Are we nearly at the end of an era for our great musical divas?

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qolbinau
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It just dawned on me that over the past 10 years things have changed, a lot. Just approx. within the last 10 years Angela Lansbury, Elaine Stritch, Donna Murphy, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole, Marin Mazzie, Bebe Neuwirth, Elaine Paige, Chita Rivera, Victoria Clark, Liza Minnelli, Alice Ripley were all starring on Broadway*. All of these divas have/had unique personalities, unique voices and unique stage presence. Along with an iconic history of Broadway roles. While I'm sure not all have retired for good (and yes we might have Patti back next season) it does seem as time goes by and people age, or pass, and Broadway economics change, and Broadway market/audiences change, the landscape of truly iconic & wonderful Broadway divas is getting smaller and smaller.

*Not to forget Betty Buckley who we've also probably long lost from New York, but that was long ago.  

Sadly, I just don't think any of the next pool can match this pool. Kelli, Audra (yes, shoot me for it), Sutton, Idina might be the next generation equivalent but as much as I love them, they don't quite have it. It feels like there is an interesting & diverse next next generation group with people like Katrina Lenk, Cynthia Erivo, Jessie Mueller, Patina Miller, Laura Benanti etc. but they haven't quite made the same impact yet or have been distracted outside the theatre,

I think I am destined to be a real life "man in the chair", listening to my cast recordings and trying not to forget what it was like to see these performers. And I don't want to be a pessimist, but it feels like the best thing about Broadway is slowly dying (literally) and coming to an end.

I want the personalities, and the laughter, and the crying, and the UNIQUE vocal timbre....I'm sick to god damn death of hearing pretty but boring voices. 

 

"It’s the fractured quality in [Bernadette Peters'] singing voice and line readings that puts across the character as someone for whom resentment is sliding into madness." - NYtimes on Follies (2011).
Updated On: 8/8/19 at 05:41 PM
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JBroadway
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I agree with your overall sentiment, though not necessarily with all of your groupings of names.

I think the problem we are running into is we have too many belters, and not enough actors (I realize of course it’s enirrely possible to do both, but many young performers don’t  seem to have realized that).

With most of the names you mentioned, it’s not just that these women have distinct personalities, it’s that most of them technically skilled actors. So many young musical theatre performers coast along on some combination of great vocals, generalized “emoting,” charismatic stage presence, comedic timing, or fun characterization. And those things are all good, and there are plenty of performers that I really like who fall into that category. But it’s rare to see young musical theatre performers who really feels dropped in, listening and responding, and who really works with the music to delve into the specific thoughts and emotional layers of a character.

I was actually thinking about this recently, and I tried to think of as many names as possible of performers UNDER 40, who are mostly known for musical theatre, who I think are technically skilled actors. The list was saddeningly short. One person on my list who you didn’t mention was Ashley Park. She has continued to impress me with her genuine acting abilities.

(BTW, I imagine some people will want to respond to this post by rattling off a long list of musical theatre performers under 40 who you think are good actors - you’re welcome to do that, but odds are I will just disagree with most of the names on your list)

Updated On: 8/8/19 at 05:55 PM
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Elfuhbuh
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I'm sure a new crop of fresh and talented young divas will make their way onto the scene in the coming years. Maybe we're just in a transitioning period between eras at the moment.
"Was uns befreit, das muss stärker sein als wir es sind." -Tanz der Vampire
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ErmengardeStopSniveling
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Well, of your 13-person list, 8 have appeared on Bway in the past 4 years. Of the 5 others, two are retired from the stage, one STRUGGLED her way through Addams Fam, one is UK-based, and two are deceased. So perhaps you're painting this to be more dire than it actually is.

The reality of today's Broadway market is NONE of those women (or the women mentioned in your "next pool) could sell enough tickets to recoup a show; few would command a hefty Broadway salary, too. Which also hinders the newer generation: people like Kristin Cheno, Jane Krakowski, Laura Benanti, Cynthia Erivo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Sutton Foster, Idina Menzel, Lindsay Mendez, Ruthie Ann Miles, even Audra, have found work on TV/film that can offer them a living wage.

It's also a question of, what constitutes as a "diva" performance? There aren't a ton of "diva" roles nowadays; for a long-running show, the hope is that the ROLE becomes the star (Elphaba, Christine Daae).

I think there are a lot of promising younger talents out there, and I do think you're sounding like a "man in chair"/ "Make Broadway Great Again" type. It's easy to look back without celebrating the future.

Updated On: 8/8/19 at 06:49 PM
Ms_Flyover
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It’s probable that someone had the same thought mourning the loss of Merman or Martin never anticipating a Buckley or LuPone. I went to see Kiss Me Kate simply on the draw of Kelli O’Hara, so to me, she is a current Diva And I think it’s unfortunate Carolee Carmello hasn’t had “that part” to earn the moniker, because she certainly has the merit.

I guess I’m not feeling a great disturbance in the Force quite yet.
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Of the major divas not on your initial list, I think Stephanie J Block and Megan Hilty have yet to really show what they're made of (and I do think it's a lot more than their already substantial achievements). What we somewhat lack right now is good material and vehicles for these women to really shine.

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Currently, all names listed above are a huge draw for me. In fact, the “generation” of Sutton, Idina, Kristin, Kelli, Laura, Jessie, Carolee and Audra are my favorite performers. I’d also throw Laura Osnes and Annaleigh Ashford in there.
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I think the business of Broadway has changed, as has the business of television, which plays a part in what you've observed.  In the 1950s, a Broadway hit could make someone a star beyond Broadway.  While that was less true in the 1960s, it was still possible.  With each subsequent decade, this has become less true.  The mega-musicals of the 1980s succeeded on property and/or composer and less on the star and in this age of Disney musicals and franchise properties, it's even more so.  The nature of today's Broadway doesn't support the type of environment in which the 13 women you named flourished.

And today, television is always right around the corner.  There is more work available, though it's not necessarily star-making, and the salaries Broadway pays pales in comparison to TV.  Actresses like Audra and Sutton can make more money there, even if it's less prestigious.

It may also be that the Big Diva thing is becoming an antiquated ideal.  

SouthernCakes
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I think it’s a lot to do with casting and colleges. Most casting offices pull from a specific college/university, and those schools are churning out carbon copy performers, so honestly there’s no way to be unique in today’s market. I mean, “unique” today in musical theater is Be More Chill or that nasally sound. It’s really aggravating as an actor who didn’t go to the main schools and who has the talent to break into this talent pool. I always use Derek Klena as my example: fine singer, serviceable actor. Same with Aaron Tveit: good singer, bland actor.
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It's funny that the most recent breakout star from broadway is not a woman but LMM. The only one out of the Hamilton OBC who became a ticket selling name in himself and cross over to movie and TV work significantly more prestigious than he did before Hamilton.

 

There's also, I think, less room for "diva" personality these days I think. It's just considered rude.

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The problem is that so many performers get pulled from theater into the higher paying world of television or movies.

Of the younger generation, I think Eva Noblezada is another person who can sing and act the heck out of anything and everything.
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SouthernCakes said: "I think it’s a lot to do with casting and colleges. Most casting offices pull from a specific college/university, and those schools are churning out carbon copy performers, so honestly there’s no way to be unique in today’s market... It’s really aggravating as an actor who didn’t go to the main schools and who has the talent to break into this talent pool."

Absolutely!  Blame casting directors and producers who cast performers who they think will appeal to audience members instead of the best person for the role.  These actors exist; they’re just not getting cast, very rarely getting called back, and oftentimes not even being given the opportunity to audition in the first place.

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Is it true that if you don't have a certain number of 'followers' that you won't even get an audition?

bwaylvsong
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SweetLips22 said: "Is it true that if you don't have a certain number of 'followers' that you won't even get an audition?"

I’ve heard of that being true for other media, but not for theatre.  The main culprits (beyond the obvious looks>vocal ability>acting ability hierarchy) include the school connections that SouthernCakes mentioned (some casting offices give a huge priority to actors who attended the “right” schools when determining who is given audition appointments) and the way the union runs its “open” auditions (or more specifically, its path to membership).

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qolbinau
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hahahaha. I kind of get the criticism - I do. She might have been sick at the time (isn't she 'always'Are we nearly at the end of an era for our great musical divas? when I saw her in Dolly but her voice does seem to have declined a little even in the last 5 years. <<edited by BWW staff>>, and her line readings of late can sometimes be a bit puzzling (I. Don't. Want. To. Fight. With You. Phyl - I don't have to) - although sometimes also skilled (He, he held me and the band was playing - I'm going to get married to the man I love...oh dear lord, isn't it a wonder).

While I sometimes don't get why Bernadette seems to attract more criticism than others for vocal issues (see: Tyne Daly, Chita Rivera, Imelda Staunton), I get that she can be a little rough around the edges. But her voice is never boring (perhaps the worst sin of the theatre), and I'm willing to take the bad with the good if it means we get an interesting, well-acted song that really conveys some kind of emotion.

http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/NUNN-ON-ONE-A-Little-Night-Music-with-Bernadette-Peters/66722.html

WCT: What led you to being involved with the LGBT community?

BP: The LGBTQ community are sensitive people and always into the arts. They would tell their friends about my shows and then I started having a wonderful audience. They understand people that sing. If I am singing something with real emotion, they get it. People have asked me about the following before and I would say, "Because they are smart!"

---

I really do 'get' it. Maybe people 'got it' when she did Mack & Mabel, Sunday or Into the Woods. But even now she can still churn it out.

If you can't enjoy these performances then I don't know what else to say but I'm sorry that you're missing out!

Rose's Turn (see her Tony Award performance...the highlight being her face and desperation in "welll...someone tell me when is it my turn, don't I get a dream for myself)

Send in the Clowns  (a peak of her career)

In Buddy's Eyes (listen how nice the transition from the beginning 'happy' part of the song till the sad slower reflective subtext part at the end for the final verse and that really nice controlled vibrato on the last note - not everyone seems to get this)

Hello, Dolly! (a celebration of her career, a complete diva fan-service that is not 'good' character development or story telling but just plain excitement, fun and happiness).

I hope there is still more to come but if these are the end, I am proud and happy for her recent accomplishments. 

 

"It’s the fractured quality in [Bernadette Peters'] singing voice and line readings that puts across the character as someone for whom resentment is sliding into madness." - NYtimes on Follies (2011).
Updated On: 8/9/19 at 03:25 AM
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qolbinau
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I wish we had the full clip of this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNwnrA8EshM

Just perfect. 

"It’s the fractured quality in [Bernadette Peters'] singing voice and line readings that puts across the character as someone for whom resentment is sliding into madness." - NYtimes on Follies (2011).
BWAY Baby2
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Yes- that was excellent- I love Bernadette- and her singing, though mannered, is always, for me, always draws me in- I guess it is the emotion she conveys with each song- acting out the song with everything she has- her voice- like Liza or Verdon or so many- is not a technically pristine instrument- but she is a very talented actress and singer and she can get a song across, Love her.

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If the things that I learned in queer theory class back in grad school hold true, the "divas" of old are less necessary now than they were half a century ago. The central diva/claque symbiosis was that these larger-than-life, often eccentric or melodramatic women could evoke the exaggerated peaks and valleys of a "feminine" or feminized experience, enabling the mostly-effeminate gay men in the audience a catharsis of vicarious performance. Judy singing a hard-love ballad was every repressed love they ever had to fight. Dolly descending that staircase was as fabulous as they sometimes dreamed of being. The screaming and weeping and tearing of hair that you hear about in the old newspaper articles about Judy in concert were half idolization and half identification: "she is everything we are and everything we wish we could be in one."

Of course now, gay culture faces many challenges, but by no means as many as it did back then, and gayness as a mass sociological facet has definitely come out of the closet and into the light. Fabulous women are no longer necessarily needed as semi-coded "interpreters of queerness," so the diva symbiosis remains vestigially but distantly; Beyoncé has a definite gay following, but Beyoncé has a definite EVERYONE following, and you couldn't really say that the subtext of her career is performing elements of queerness.

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They deleted your original post that I was referring to above PoisonIvy. And I’m surprised you removed your post (criticism of Bernadette’s phrasing of Clowns and Losing My Mind) - but all I will say is first, look at the sheet music - the songs are written with pauses in those moments. It’s not written to be sung legato. Second, look at the context of these songs - Send in the Clowns has always been designed to be sung in a certain way and I know for a fact that Bernadette was directed to sing it that way at some point because if you look at how she sung it before she was ever in the show it was a completely different performance. Third, it is funny to think that Sondheim’s most frequent acting collaborator who in interviews appears to essentially do what Sondheim tells her to, is apparently ‘wrong’. But fourth - regardless of the sheet music, the context of the song and the collaboration with Sondheim this is musical theatre not opera. It’s called acting and it’s the best part. I bet some theatre major graduate could sing circles around Bernadette right now, but singing technique is only one small part of the puzzle.

"It’s the fractured quality in [Bernadette Peters'] singing voice and line readings that puts across the character as someone for whom resentment is sliding into madness." - NYtimes on Follies (2011).
Updated On: 8/9/19 at 09:22 AM
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I've seen the sheet music for Send in the Clowns. I also saw the documentary where Stephen Sondheim said he wrote it for Glynis Johns and so she could only sing so many notes without a break. So he split up the phrases into four notes at a time. 

With that being said Bernadette takes loud, audible breaths after each four note phrase when she doesn't need to.

She didn't sing like this when she sang the song with Sondheim accompanying her:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOZhmsp6iBQ

It comes across as a mannerism, not interpretation. 

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Unfortunately I think that we are at the end (at least for this foreseeable era). I think in the same way that pop music has (for the most part) lost its divas. Long gone are the days where icons like Celine Cher Bette Madonna Tina Dolly Barbra were born. And in the same sense I think that with a lot of the shows being created because they are relying on already familiar markets and more laid out to feature the big budget spectacle. I don’t think it’s allowed so much for these “divas” to be born. The shows generally even in the last ten years have been created with the idea that the “star” can be replaceable. Therefore I think that many of the names and performances are being over shadowed. I don’t know, that’s just how I feel.
I would also put Idina and Kristin in the same category as diminishing. In the next 20 years. I couldn’t see them in more that three broadway shows a piece. I feel that they have definitely moved over to film and television and that’s where they will make their bank and stay.

Look at Aaron tveit or Jonathan groff. One hasn’t been on broadway for nearly 10 years and the other was on broadway for less than six months In that time. Money from out west is also calling them away
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There are no pop divas nowadays?

Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga would like to have a word with you about that.

Theatrefanboy1
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poisonivy2 said: "There are no pop divas nowadays?

Beyonce, Rihanna and Lady Gaga would like to have a word with you about that.
"

Clearly you avoid reading what’s in the brackets.  It said for the most part.   And I mean I would love to test the longevity of the three you mentioned. IMO only one of those would have the same capacity to sustain a notable place in history 

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qolbinau said: "hahahaha. I kind of get the criticism - I do. She might have been sick at the time (isn't she 'always'Are we nearly at the end of an era for our great musical divas? when I saw her in Dolly but her voice does seem to have declined a little even in the last 5 years. <>, and her line readings of latecan sometimes be a bit puzzling (I. Don't. Want. To. Fight. With You. Phyl - I don't have to) - although sometimes also skilled (He, he held me and the band was playing - I'm going to get married to the man I love...oh dear lord, isn't it a wonder).

While I sometimes don't get why Bernadette seems to attract more criticism than others for vocal issues (see: Tyne Daly, Chita Rivera, Imelda Staunton), I get that she can be a little rough around the edges. But her voice is never boring (perhaps the worst sin of the theatre), and I'm willing to take the bad with the good if it means we get an interesting, well-acted song that really conveys some kind of emotion.

http://www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/NUNN-ON-ONE-A-Little-Night-Music-with-Bernadette-Peters/66722.html

WCT: What led you to being involved with the LGBT community?

BP:The LGBTQ community are sensitive people and always into the arts. They would tell their friends about my shows and then I started having a wonderful audience. They understand people that sing. If I am singing something with real emotion, they get it. People have asked me about the following before and I would say, "Because they are smart!"

---

I really do 'get' it. Maybe people 'got it' when she did Mack & Mabel, Sunday or Into the Woods. But even now she can still churn it out.

If you can't enjoy these performances then I don't know what else to say but I'm sorry that you're missing out!

Rose's Turn(see her Tony Award performance...the highlight being her face and desperation in "welll...someone tell me when is it my turn, don't I get a dream for myself)

Send in the Clowns(a peak of her career)

In Buddy's Eyes(listen how nice the transition from the beginning 'happy' part of the song till the sad slower reflective subtext part at the end for the final verse and that really nice controlled vibrato on the last note - not everyone seems to get this)

Hello, Dolly!(a celebration of her career, a complete diva fan-service that is not 'good' character development or story telling but just plain excitement, fun and happiness).

I hope there is still more to come but if these are the end, I am proud and happy for her recent accomplishments.


"

I like what you observe here about Peters.  She's in her 70s now so it makes sense that there are changes in her voice but she's adapting to them beautifully, I think.  But she has given some of her best stage performances since 2003 and her work remains extremely accomplished.  I saw Gypsy three times because she was so good in that role.  Thanks for sharing your observations.

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SouthernCakes said: "I think it’s a lot to do with casting and colleges. Most casting offices pull from a specific college/university, and those schools are churning out carbon copy performers, so honestly there’s no way to be unique in today’s market...."

I was present at a UCLA faculty meeting where the head of the acting program went off about how they only wanted people who were "equally good at singing, dancing and acting" for the then new musical theater program.

And I thought, "You are describing future members of the chorus, not musical theater stars, few of whom do everything equally well." Not that members of the ensemble aren't equally important and worth training, but that wasn't his implication.




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