I've said it before, but it bears repeating: There are few theatrical pleasures more invigorating than experiencing a talented woman bringing down the house in a musical, blowing the proverbial roof off the theatre. Luckily for those of us who live in New York City, there seems to be a constant influx of young performers with great skills who are eager to see their names in lights. Here are some of the most exciting, young musical actresses working in New York today. I've excluded anyone who's already won a Tony (like fireball Patina Miller) and anyone who's been nominated for a Tony (like go-to ingénue Laura Osnes), figuring those ladies have essentially had a big break already. Also, this list is in alphabetical order, as ranking these artists would be like comparing altos and oranges.
Click through to read my choices for up-and-coming musical actresses.
|Natalie Joy Johnson|
Natalie Joy Johnson (@NJJisRELENTLESS)
Since her Off-Broadway debut singing the tearjerking "Quiet Night At Home" in the seminal Bare: A Pop Opera, by the late, great Damon Intrabartolo, Natalie Joy Johnson has proven to be that rare find — the funny girl who can break your heart. This versatility has served her well, as she's moved easily between a variety of featured roles on and Off-Broadway, recently replacing Tory Ross in Kinky Boots. Also, Johnson, with her rich, warm and thrilling voice, has had continued success as a cabaret singer, bridging the gap between mainstream and alternative genres. For those unquenched by her supporting role in Kinky Boots, Johnson and musical prodigy Brian Nash offer the late-night tonic "Codependent Mondays" every week at Therapy Bar on West 52nd Street.
|Rachel Bay Jones|
Rachel Bay Jones has been in several Broadway shows, including understudy assignments in Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown and the Diane Paulus-helmed revival of Hair, but her biggest moment so far has to be her unjustly un-nominated performance as Catherine in Paulus' smash hit revival of Pippin. Jones exhibits nuance and subtlety rarely seen anywhere, let alone in a big musical, and she is the heart of the show. Her tender touch makes a soft sell even of Catherine's more brazen attempts to woo Pippin. Her charms, though — however understated — are quite effective, so much so that most of the audience falls for her as well. Jones will be an asset to every production that casts her in the future.
|Photo by Matthew Murphy|
Leslie Kritzer (@lesliekritzer)
Speaking of funny girls, Leslie Kritzer could easily be the funniest in New York. As a matter of fact, she made such a splash in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Funny Girl, fans were livid when a proposed revival (now canceled) was set to star TV's Lauren Ambrose. Kritzer's genius character work and seemingly limitless voice have made her in an in-demand star of musical comedies and dramas, on and Off-Broadway (as her two Drama Desk Award nominations attest), and she's long been the next big thing waiting to happen. In the meantime, we're lucky to have her as our own secret.
Like many people, I first became aware of Lindsay Mendez as one of Sherie Rene Scott's fabulous backup singers in Everyday Rapture. As her throngs of fans (and lucky people who saw her the recent revivals of Godspell and Grease) already know, Mendez is undeniably a star too bright to be kept in the shadows. She has quickly gone on to bigger things, such as last season's acclaimed Dogfight and her current gig as Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway. Even in a brief cameo singing on "Smash," Mendez made a lasting impression.
I'll never forget the first time I heard Molly Pope sing. Her thunderous vibrato gave me goosebumps filling the Laurie Beechman Theatre with all the reasons she "happen[s] to like New York." I was a fan of her acclaimed cabaret performances for several years before I experienced the magic that is Pope in a musical, first as Ruth in the Gallery Players' production of Wonderful Town, and then as Mama in Dan Fishback's lauded The Material World. It would have been enough for Pope to just be a (phenomenal) singer, but by gum, she's a legitimate actress, too. It's only a matter of time before Broadway discovers one of its greatest stars.
Currently raising the roof as Martha Reeves blasting out "Dancing In The Streets" in Motown on Broadway, Saycon Sengbloh has been electrifying the stage since her early career replacement jobs in Aida and Wicked. In fact, In fact, I think if you check out Sengbloh's agile chest voice rendition of "Defying Gravity," both deep and bright, you just might have a new favorite. Sengbloh is also a wonderful actor when she's not singing, as demonstrated by her vivacious performance in Katori Hall's Hurt Village Off-Broadway at the Signature Theatre Company.
For the last few decades, Broadway roles have leaned more and more toward belting, so it's gotten hard out there for a soprano! Still, some have ventured forth, and in the great tradition of Julie Andrews and Barbara Cook (and more recently, Audra McDonald and Rebecca Luker), we are lucky to have Alexandra Silber. While Silber's only Broadway credit — so far — has been an impressive debut as student of Maria Callas in the most recent revival of Master Class, her appealing performance in Transport Group's revival of Michael John LaChiusa's Hello Again showed versatility, and there are surely bigger things to come for this sophisticated and spunky singer and actress.
Phillipa Soo (@philippasoo)
Another soprano who's making waves in modern musical theatre is Philippa Soo, currently starring as Natasha in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812. Fresh out of Juilliard, Soo is making her New York stage debut with this hit Off-Broadway musical, but her stunning turn suggests there is much more in store for her future. (Note: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812 is scheduled to play its final performance Jan. 19.)
Since her scintillating debut as April in John Doyle's revival of Company, Elizabeth Stanley has been showing off her versatility as a singer and actress, both sassy and sweet in a number of high-profile shows including Broadway's Million Dollar Quartet and Cry Baby. My personal favorite of her many roles has been her hilarious and exciting portrayal of Gussie — daring to toe the line of campiness and stealing the show — in the City Center Encores! production of Merrily We Roll Along. Stanley is clearly a diva who has just begun to tap into her fan base.
Sarah Stiles (@lulubellestiles)
Starting out as an understudy and later taking over various parts in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Sarah Stiles eventually assumed the role of Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q on Broadway. I can only imagine how funny and original she must have been in those shows, based on her inspired work as Little Red Riding Hood in the recent Shakespeare in the Park production of Into the Woods. Stiles' Little Red was wholly integrated with the anachronistic tone of the retelling of her character's fairy tale and managed to maintain the intrinsic innocence while incorporating a more contemporary disposition and sexuality, If it sounds contrived in my description, in action it was effortless and engaging. Stiles is definitely one to watch.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)