Top 5 Songs For the Modern High Belter and Reasons to Love Them
Much has been written about the modern obsession and fascination with high belting, and there is no need for me to rehash it fully here. In short, musical theatre has gone from having a lady’s money note be a solid, chesty B flat to a throat-shredding F. People are divided on the merits of this development. What I will throw in is that I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with healthy belting – to me, I feel as legitimate in my assertion that I love it as someone who lays claim to the electric guitar as their favourite sound; a great belt used appropriately is thrilling and powerful and, for the purposes of musical theatre, can convey emotion in an incredibly effective way. I’ve decided to take five songs for the modern high belter and to demonstrate why they (and their singers) are straight up fantastic.
1. “I’m a Star” (Scott Alan)
This is, by ‘contemporary’ standards, almost an old school beltathon. Written by the cornerstone of the hard-to-describe ‘musical theatre solo album’ Scott Alan, this song ramps up and up to match the singer’s determination and excitement. Eden Espinosa (BKLYN, Wicked, Rent) hoists up her indefatigable larynx and ratchets up the vocal power to match the material, and the result is a no holds barred paean to stardom.
2. “The Ballad of Sara Berry” (Ryan Scott Oliver)
Featured in his show and album 35mm, Ryan Scott Oliver has written a contemporary ballad in the old-fashioned sense: this song is a tale, the saga of Sara whose desire to be prom queen was so strong it drove her to kill.
Performed here by Lindsay Mendez, Natalie Weiss, Alex Brightman and Jay Armstrong Johnson, this is high belting times four. I’ve talked about Lindsay Mendez before, and her voice is never less than absolutely astonishing. The precision of her placement and keenness of her voice bring Sara’s mania to a shrieking climax (it’s an A flat and it is glorious) – and Stephen King levels of horror.
3. “Dead Girl Walking” (Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe)
Heathers: The Musical is where the insanely high belters come to play. This number showcases the inimitable talents of Barrett Wilbert Weed and her seemingly limitless range. Her character, Veronica, faces impending social doom, decides she has nothing more to lose and has a lot of sex with the loner weirdo from school.
Imagine for a second this sort of song delivered in crystalline, fluting head voice. Imagine how terrible that would be. Now listen to Barrett singing the score a new one with her unbelievable belt. It is passionate, frantic and perfect. And another A flat.
4. “Always Starting Over” (Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey)
Idina Menzel holds the distinction of being perhaps the most controversial of the high belters. Two people can watch the same performance and come away with utterly different opinions. For instance, the Tony Awards spot below: some people used words like ‘shrill,’ ‘strident,’ ‘unnecessary.’ To those people I say, ‘Shut up.’ (If you got that reference to Bob Martin’s The Drowsy Chaperone, call me).
This song is the 11 o’clock number from Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s recent Broadway endeavour If/Then. The writing fits Idina’s voice like a glove – even though the high notes aren’t actually that high (compared to the others on this list), they are right in the sweet spot for her to give them a real chesty whack. This is a song about embracing change and moving on, and Idina’s powerful, singular belt taps into the determination and inner strength inherent in the lyrics.
Please note, the gentleman behind Idina at around 1:05 in the video sums up my emotions concisely.
5. “That Girl Should Be Me” (Bobby Cronin)
Bobby Cronin sure knows how to pick his belters. His ‘International Studio Cast Recording’ of The Concrete Jungle features Rebecca Trehearn, Kate Shindle, and Olivia Phillip, among others, and is belt exhibitionism at its finest. The climactic number is a classic, defiant ‘He’s My Man And I Will Have Him’ number – if there’s a type of song for which belting is more suited than this kind of self-empowerment anthem, I don’t want to know about it. In the same way that a bank of swelling strings evokes romance, or sleigh bells conjure Christmas, belting conveys power, and when deployed for that purpose, it cannot be beaten.
Also for those keeping track, Kate Pazakis finishes here with a sustained F (you know, the one that “Defying Gravity” pops up to for half a second – look how far we’ve come).
What are your favorite songs for high belters?
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