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Mark Shenton’s wishlist: 10 Broadway theatre stars I’d like to see in the West End

Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Wyndham's Theatre, London. Photo: Marc Brenner Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill at the Wyndham's Theatre, London. Photo: Marc Brenner
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We’ve finally seen the West End debut of Audra McDonald, some 23 years after she won her first Tony Award. McDonald reprised Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill – for which she won her latest (sixth) Tony. We’ve seen her do concerts in London from the Donmar Warehouse to Leicester Square Theatre, and even the BBC Proms, but never before have we seen her appear in a theatrical show.

Interview with Audra McDonald

These are some more Broadway greats I’d love to see in a show in the West End, though one or two have done concert appearances over the years.

1. Bernadette Peters

Plenty of Broadway’s finest leading ladies, from Patti LuPone and Chita Rivera to Betty Buckley and Idina Menzel, have appeared on the West End stage over the years. But arguably the most acclaimed of them all, apart from Audra McDonald, yet to be seen in a show here is Bernadette Peters. One of Sondheim’s go-to leading ladies, she originated the roles of Dot in Sunday in the Park With George and the Witch in Into the Woods – roles that were taken in London by Maria Friedman and Julia McKenzie, respectively. I saw Peters do both on Broadway, as well as revivals of Gypsy (lyrics by Sondheim), A Little Night Music and Follies. I’ve also seen her on Broadway in the transfer of Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance (in which she produced one of the most exquisitely tortured English accents since Dick Van Dyke), The Goodbye Girl and Annie Get Your Gun. Previous London appearances have included the Olivier Awards and a concert at the Royal Festival Hall.

2. Kelli O’Hara

There’s no brighter ingenue-turned-leading lady on Broadway than Kelli O’Hara, who has proceeded through the ranks from featured roles in such shows as Sweet Smell of Success and Dracula to leading roles in The Light in the Piazza, The Pajama Game, South Pacific, Nice Work if You can Get it, The Bridges of Madison County and The King and I. She’s now top of the casting list for any new or revived musical that requires a singer of operatic depth and irresistible sweetness. In November, she’ll headline a concert run of Brigadoon at New York City Center to be directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. I must book a flight now.

3. Kristen Chenoweth

When Wicked transferred to London, only Idina Menzel came with it, so we’re long overdue our own fix of Broadway’s diminutive operatic soprano firecracker Kristen Chenoweth. That wrong may soon be righted when she comes to London to star in the premiere of the new Stiles and Drewe musical Soapdish, which is being planned for the Other Palace Theatre. She was utterly wonderful in the 2015 Broadway revival of On the Twentieth Century.

4. Matthew Morrrison

Best known for his starring role as Will Schuester in TV’s Glee,  Matthew Morrison got his start on Broadway, first making a mark as the original Link Larkin in Hairspray in 2002, then going on to star in The Light in the Piazza (2005), South Pacific (2008) and Finding Neverland (2015). He’s done concerts at the Hammersmith Apollo and earlier this year at the Hippodrome. But it’s high time we saw him in a show. When I asked him when that would be, he replied: “You will see me on the West End one of these days, I just don’t know what it will be.”

5. Melissa Errico

Since first starring as Eliza Doolittle in a 1993 Broadway revival of My Fair Lady, Melissa Errico hasn’t quite had the stellar career that was predicted for her; but I’ve always found her utterly enchanting and go out of my way to see her whenever I see her name. So, over the years, as well as seeing her on Broadway in High Society, Amour, Dracula and White Christmas, I’ve also tracked her down to Washington (seeing her as Dot in a revival of Sunday in the Park With George), and Off-Broadway’s Classic Stage Company (Clara in Sondheim’s Passion) and Irish Rep (last year in Finian’s Rainbow). Of the latter, she wittily wrote in the New York Times, “The ingenue police are at my door. ‘Is this Melissa Errico? The actress? Do you understand that Sharon in Finian’s Rainbow should be around 27 years old? Would you please come with us?’ Then I wake up. Sleeping actors are known to forget their lines, or what play they are in, or where their pants have gone. When I was offered the chance to perk up my curly curls and scrub up my Irish brogue to portray the fairy-like Sharon McLonergan in Finian’s Rainbow, this version of the actor’s dream crept into my subconscious and made plain thoughts I was already thinking: at age 46, when does an ingenue hang up her ponytail? When is it time to stop dancing with leprechauns?” As long as Errico wants to play the part, I’ll be happy to see her do it.

6. Alice Ripley

I’ve rarely seen a performance of rawer emotion and earned depth in a musical than the one given by Alice Ripley in the Broadway premiere of Next to Normal in 2009 – so much so I went back nine more times to see her again. Ben Brantley, who dubbed her performance “astounding” in his New York Times review, described her thus: “Her achingly exposed-seeming face and sweet, rawness-tinged voice capture every glimmer in Diana’s kaleidoscope of feelings. Anger, yearning, sorrow, guilt and the memory of what must have been love seem to coexist in every note she sings. None of these are particularly comfortable emotions. In combination they’re a dangerous cocktail. But to experience them vicariously through Ms Ripley is to tingle with the gratitude of being able to feel them all. Diana is right when she sings that ‘you don’t have to be happy at all to be happy you’re alive’. Nor do musicals have to bubble with cheer to transport an audience as this one does.” I’ve long campaigned for this show to come to London; if and when it does, she should reprise that role. (If she doesn’t, step forward, Jenna Russell.)

7. Aaron Tveit

I first noticed Aaron Tveit playing Alice Ripley’s son in Next to Normal. though he’d previously served his indentures by taking over as Link Larkin in Hairspray and Fiyero in Wicked. He’s a stunningly charismatic actor-singer and subsequently co-starred in the Broadway premiere of Catch Me if You Can in 2011 (with another brilliant Broadway stalwart, Norbert Leo Butz). He also appeared in the Menier’s Assassins in 2014. I hope we are not going to lose him to TV now (he has a recurring role on Gossip Girl), and that he comes to the West End again soon.

8. Andrew Rannells

The original Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, Andrew Rannells is a dashing, fresh-faced old-school leading man; last year he was superb in the Broadway return of Falsettos. The latter is long overdue a full London production; perhaps he could headline it?

9. Laura Benanti

The always-beguiling Laura Benanti was sheer enchantment in last year’s Broadway revival of She Loves Me; she’s also been a scene-stealer in revivals of Into the Woods, Nine and Gypsy there (winning a Tony for the latter), and was one of the stars of the original musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

10. Sutton Foster

First emerging as a star in Thoroughly Modern Millie in 2002, Sutton Foster is one of Broadway’s most reliably brilliant actors, going on to star in Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Shrek and revivals of Anything Goes and Violet. Last year she scintillated again in the title role of an off-Broadway revival of Sweet Charity.

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