The adage goes "Everyone's a critic." Also, "everyone's a comedian." And according to Avenue Q, "Everyone's a little bit racist (sometimes)." More accurately, though, if you hang around Broadway fans, everyone is actually a casting director. Theatre message boards (and Playbill Facebook comments) are rife with any number of casting critiques, suggestions and fantasies, ranging from the nearly inevitable to the patently absurd, and sometimes the just plain impossible. Short of resurrecting the deceased, there are times when the most outlandish casting choices make for the most successful productions. But, of course, there is great satisfaction in seeing what you want to see on stage.
Click through to read my selections for the Top Ten Dream Cast Revivals.
Sort of a stretch of the term "Broadway revival," the 1993 New York Outer Critics Circle "Best Off-Broadway Musical" award-winner Ruthless! is, without question, worthy of a main stem bow. A recent Off-Broadway production starring its authors, Marvin Laird and Joel Paley, offered proof the piece, with its contemporary comment on classic camp, has aged beautifully. To play the role of Sylvia St. Croix, a Auntie Mame-ish Momma Rose of a talent agent, I say we continue the tradition of a man in the part, but give it to someone comfortable in heels: the great playwright and downtown drag-sploitation diva Charles Busch. And I advocate taking the cross-gender casting two steps further, using men for the roles of Tina and Judy Denmark as well, to represent the Del Marco family curse (the show business "bug"). Tina could be an especially gifted preteen triple-threat and Judy might be glorious in the hands of Evita's most recent Broadway Magaldi (and Busch's Auntie Mame co-star), Max von Essen, soon to be seen in An American In Paris. He has already impressed in a dress in Jerry Springer: The Opera and Chicago and would be both hilarious and vocally thrilling.
For Kander and Ebb's short-lived 1984 musical, The Rink, I'd like to see another onstage reunion. Bernadette Peters and Tammy Blanchard had great mother-daughter chemistry in Sam Mendes' 2003 Broadway revival of Gypsy and so would bring a nice sense of history recreating the relationship in The Rink. Peters, probably more than anyone, could equal Chita Rivera's Tony-winning display of warmth and old-school presentational pizzazz, and the under-used and majorly talented Blanchard (currently on screen as one of the stepsisters in Disney's "Into The Woods") would be a fun choice for a role originated by Liza Minnelli, as Blanchard won an Emmy playing young Judy Garland in the 2001 TV movie "Life With Judy Garland: Me And My Shadows," based on Lorna Luft's memoir of the same name.
Speaking of Bernadette Peters, conventional wisdom has it that regardless of what "fixes" can be made to Jerry Herman's beloved (though unsuccessful) musical Mack & Mabel, the show will never have the appeal it once boasted with original leads Peters and Robert Preston. Today, though, there are two stars in the firmament who may just be able to match those legendary twinkles. Danny Burstein is something of a Broadway snowball, in that his career gestated for years, in smaller roles, gaining respect and admiration in the industry and gradually expanding to the point where today he is a bonafide Broadway star with five Tony nominations and a trophy surely lurking in his very near future. I daresay Burstein could equal Robert Preston's warmth and magnetism and take it one step further by having a beautiful (though still full of character!) singing voice. And while neither Jessie Mueller nor anyone could sing Mabel better than Bernadette Peters, Mueller could probably match her and be just as moving.
Talented Tony winner (for The Book of Mormon) Nikki M. James has just finished her run as Eponine in the revival of Les Misérables and is now available for all my dream casting, at least in theory. The reality is this gifted beauty is probably being snatched up for any number of projects. My first choice for her is a no-brainer. She has already starred as Dorothy in Des McAnuff's acclaimed and reconceived 2006 La Jolla Playhouse production of The Wiz, which arguably should have come to Broadway. If the decision, though, is to go with a more traditional production of the show, James is still the ideal choice for Dorothy.
The good news about my proposed production of City Angels is that my casting choices may be a bit young. Even if they could pull it off today, they certainly have at least a good decade before they outgrow the parts. The handsome and smooth-talking star of Newsies and the forthcoming film adaptation of The Last Five Years, Jeremy Jordan, is more than man enough to fill James Naughton's shoes as Stone. As Stine, Broadway favorite (and star of HBO's "Looking"), Jonathan Groff, could be even more nebbishy and lovable than original Stine, Gregg Edelman. And the pair would certainly sing the bejeezus out of the score. To fill out the female supporting roles, I nominate Alysha Umphress, Molly Pope and Elizabeth Stanley for the tracks originated by Randy Graff, Kay McClelland and Dee Hoty, respectively.
By George, I think I've got it! For years, I've listened to people tout various vivacious ladies for a revival of Mame and I've never been inspired. I've shaken my head as all the obvious choices were trotted out: Patti LuPone, Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley, Donna Murphy, Meryl Streep. There have been television proposals like Bette Midler and even Cher. Meanwhile, out-of-town revivals with Christine Ebersole and Christine Baranski have failed to make it in. But what about Jan Maxwell, you guys?? The five-time Tony nominee has dazzled in musicals, but also has the legit dramatic chops to carry a mammoth production like Mame. She is warm, funny, charismatic, hip, glamorous, madcap and moving. When you think about it, she's been the clear front-runner since she played the Baroness in the 1998 revival of The Sound of Music. Just picture everything she's done since then, and squint your eyes: That's Mame right there!
4. Tonya Pinkins in Gypsy
There are those who would maintain we are Gypsy-ed out with major Broadway productions starring both Patti LuPone and Bernadette Peters on the Great White Way in the last not much more than ten years. To those naysayers, I respond, "Bring it on!" Gypsy is a classic, just like Oklahoma! or Fiddler On The Roof, and as with classic plays, Shakespeare, or even opera, classics are worth of revisiting year after year. I do concede, though, that this chestnut might benefit from a fresh look. (After all, librettist Arthur Laurents directed three of the five Broadway productions so far!) For Rose, I nominate Tony winner Tonya Pinkins. She would be warm and hilarious and overpowering and sing the daylights out of the score, particularly incinerating in "Rose's Turn." There's no reason this "musical fable" couldn't work with color-blind casting, although I can also imagine a production in which Rose and her two daughters are all African American, or even an "all-black" cast, like was done so successfully with previous productions of fellow classics Hello, Dolly! and Guys and Dolls. Such treatment might bring out all kinds of cultural commentary in the show's deeply embedded themes. No matter how you slice it, though, Tonya Pinkins would nail it.
The heat is on in Saigon, no question. This show is happening. The London revival is breaking box-office records and it's only a matter of time until Broadway sees what once advertized as "the greatest love story of our time" back on the boards. This new production of Miss Saigon should look no further for the role of the Engineer than the great Alec Mapa. It's been years since Mapa's appeared on Broadway (most notably replacing BD Wong in M. Butterfly), but he has made a name for himself on film and television and in his acclaimed solo performances (including the hilarious and moving Baby Daddy, recently adapted for the big screen). Mapa packs a lot of stage presence into his diminutive frame and would be a screamingly funny and terrifyingly theatrical bolt of lightening in Miss Saigon.
2. Patti LuPone in Hello, Dolly!
I know it seems like I'm harping on the Herman, but I can't help it. Jerry Herman wrote some of the most cherished Broadway shows of the last century and today's audiences deserve to see them brought back in style. For the mega-hit Hello, Dolly!, there can be no better casting than Broadway's greatest star, Patti LuPone. Only Patti could commandeer the stage the way Carol Channing so famously did and LuPone would sing the role with the might of Merman and the sheen of Streisand. This particular casting has been rumored for years. Make it happen, Broadway, before the parade passes by!
William Finn and James Lapine's Tony-winning 1992 musical Falsettos (combining their two previous Off-Broadway one-acts, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland), is so ripe for revival you can smell the ink of its opening night Playbill as you walk through Shubert Alley. If the show's depiction of gay life and AIDS and modern family (see what I did?) was groundbreaking in the 90s, then it's downright commercial today. And there is no modern musical with lyrics that better capture our everyday lives in its tuneful, dramatic songs. Broadway and TV funny man Christian Borle has also proven his dramatic chops in shows like Angels in America and he would dazzle as the narcissistic, emotional Marvin. It Shoulda Been You's Farah Alvin has long been Broadway musical star waiting to happen and her humor and heart and warm, rangy, thrilling voice would be ideal for Trina with her hilarious It Shoulda Been You co-star, Guys and Dolls and Spamalot ham Steve Rosen, sure to bring down the house as Mendel. For the sexy, sophisticated and ultimately tragic Whizzer, Midtown Man Daniel Reichard would break hearts and last, but not least, I'd love to see Jenn Colella and Natalie Joy Johnson as Charlotte and Cordelia, respectively.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues, currently on a worldwide tour. His new solo play, Bad with Money, performs through Feb. 27 at The Duplex in NYC. Read Playbill's coverage of the show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)