The Best Featured Musical Actresses That the Tonys Missed
By Peter Filichia —
Been busy the last week? Of course you have, with all the e-mailing, texting and – last and now least – phoning you’ve done to many friends and relatives.
The subject: the 2011-2012 Tony nominations.
As in the past (and as will be in the future), you and yours have agreed with many of the nods, and have criticized some, too.
Sample dialogue: “I can’t believe they chose [fill in name]!”
“They should have gone for [fill in name]!”
“[So-and-so] wuz robbed!”
Well, sometimes we Tony-critics have a point. So what I’ll do during this Tony season is cite some of the people and musicals that, in kinder, gentler seasons – or with different nominating committees calling shots and picking names – would have been nominated.
Coming to these conclusions isn’t always the result of seeing the performers live, on tape, DVD or YouTube. Often, our most convincing evidence is what we hear on the cast albums.
This week, we’ll take a listen to some Featured Actresses who weren’t up for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. You can decide: should any, some or all have been chosen, either in lieu of or in addition to somebody else?
In alphabetical order:
Kaye Ballard (The Golden Apple: 1954-1955). In this update of The Iliad and The Odyssey (!) set in Washington state, Ballard is Helen, who complained in the opening number that “Nothing Ever Happens in Angel’s Roost.” Well, Helen was hell-bent on changing that, and ran away with traveling salesman Paris. At the end of the first act, Helen sang a lovely seductive song, “Lazy Afternoon,” which would become a standard both in the jazz and pop worlds. Ballard’s rendition of the ballad even got her the cover of Life – but the Tony committee didn’t notice, to its eternal shame.
Carol Bruce (Do I Hear a Waltz?: 1964-1965). As the randy owner of a pensione in Venice, Bruce got one solo – “This Week, Americans” – in which she welcomed “the millions from the U.S.A.” Of course, she wasn’t just talking about the millions of visitors, but the millions of dollars, too. Such wordplay has always been the hallmark of Stephen Sondheim, but don’t discount Richard Rodgers’ spritely melody. By the time you hear Bruce add some lively support to “No Understand,” you won’t understand why she was snubbed.
Betty Buckley (1776: 1968-1969). Buckley once told me that on opening night in New Haven – the first leg of the two-city tryout — she really overdid her make-up and came on looking less like Martha Jefferson and more like a Native American. She was convinced that she was going to be fired, but with the voice and brio she brought to “He Plays the Violin,” she didn’t have to worry.
Andrea Frierson (Once on This Island: 1990-1991). How could the Tony committee not love someone who played “The Goddess of Love”? And by love, we mean genuine love and not just lust. That was proved by Frierson’s galvanic yet tender assertion (through Lynn Ahrens’ fine lyric and Stephen Flaherty’s glorious melody) that we are all part of “The Human Heart.”
Joy Garrett (Inner City: 1971-1972). The cast of this wildly underrated musical had to play many roles. Garrett’s shining moment came when she was asked to portray, as the song was officially called, “The Hooker.” In a terrific show-stopper that could just as easily have been named “You Do It Your Way (and I’ll Do It Mine),” Garrett put forth Eve Merriam’s oh-so-frank philosophy that we all sell ourselves in one way or another.
Delores Hall (Inner City: 1971-1972). The lady’s big moment came in the haunting song “If Wishes Were Horses.” If the title seems to be a rip-off of a familiar nursery rhyme, well, that’s what Inner City did: take nursery rhymes, apply them to New York City in the early ‘70s, all set to Helen Miller’s marvelous music.
Susan Johnson (The Most Happy Fella: 1956-1957). When the curtain goes up on most musicals, we usually meet the leading lady before we encounter the supporting actress. Not in this case – and who would say that Frank Loesser was wrong to structure his most ambitious musical in this fashion, what with Johnson on the scene? Few in Broadway musical history were as good in coming down to brass tacks as Johnson. Here, she moaned about what a lady in those days was told never to mention: sore feet. Nevertheless, they apparently healed well enough for her to kick up her heels in “Big D.” Johnson also had a nice part in an encore of “Happy to Make Your Acquaintance” (the ultimate charm song), by which point we had been all too happy to make hers.
Paulette Ellen Jones (Inner City: 1971-1972). Yeah, yeah, I know; I’m going to bat for a lot of Inner City ladies. But if Smokey Joe’s Café can have three nominees in this category, why can’t Inner City? Jones played a teen who was pregnant and had been abandoned by her boyfriend. Now she’s thinking about her soon-to-arrive child in “Hushaby,” in which she vows, “I’ll be your mama, I’ll be your dad.” It’s a song Brecht would have written had he lived into the ‘70s.
Madeline Kahn (Two by Two: 1970-1971). Hollywood would soon come to know her as a zany comedienne, but that was after Broadway had discovered her glorious, Joan Sutherland-ish coloratura. In this musical that dealt with Noah and his ark, Kahn portrayed Golde, a temple girl devoted to “The Golden Ram.” She urged Noah’s son Ham to leave her — and her virginity — alone. Perhaps this was good practice for Kahn’s “Please don’t touch me” role in Young Frankenstein.
Linda Lavin (“It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman!”: 1965-1966). Lavin’s already won a Tony and may win another this year (for The Lyons). But she might have been considered for her role as Sydney – a Daily Planet worker who has a thing, not for Superman, but Clark Kent. She introduced the show’s best-known song, “You’ve Got Possibilities,” but she really soared in “Oooh, Do You Love You!” in which she commented on Jack Cassidy’s self-adoration. (And who did better than he in that department?)
Bernice Massi (What Makes Sammy Run?: 1963-1964). Sammy Glick is the ultimate social-climbing, back-stabbing Hollywood overachiever, but he met his match in Laurette Harrington, the daughter of a studio mogul. You technically can’t see Massi’s eyes flash when you hear her sing that “I See Something” in this “germ” (as she matter-of-factly called Sammy) – and yet, you just might from her delivery. Massi also got to sing “The Friendliest Thing (two people can do),” which doesn’t refer to Parcheesi. This sex-drenched song is one that Cole Porter would have loved to have written; Ervin Drake, however, gets the credit.
Leila Martin (The Rothschilds: 1970-1971). Here was Gutele, the wife of Meyer Rothschild, who was so in love with her husband that, as she charmingly expressed, living in “One Room” will do. Meyer had loftier goals, and soon the family was rolling in dough. But Rothschild and Sons weren’t finished. “We have enough!” Gutele snarled – but they saw a much bigger picture, for they wanted their money to end the persecution of Jews in Germany.
Agnes Moorehead (Gigi: 1973-1974). By this late point in her career, Moorehead wasn’t famous for appearing as Charles Foster Kane’s mother in Citizen Kane. The nation knew her from her role as Endora, the witch’s witch, in Bewitched. One could effectively argue that Moorehead was a witch in Gigi, too, when she portrayed Aunt Alicia, who was hell-bent on getting her niece Gigi into a marriage where she’d acquire 1) seven rooms in a townhouse decked out in crimson damask with velvet chairs, 2) a staff, 3) a chauffeur, 4) a frequent magnificent stone, 5) a darling Rolls-Royce, 6) the basic assortment of furs, 7) some dear little stocks and 8) 34,000 francs a year. And Alicia got it all, too, en route to signing “The Contract.”
Benay Venuta (Hazel Flagg: 1952-1953). Editor Walter Connolly of the The New York Morning Star in Nothing Sacred became Laura Carew, editor-in-chief of Everywhere Magazine in this Jule Styne-Bob Hilliard musical. Venuta started the show off nicely with “A Little More Heart,” in which she embraced the idea of doing a story on Hazel, a (supposedly) terminally ill woman. It didn’t work out as well as Carew would have hoped, but that didn’t stop her from singing the fetching “Everybody Loves to Take a Bow.”
Julie Wilson (Jimmy – 1969-1970). She played The Other Woman in Mayor James J. Walker’s life. Some will dispute that, because Wilson portrayed Mrs. Walker. But by this point in their 17-year marriage, so-called “Gentleman Jimmy” was cheating on his wife and was very much involved with showgirl Betty Compton. Mrs. Walker’s first impulse was that “I Only Wanna Laugh” at the situation, but later she made her real feelings known directly to Compton when calling the Mayor “The Charmin’ Son-of-a-Bitch.” These were the only two songs Wilson was given, but, oh, did she make them count.
Next Tuesday: The Best Featured Actor in a Musical non-nominees that should have had a shot at the prize.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Friday at www.kritzerland.com.and www.mtishows.com. His books on musicals are available at Amazon.com.