Time for the second weekly column! See? I promise, and I deliver.
(That said, next week’s column will be delayed. I’ll be in some remote area on vacation with questionable Internet connectivity. Pray for me.)
So. Judy friggin’ Kuhn. She’s one of my first Diva crushes and was one of the most popular Broadway musical leading ladies of the 80s (rhyming!). I remember the day I discovered that the same woman who sang Cosette in the Original Broadway Cast recording of Les Misérables (pretty high soprano role) also belted her face off in the Original Broadway Cast recording of Chess. My 15 year-old mind was blown.
Kuhn as Cosette:
Kuhn (with tragic 80s hair) singing songs in some concert version of Chess:
I love her effortless belt, as exemplified in this note.
I then went back to review her earlier work. Her first starring role on Broadway was in Rags, a show that Ragtime did better. (I’ve never actually seen a production of Rags, I’m just making snap judgments.) Kuhn played Bella Cohen, a young Jewish immigrant who longs for assimilation. Instead, she fears for a life enveloped in rags and shame.
Kuhn is one of the only (?) performers I know of who had to do double-duty that Tony year (1987), as Les Misérables was also nominated alongside Rags for best musical (and her best featured actress), and she had to perform a number from each production. As Rags had closed after only four performances, and several months prior to the Tonys, it required Kuhn to dust off her rags and perform a number she hadn’t sung in, well, months.
The result? Well, if you read last week’s post, you’ll know that (time away from a role) + (live tv performance) = major messed up lyrics (Click here for the mess up moment (@1:23 if the link doesn’t jump you there already), with the beloved Dick Latessa sweeping in to save the day). Kuhn pulls it together, and finishes with her signature belt.
Kuhn also was a the singing voice of a Disney princess — Pocahontas! As much as I love her, the few times I’ve caught the movie I’m just mystified how anyone thought Kuhn’s colorful, floating soprano matches the stoic work of Irene Bedard. It’s a jarring transition.
Probably in her most well-reviewed role, Kuhn was a beautifully tragic — and flawlessly sung — Fosca in Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. Probably one of my favorite actresses to take on this role (which I’ve discussed at length here).
Kuhn then came back the revival of Les Miz in 2007, this time playing Fantine (You know, the one who sings that Susan Boyle song). Fantine is also Cosette’s mother. In response to this clever inter-family casting, Kuhn is quoted as saying:
“I am thrilled to be returning to Les Misérables after all these years. The original production was such an exciting and momentous part of the beginning of my career and now to go back to play the mother of the character I played originally, especially now that I am a mother myself will be great fun.”
Here is Kuhn singing “I Dreamed a Dream”…but back when she was starring as Cosette in ’87 (I know — confusing).
(Don’t the Regan’s look so charming? Ugh.)
Most recently, Kuhn’s been honoring Laura Nyro in concerts and in her latest cd. Her melancholy voice lends nicely to this vintage singer-songwriter’s work. However…again with the Broadway actresses singing non-Broadway songs? I like my artists contained and predictable, gosh dern it!
Anyway – let’s bring Judy Kuhn back to Broadway! If not something new, perhaps replacing Alice Ripley in Next To Normal?