Friday, April 09, 2010

The Name Game

Recently, during intermission of CYT’s wonderful production of “Cinderella,” my family and I were talking about title roles. Kaylin Mercer was stunning and delightful in the title role of that show, assisted in no small part by an extremely charming prince, Davis Harrison (I always find it particularly heartening when a dynamic young male performer gets a chance to shine.) Beyond Kaylin’s great performance, the conversation was spurred by our realization that Cooper has been fortunate to have the opportunity to play the title character in three shows – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (alternately known as “Willy Wonka, Jr.” so there is potentially a dispute there), “Oliver,” and the just opening “The Who’s Tommy.”

This got us wondering just how many shows we could think of where there even IS a title role. We decided that some shows – “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Phantom of the Opera,” for instance – didn’t really count because, for instance, in “B ‘n B” the character’s name is Belle, not Beauty. So how many shows are there with a character’s name in the title? We came up with “Billy Elliot,” “Annie,” “Peter Pan,” “Really Rosie,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge,” “Jack and the Beanstock,” “Shrek,” and “Mary Poppins.” As you can see, the bulk of these tend toward the child-oriented. I’m sure there are dozens of grown-up shows that I’m not thinking of but, overall, I was surprised that we couldn’t come up with more.

One new addition to this particular canon would be the current Broadway production, “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which sounds like a winner to me. If I was going to NYC anytime soon (sigh…), it’s the show I would want to see, with “The Glass Menagerie” being a possibility, too. I would NOT care to see “The Addams Family.” I love Bebe but really? Honestly, I had the same reaction to “Shrek.” I just didn’t see the value-add of putting that story on stage.

Of course, folks might argue that putting “The Who’s Tommy” on stage wasn’t a value-add either. Check it out at Theatre VCU and let me know what you think.


Jason M. said...

Other title character shows off the top of my head: "Zorba", "Porgy and Bess", "Pal Joey", "Mame", "Hello, Dolly", "Pippin", "Candide", "Irene", "Purlie", "Cyrano", "Sweeney Todd", "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Evita", "Barnum", "Carrie", "Teddy & Alice", "Will Rogers Follies", "Jelly's Last Jam", "Tommy", "Jekyll & Hyde", "Annie Get Your Gun", "Aida", "Thoroughly Modern Millie"....the list goes on and on!

Dave T said...

Thanks, Jason, for your extensive knowledge and for this list. Of course, the next question -- and a bit harder -- is: who can you think of who has portrayed the most title characters?

Jason M. said...

That question IS harder...because it could be looked at in many fashions. Do you want to know what actor has portrayed the most LEADS in musical theater history, or do you want to know who has portrayed the most title characters? They're two separate animals, really. In modern musical theater, there aren't many shows with the title character in the title of the show anymore, but you could say someone such as Nathan Lane has portrayed the most leads of any male actor on Broadway (Pseudolus in "Forum", a leading charcter, Max Bialystock in "The Producers", another leading character, Gomez Addams in "The Addams Family" - aha - the name appears in the TITLE!). I'd say Angela Lansbury has had some good runs herself, including "Mame" (title character), and, while not the title character in "Sweeney Todd", certainly her Mrs. Lovett was a theatrical force to be reckoned with - and she always got the last bow!

I'd say there are very few actors who have had more than one or two "title" roles to add to their resume (and yes, admittedly - I could be very wrong about this; I am not a theater historian...just someone who has no life and does lots of homework), but moreso many actors who have had the privilege of many lead roles...OR, better yet, their name OVER the "title" of a show. And the interesting thing is that many shows where the leading character's name appears in the title of the show, that character often takes a back seat to other characters who's story is more prominent. For example, the character of the Phantom of the Opera - the character, while the title of the show, only appears onstage for a total of about 40 - 45 minutes for the ENTIRE 2 1/2 hour production...yet he is the lead, and his character name IS "the show." The supporting characters, Christine, Raoul, etc. get much more stage time than he does.

WAY more information than you really ever cared to know, right? Right. I'm done. Put a fork in me. :)

Dave T said...

Definitely NOT too much information! Interesting points. What you are saying about Phantom, I thought about Oliver last summer. He's the title character and he is on stage a fair amount, but he doesn't have as many lines or key action as Dodger, Fagin, or Nancy.