Occasionally there is a character in a musical who sings one big number only to disappear until the curtain call. But these characters are by no means insignificant. Whether used to realize a pivotal moment in the plot or to offer an unparalleled performance that we're still talking about years later (or both), these roles pack a punch. We celebrate the characters who were one and done — but not forgotten.
Peron’s Mistress, Evita
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice crafted Evita such that the title character is practically the only female to sing solo. Since the piece is about how the impoverished Eva Duarte climbs out of her social class to find success as an actress and then a politician, it is not much of a surprise that most of the music is for her. There is one exception. Midway through act one of the musical, Eva meets the rising military star Juan Peron and goes home with him, to find his teenage mistress waiting in bed. Eva promptly kicks the girl out and tells her that she has been replaced. The girl, billed simply as Peron’s Mistress, launches into the heartbreaking "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" that is a highlight of the score. After her stoic exit, we never see her again. The song was memorably performed in the most recent 2012 revival by "X Factor" phenom Rachel Potter, which led all of us to flip furiously through our Playbills to find out "who is that girl?"
Helen Chao, Flower Drum Song
One of the most-recorded songs to come out of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song is the haunting torch song "Love, Look Away." Considering the song is one of the more beloved in the Rodgers and Hammerstein canon, it is vexing that it is sung by a third-tier character from whom we never hear again. Wang Ta is a Chinese-American in love with nightclub singer Linda Low. Helen Chao is Wang Ta’s childhood friend. She is in love with Ta, but doesn’t seem to have what he is looking for. "Love, Look Away" is her "On My Own."
King Herod, Jesus Christ Superstar
A deliciously comedic number in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ, Superstar is "King Herod’s Song," written for the bacchanalian king who lives a life of extravagance and salaciousness. When Christ is arrested and brought before Herod’s court, the leader must determine what to do with this supposed messiah. Herod challenges Jesus to perform the miracles he is famous for, inviting him to turn water into wine and to "walk across my swimming pool." Unimpressed and unwilling to handle the situation, Herod sends Christ back to Pontius Pilate. Despite this jaunty, memorable number, Herod no longer figures into the story and gets to return, offstage, to his revelry.
Wolf, Into the Woods
James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim include the tale of "Little Red Riding Hood" in their beloved Into the Woods. While Little Red is a star throughout the show, her wolf (and the origin fable) is only around for a stint. He seduces Red in the bluesy-jazz number "Hello, Little Girl." Full of sexual innuendo, the song underscores the beast's predatory nature — while also conveying a bigger message of how society thinks of little girls. Unlike in the fairy tale, the Wolf dies at the hands of the Baker, meaning no more songs. Still, the cunning acting and the bari vocals make this song and Robert Westenberg earned a Tony nomination for his dual portrayal of The Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince in the original Broadway production.
She may not have a lot of stage time, but Berthe’s big number "No Time at All" has the audience singing along and celebrating with this life-affirming showstopper. Pippin, who has just returned from war and is feeling unfilled by the experience, takes a trip out to the country to visit his grandmother. Saucy and spry for her 66 years, Berthe sings this song to try to teach the boy (and audiences) to celebrate each moment of life, grab opportunity and enjoy the little things. Andrea Martin was known to actually stop the show with her rendition —and her eye-popping acrobatics —and won a Tony Award for the role in the 2013 revival.
Head Waiter, She Loves Me
Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock created the musical confection She Loves Me based on the popular play Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo. The head waiter sings "A Romantic Atmopshere," in an attempt to sustain the mood for two anonymous pen pals as they meet for the first time. Little known fact: Jonathan Freeman, currently playing the villainous Jafar in Aladdin, earned a Tony nomination for his performance in the 1993 Broadway revival.
Melba, Pal Joey
One of the more popular songs to come from Rodgers and Hart’s musical Pal Joey is "Zip," a witty list long sung by the reporter Melba as she recounts her interview of the stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. Melba is in one scene of the musical, visiting the nightclub Chez Joey to interview its owner and star attractions, the self-promoting ladies’ man Joey Evans. In this case, the character is so unnecessary to the plot that she was eliminated altogether in the 2008 Broadway revival of Pal Joey. The song, however, was reassigned to a featured character, club singer Gladys Bumps who sang it as a reporter doing a strip routine. The indominable Elaine Stritch played Melba in the 1952 Broadway revival of Pal Joey and recounted the experience in her one-woman show At Liberty.
Evilene, The Wiz
The grand diva of Oz (a.k.a. Evilene, a.k.a the Wicked Witch) belts out Charlie Smalls' gospel-inspired "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" as a warning against anyone who would try to thwart her power. One short scene later, Dorothy douses her and she melts away. It is a short run for her character who barely gets ten minutes of stage time despite being one of the most notorious villains of all time. Still, it's best that the Wicked Witch get her due with a full on production number (unlike the original 1949 film). Mary J. Blige recently performed the villain's anthem in NBC's The Wiz Live!
Twimble, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying
In Frank Loesser's How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, J. Pierrepont Finch starts out as a window washer who uses the titular manual to rise up the corporate ladder and [spoiler alert] eventually become Chairman of the Board at the World Wide Wicket Company. His first step is to become head of the mailroom, hoping to secure the post being vacated by Mr. Twimble. Twimble and Finch share in a comical duet called "The Company Way," a lively tribute to flying under the radar in corporate America. The number opens the door for Finch to start working at World Wide Wicket, without which we'd have no show. Plus, it makes for some fun package-tossing mailroom choreo.
Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck, Sweet Charity
The episodic nature of the Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman musical takes the title role on a twisted romantic journey. She meets Oscar at the beginning of act two and he invites her to The Rhythm of Life Church, a groovy congregation with a transcendental, hippie-like flair. Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck, the hippest of all religious leaders welcomes Charity in his big number "The Rhythm of Life." We're always a fan of a rousing church number. This is less gospel and more psychedelic mellow, but when we watch Sammy Davis, Jr. as Brubeck in the film version performing Bob Fosse's choregraphy, we can't help but me reminded how much we feel the love.
Teen Angel, Grease
Everyone knows "Beauty School Dropout" sung by the Teen Angel in the Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs score. Appearing as a dream guardian angel to Frenchy, Teen Angel represents all her self-doubts, bluntly pointing out her failures and encouraging her to return to high school. Whether it's oversize curlers or giant orange wigs, we love the fantasy world of this catchy doo-wop tune and the man who sings it.
Marian, The Bridges of Madison County
One of the most touching songs to come out of Jason Robert Brown's The Bridges of Madison County is "Another Life" sung by Marian, the ex-wife of roaming National Geographic photographer Robert. In a single number, we understand the depths of Robert. We understand his loner ways, which then only elevates the unexpectedness and sacredness of his connection to Iowa housewife Francesca. How powerful to learn Robert's backstory, not from him but from the person who tried to love him. That, friends, is smart writing. Whitney Bashor delivered a breakout performance with her rendition of the song in the original Broadway production.
Marge MacDougall, Promises, Promises
Probably the most iconic example of "one song and gone" is Marge MacDougall in Burt Bacharach's Promises, Promises. When the fed-up, overlooked office worker Chuck Baxter ends up in a bar on Christmas Eve, he meets the lonely and intoxicated Marge who steals the show in her one short scene. The two sing the duet "A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing," an awkward conversation that is essentially an inebriated justification for hooking up and not being lonely on the holiday. Marge is one of those characters that actors can really play with and let loose. Audiences have eaten up the comedienne's short spell; both Marian Mercer (in the original) and Katie Finneran (in the revival) have won Tony Awards for their comedic portrayals of Miss MacDougall.