The Miscast Class of 2016 was full of valedictorians. As co-artistic director Bernard Telsey put it, six of them are leading Broadway shows in this current season and the other four are doing TV—“so they’re no slouches.” On a rainy April 4, Beth Behrs, Gavin Creel, Cynthia Erivo, Linda Lavin, Lea Salonga, Keala Settle, Aaron Tveit, Ana Villafañe, Shanice Williams and Miscast staple Tituss Burgess offered their talents in support of MCC Theater and in celebration of honoree Marisa Tomei. Known for its innovative and provocative theatre, MCC raised over one million dollars at Miscast 2016 to support its artistry and Youth Company.
The night kicked off the only way it could: three young guns lauding “how lucky we are to be alive right now” (and this Miscast—heck, this whole season—makes it true) with a rendition of Hamilton’s “The Schuyler Sisters.” With Villafañe rapping as Aaron Burr, Joshua Colley of Les Misérables, Luca Padovan of School of Rock and Douglas Baldeo, dressed in color-coded vests, khaki pedal pushers and converse, proved you don’t have to be grown to sing like pros.
Creel (She Loves Me) immediately followed, aptly stating “I’m here tonight to announce my retirement because clearly our future is in good hands.” Though, let’s be honest, his version of Sunset Boulevard’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye” continued the evening’s upward climb to peak quality. Though we wished we never said goodbye to him, Miss Saigon’s original Kim, Lea Salonga, sang a rapturous and gentle version of a song she’d heard hundreds of times but never sang until the afternoon rehearsal: “Why God, Why?”
Stage newcomer, Beth Behrs, took her turn with “Wig in a Box” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Usually one half of CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Behrs will make her New York stage debut beginning May 19 in MCC’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of New York City.
Though Miscast isn’t relegated to gender-bending songs, Villafañe took center stage this time in a duet with The Wiz Live! star Shanice Williams to belt out “I’ll Cover You” in honor of the 20th anniversary of Rent. It wasn’t the only song to commemorate the occasion, but more on that later.
Tituss Burgess lent the audience his take on The Witch from Into the Woods with “Stay With Me” and brought the audience to its feet. A tough act to follow, but Linda Lavin took on the challenge with her ironic version of “She Loves Me”—currently sung eight times a week by Zachary Levi at Studio 54.
Tveit reigned in the lighter mood for a somber and moving take on Oliver!’s Nancy as he sang “As Long As He Needs Me.” The leading man proved that while he may go from television series to live broadcast events, he knows how to command a stage. Williams, who proved that she could ease on down the road back in December, brought that same spunk to her rendition of Ren’s “I Can’t Stand Still” from Footloose before Burgess came back onstage for his second number. (Did we mention the best part about Miscast is that performers sing more than one number?)
Joking that no one could raise a candle to his performances, a cry from the audience signaled a challenger. His Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt creator, none other than Tina Fey, marched up to sing “You’re Nothing Without Me” from City of Angels. Miscast is not just about gender-bending, it’s about singing any role you’d be “wrong” for, thus this male duet became a male-female combo.
Likewise, The Color Purple’s Erivo brought the house down when she nailed “Piece of the Sky” from Yentl. Only in Miscast could a black Brit play a Polish Jew—and audiences were thrilled she did.
Moi singing @barbrastreisand at the @mcctheater gala last night, I was all in my feelings!! Thanks @redgray for capturing this xxPosted by Cynthia Erivo on Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Since we heard from Collins and Angel earlier, it seemed only fair to hear a Miscast rendition of Joanne and Maureen’s “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent. Creel and Tveit did the honors, with Salonga cheering and jumping out of her seat—her reaction on par with the rest of the audience at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
But to close out the evening, Waitress’s Keala Settle’s “The Impossible Dream” said it all. As the industry continues to progress when it comes to diverse casting, who can play what role becomes more flexible and casting Miscast can get trickier. No one is complaining, but it suggests that impossible dreams may not be so unreachable after all.
Ruthie Fierberg is the Features Editor at Playbill.com. She has also written for Backstage, Parents and American Baby, including dozens of interviews with celeb moms and dads for parents.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RuthiesATrain.