.” From the top of the show when he comes out as crazy as can be, scaring audience members in the front row, to the end when he’s protesting to save his best friend’s life, he is Berger. Everyone has concerns when they hear that someone from “American Idol” is going to be hitting the great white way, but we love it even more when they overcome the obstacles the show puts before them. We love when they’re better than we all expect. Ace Young far exceeded expectation!
5. Mandy Gonzalez – as Elphaba in Wicked
That voice! Mandy Gonzalez is known for her wicked amazing pipes, but no one, myself included, could have anticipated that she would sing the Elphaba track with such power! If you haven’t seenWicked in recent years, now is the time to go back, you’ll be seeing the show brand new all over again. First of all, she looks beautiful in green. You know you’ve got a great Elphaba when she rocks that paint. Second of all, not since early in the show’s run has the green girl belted her notes with such control. While those who came before her felt the need to riff off of every high note (because, let’s be serious, this score is CRAZY DIFFICULT), Mandy hits the notes given to her and holds them until the munchkins come home. We knew she was amazing as we fell in love with her as Nina in In The Heights, but Ms. Gonzalaz has taken her career to a whole new level at the Gershwin. Brava!
4. Meghann Fahy – as Natalie in Next to Normal
Starting as an understudy for the role of Natalie Goodman may have given Meghann a leg up when it came to replacing Jenn Damiano in the role, but she doesn’t seem to have needed help. All along the way she’s made the role what she wanted it to be. She plays Natalie her way, with drama, humor and grace. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing her on this list, we already saw make the Top 10 Broadway Understudies list as well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she’s absolutely gorgeous. Can you say jealous? Of course we are! We said it before of her, and we’ll say it again, she’s got a beautiful voice, able to slide over every note in Natalie’s track with ease. But, on top of that, she brings a new kind of life to the acting side of the role. From her quirky facial expressions to her line readings, it’s truly a joy to experience her version of Natalie Goodman.
3. Josh Lamon – as Margaret Meade/Claude’s Dad in Hair
Sweet, squishy, lovable, and endearing are the words that generally come to mind when you think of Josh Lamon in anything he does. But as Margarete Meade, it’s just plain adorable and hilarious. I mean, really…ask our followers who doesn’t love this man, and you’ll come up empty handed. He’s an outstanding performer with a kick-butt vocal range, and that’s nothing to say of his ACTING range. To go from Claude’s Dad to Margaret Meade and back to a hippie in such a short time shows skill. Like Meghann Fahy, Josh did have previous experience with the role as he understudied original cast member Andrew Kober in the part, but once the new cast moved in, this character became Josh’s completely. Kober did an amazing job creating the role, but Lamon reimagined it to be something we never expected. He gives “Maggie” (as she’s more affectionately called) a heart-felt quality that makes her more like you’re crazy aunt Mags than Margaret Meade, anthropologist/cross-dresser extraordinaire. The great news about mister number 3 on this list is that he’s not done! We thought Josh had played his last Maggie, but it’s not true. He’ll be reprising his role on the national tour of hair, leaving for a city near you this fall! Check him out and bop him on the nose if you voted for him.
2. Kyle Dean Massey – as Gabe in Next to Normal
Kyle Dean, what can I say that hasn’t already been said about him? There’s a reason the only person who got more votes than him is Bernie (and can we talk about how her career is 3 times longer than his? That means he’s really hitting it big and fast!). People absolutely love Kyle Dean in the role of Gabe. It’s so wonderful to be able to slip from an original cast member to a replacement so effortlessly. While often replacement cast members have to try to live up to fan expectations when people like Aaron Tveit come before them, Kyle Dean doesn’t seem to be working very hard at all. He’s fit, easy on the eyes, and has the voice of an angel. He sings up in the rafters with ease, (and I’m not just referring to his new note at the end of “I’m Alive” which is significantly higher than the previous ending) but manages to keep himself manly and never gives off that super girly vibe that some high tenors fall victim to. Overall, we have to say he’s an excellent replacement. He didn’t make it to number two on this list for no reason!
1. Bernadette Peters – as Desiree Armfeld in A Little Night Music
What can even be said about this woman?? Many fans said if they could vote for her five times and forget everyone else, they would have. If you want to see a living legend perform live 8 times a week, head on over to the Walter Kerr theatre and see A Little Night Music. Bernadette Peters plays the role as it was meant to be played. Whether you enjoyed Catherine Zeta-Jones or didn’t, Bernadette Peters is exactly what should have been done all along. Her unique voice makes her stand out, but her ability to break you down with the simplest musical lines shows her acting ability is unmatched. Of course, with her track record in Sondheim shows, it’s no surprise that the writer himself was the one who picked her for this part. She approaches Desiree with a different kind of mind-set, allowing herself to discover and rediscover the character as she moves along. If you have the pleasure of being able to see her in this role more than once, you will be able to watch her grow and chance as she comes to know her part even better. But, if you can only go once, be ready for the show you’ve been waiting for–this is certainly a treat.