The announcement that Robert Sean Leonard will be taking over as Harold Hill in the Broadway revival of The Music Man as of August 7 has been greeted with a mixture of surprise and delight by theater fans. A Tony Award-winner this year for his performance in The Invention of Love, Leonard is a fine, respected actor whose experience in musicals thus far is next to nil--but, admirably, he is always up for a challenge. Though Harold Hill has a good half-dozen songs in the show, their range is not very wide, and the acting prowess of the person cast is far more important than the ability to produce dulcet musical tones. The current Music Man, Eric McCormack, is also not famous as a singer but is reported to be doing very well in the role. Nor was the original Harold Hill, Robert Preston, ever thought of as a musical comedy star before The Music Man most definitely made him one.
All of which has inspired thoughts--some crazier than others--of what other plum roles in musicals might be filled by actors whose work has previously been confined, either largely or fully, to the "legit" stage. Even if we only focus on performers who made high profile appearances on or Off-Broadway this season, the possibilities are numerous. I might suggest Leonard's Invention of Love co-star Richard Easton as either Henry Higgins or, more likely, as Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady. And what about the fabulously theatrical Marian Seldes as stage diva Vera Charles in Mame? She could certainly play the equivalent of that role in the straight (?) play Auntie Mame; but given that the songs Jerry Herman wrote for Vera in the musical are not terribly difficult--and that Vera's voice is actually made fun of in the "Bosom Buddies" number--Seldes might as well go for it.
I have no idea if Gary Sinise can sing a note but, if he can, he would also be a wonderful Harold Hill. Alternatively, he could take a stab at Starbuck in 110 in the Shade (the musical version of The Rainmaker), Jud Fry in Oklahoma! or Jigger Craigin in Carousel. Though Henry Winkler is now well beyond the role of Danny Zuko in Grease, might he not--if he gains some weight--be a terrific successor to Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock in The Producers?
I could go on and on (Jon Tenney in I Can Get it For You Wholesale, John Spencer in Finian's Rainbow, Viola Davis in Dreamgirls, Mary-Louise Parker in Rent), but I think I'd better stop myself before someone else stops me. If you have a lot of free time on your hands, feel free to submit your own brilliant suggestions to email@example.com for the fun of it!
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