The Playgoer: Critics heart Fantasia

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Critics heart Fantasia

Yes, put aside your American Idol jokes for a moment and check out the raves--absolute raves--today for Fantasia in "The Color Purple." (Like Isherwood and Barnes.)

(PS--and Rooney in Variety)

Turns out to have been a smart, smart move to cast her. Advantage, Oprah?

On an uncynical note, though....

Here's a theory. Sometimes it takes an "outside" talent to re-energize the American musical, especially when true "star" presence is required. Watching Reba McEntire in "Annie Get Your Gun" a few years ago (in which, remember, she was a replacement for Bernadette Peteres) was one of the greatest musical theatre performances I'd ever seen. Because she both sang and acted with utter truthfullness and artlessness, and created a perfected mesh with the role. (The character and actor were one.)

I have no idea how good Fantasia is. But if she's anything like I'm reading this morning, maybe it's a caution against our cookie-cutter Broadway machine and training system, which molds musical theatre talents into bland road-copy material. Make no mistake, I'm not talking about hiring amateurs. Both Fantasia and Reba are proven singers (the latter, of course, much more seasoned). And in the right kind of role, in a show with a lot of songs, what they bring from the pop world can really matter.

After all, no one says the relatively untrained Ethel Merman was that impressive an "actress."


Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I remember seeing Bernadette Peters and then I saw Reba McEntire and completely forgot about Peters. Sometimes an actor is just born for some of these roles - perhaps Fantasia is one such singer-cum-actress.

Hope you're also planning to see Patti LuPone in Gypsy. She will astound and have many people saying the same thing.

parabasis said...

Merman was also a terrible singer, let's not forget, at least as far as any kind of technical measurement of "good singing" is concerned. I'm guessing what she had was Presence. It certainly doesn't translate (for me anyway) on recordings of her (CD or film), but I'm guessing live it was persuasive.