That Judy Kuhn, with her silvery rich vibrato, hasn't recorded every major Broadway ballad of the last 30 years, backed by a full orchestra, is one of this writer's great musical theatre disappointments. That this multitalented singing actor has recorded three wonderful solo albums as well as a host of cast recordings and sounds almost exactly the same as she did three decades ago, however, does help balance this injustice.
Kuhn not only possesses a rangy, glorious soprano that she used to dramatic effect as the original Cosette in Les Misérables (Tony nomination) and as Amalia in the 1993 revival of She Loves Me (Tony nomination), but she also boasts a rich, thrilling belt that she first displayed in the Broadway debut of Chess (Tony nomination), a production that garnered the actor numerous lifelong admirers. Also nominated for her moving performance in the Tony-winning Best Musical Fun Home, Kuhn was in rehearsal for Classic Stage Company's revival of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins when the coronavirus temporarily shut down New York theatres. She is, it should also be noted, one of the great interpreters of a lyric, with a simple, direct, honest approach that is ultimately moving.
As Broadway remains temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, it seemed like a great time to look back at the career of this gifted artist. Enjoy these show-stopping performances while much of the country is asked to #StayatHome.
"Rags" from Rags
At the 1987 Tony Awards, Kuhn had the distinction of being part of the musical performances for both the Tony-winning Les Misérables, in which she was then originating the role of Cosette, and the short-lived Rags, which earlier in the season cast her as the ill-fated Bella. Below, Kuhn, joined by the late Dick Latessa, belts out a passionate version of the title song from that Joseph Stein-Charles Strouse-Stephen Schwartz musical.
"In My Life" and "A Heart Full of Love" from Les Misérables
Proving that she not only possesses one of the most thrilling belts but also one of the most beautiful sopranos, here is Kuhn—in full soprano mode—joining original Broadway co-star Michael Ball plus Tony winner Lea Salonga for the 10th anniversary Les Misérables concert, filmed live at London's Royal Albert Hall. Kuhn earned her first Tony nomination for her performance as Cosette.
"Someone Else's Story" from Chess
In 1988 Kuhn originated the role of Florence in the Broadway bow of the Benny Andersson-Björn Ulvaeus-Tim Rice musical Chess and had the chance to premiere the ballad "Someone Else's Story," which was written especially for her. In these press clips, you can also hear Kuhn, who was Tony-nominated for her work, perform the equally lovely "Terrace Duet" with the late, great David Carroll.
"Bring on the Night" from Metropolis
Kuhn received her first Olivier nomination in 1989 (she's currently nominated for her work as Golde in the London revival of Fiddler on the Roof) when she made her West End debut in the new musical Metropolis based on the 1927 silent movie of the same name. The score, written by Joe Brooks and Dusty Hughes, contains a few beautiful tunes, including "Bring on the Night," which Kuhn thrillingly performs on a London morning program, joined by co-star Graham Bickley, who sings "It's Only Love."
"Vanilla Ice Cream" from She Loves Me
Kuhn received her third Tony nomination for her performance as Amalia Balash in the 1993 revival of the classic Harnick and Boch musical She Loves Me, where she proved she could sing pretty much anything, including this glorious version of "Vanilla Ice Cream," which kicks off these press clippings.
"The Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas
To celebrate the Disney film Pocahontas, Kuhn, who provided the title character's singing voice, performed Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's "The Colors of the Wind" live in Central Park; the song won the 1996 Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song.
"Time After Time" by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn
In February 1996 at the Nothing Like a Dame concert to benefit The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actors Fund, Kuhn offered two songs by Jule Styne, Funny Girl's "The Music That Makes Me Dance" and this gem from It Happened in Brooklyn. Just listen to the way Kuhn builds the song, which can also be heard on her debut solo album, Just in Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne.
"Never Again" from King David
Although it never made it to Broadway, those who saw the limited run of Alan Menken and Tim Rice's King David at the New Amsterdam Theatre were lucky to witness many exciting moments, including the roof-raising "Saul Has Slain His Thousands" as well as stunning performances by Alice Ripley and Kuhn, including this definitive rendition of "Never Again" from the professionally filmed dress rehearsal May 14, 1997.
"I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables
In 2007 Broadway's original Cosette returned to Les Misérables to play Fantine—Cosette's mother—in Cameron Mackintosh's 2006 revival of the Boublil and Schönberg musical. It was almost two decades earlier, in 1988, when she first performed Fantine's epic ballad at a performance at the White House, which can be viewed below.
"Loving You" from Passion
In 2013 Kuhn was acclaimed for her performance in the John Doyle-directed production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Passion for Classic Stage Company (co-starring Ryan Silverman and Melissa Errico), marking her second time playing the sickly Fosca, who falls madly for the young soldier Giorgio. She had first taken on the role in the Kennedy Center's 2002 Sondheim Celebration opposite the Giorgio of Tony winner Michael Cerveris and the Clara of Rebecca Luker. Here, Kuhn offers a deeply felt reading of Sondheim's "Loving You."
"Ring of Keys" from Fun Home
In Fun Home, the Tony-winning musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, which parallels Bechdel's own coming of age as a lesbian and the suicide of her closeted gay father, Kuhn offered a touching portrait of Bechdel's mother Helen, a Tony-nominated performance that built to a stunning climax with her beautifully sung and acted delivery of "Days and Days." At the 2019 Broadway Broadway Stands Up for Freedom benefit, Kuhn had the chance to perform a song from Fun Home written for the young Alison, "Ring of Keys," which she performs just as wonderfully as "Days and Days."
Bonus: "Stoney End" by Laura Nyro
Although not a video, this audio track from Kuhn's second solo recording, Serious Playground: The Songs of Laura Nyro, is one of the most superb renditions of the classic Nyro tune one will ever hear.