He Said, She Said

Musical theater songs are reliant on their characters. Change one little detail about a character and all at once a song can take on a new direction, forcing its listeners to reconsider what the words really meant and why the music was made to sound the way it was in the first place. It is here that the excitement of every new interpretation lies—any change in detail that makes a familiar piece of music become a little, if not entirely, unfamiliar. And one such popular attempt in doing so is to change gender perspectives.

The following list includes only some of the artists who did such a great job with it. Listen and see what happens when gender-swapping musical theater works so well.

1. Kiss the Air – Scott Alan

Although the original recording in Scott Alan’s album may have been sung by a man, I was introduced to this piece with Cassie Levy’s performance, thus leaving me the impression that it was initially composed for a woman. With that in mind, I found Rob Houchen’s interpretation rather refreshing, taking into account the different face of vulnerability that he integrated in the performance.

Watch this video on YouTube.

2. They Just Keep Moving the Line (from SMASH) – Wittman & Shaiman

With Jeremy Jordan’s interpretation one would not even be able to tell the piece was intended for the character of Marilyn Monroe. Considering the fact that the piece was written for one of the most iconic women to ever grace the spotlight, the performance successfully transformed the piece into something sing-able for even the most “average joe” there is.

Watch this video on YouTube.

3. Run Away With Me (from The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown) – Kerrigan & Lowdermilk

One of my ultimate favorites in new musical theater, “Run Away With Me” sounds as sweet sung in a female perspective as does in its original context. The way the piece was rearranged both musically with the back-up vocals and lyrically to fit a woman’s point of view is just absolutely beautiful.

Watch this video on YouTube.

4. Quiet – Jonathan Reid Gealt

This song was originally popularized by Natalie Weiss, but I daresay Brian Crum did an amazing job with his melodic choices, aside from taking the lyrics to a different level of sensitivity and empowerment.

Watch this video on YouTube.

5. Advice to a Young Firefly – Carner & Gregor

Listening to this piece, one can’t help but be uplifted. There’s an innate vibe of optimism in its words and to the very core of its music. What’s even more impressive is that it sounded just as beautiful sung in a female key (no surprise there with Lea singing) as it was in the original version. “Advice to a Young Firefly” is just one of those songs that sounds great sung by anybody.

Watch this video on YouTube.

6. Losing My Mind (from Follies) – Stephen Sondheim

Technically, this piece surpasses the limit of what we consider to be new musical theater but this performance is just too perfect (for the topic at hand) not to mention. Jeremy Jordan transformed the piece into something more youthful (contradictory to the original character’s actual phase in life) that it, to me started to resemble a young love pushed to its extremities.

Watch this video on YouTube.

7. Bring Him Home (from Les Miserables) – Schonberg & Boubil

Natalie Weiss’ version is like a breath of fresh air. With a piece so dramatically heavy such as this, she reinvented it to an even more subtle and soothing way without losing its climactic essence. Truly one of my favorite versions of this piece by far.

Watch this video on YouTube.

8. I’m Not Afraid Of Anything (from Songs for a New World) – Jason Robert Brown

This performance just works so well on so many different levels. Talk about constructing an entirely new person in just a span of 5 minutes? Well, Jason Gotay did that—exactly that and more than I can put into words.

Watch this video on YouTube.

With all these amazing performances, one can see that even if musical theater pieces are created with a specific character in mind, the liberty with which these performers are able to interpret them creates an entirely new and beautiful experience altogether. They are what brings these pieces to life, taking them to where they need to go until the process goes back to repeat itself in a manner of give-and-take, music growing from person and vice versa. All that is left to say, I think, is thank goodness for live theater!

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