When I look at my “dream roles”, I’ve found that I am drawn to male roles just as much, if not more, than female ones. Is it the curse of a lack of alto roles? Maybe. Is it the male typecast I’ve experienced in the past? Probably. But it has allowed me to think critically about the role that gender plays in the shows we love, and how altering gender can change the entire makeup of a show.
Earlier this year, the revival of Company on West End changed the iconic character of Bobby to Bobbie (portrayed by Rosalie Craig). In this new take on the story, a young bachelorette feels immense social pressure as she watches all her friends settle down and start families. The show was met with immense critical acclaim and gave many of the themes of the show into a new light. At the ripe old age of thirty-five, Bobbie felt more pressure being put on her ‘biological clock’ than her male counterpart did.
In my opinion, some of the most interesting Broadway roles would have an entirely new light shed upon them with a switched gender. I’m not just referring to genderblind casting, where girls play male roles and vice versa. I mean a production that switches the gender of a character entirely, and lets the story run its course with new meaning. As follows, here are the top five musical roles I believe would be excellent candidates for genderbending.
Quasimodo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s darkest musicals to date. Though it only ever played off-Broadway, the show presents many interesting themes for viewers to think about through the course of a stunning soundtrack. The protagonist, Quasimodo, must deliver a powerful performance amidst themes of classism, lust, and image. While doubting himself due to his “ugly” appearance, Quasimodo finds it within himself to separate lies from reality and to do good in the world. With this role switched to a female one, I would love to see a heavier emphasis on the issue of body image, some toying with the relationship between Quasimodo and Esmerelda, as well as a deeper dive into the relationship between Quasimodo and Claude Frollo, the villain.
Inspector Javert - Les Miserables
At the core of the plot of Les Miserables, there is a constant struggle between doing what is lawful and doing what is moral. Inspector Javert hunts down a criminal for the majority of his - or in this case, her - career in law enforcement. Having a woman portray this embodiment of stoic power and determination would not only be refreshing to watch, but also to see how the story changes. For a woman to have that much power in that age, Javert would have to be emotionally stronger than her male counterpart. Having a male/female relationship at the core of this show between Valjean and Javert would be especially interesting as well. The first scene that comes to mind with a female Javert is directly after “Lovely Ladies”, where Javert shows no mercy for Fantine, a young woman forced into prostitution and having to defend herself against predators. It is scenes like this which I believe warrant this opportunity for a fresh take on this classic musical.
Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett - Sweeney Todd
Maybe it’s the enthralling score or the gut-wrenching plot, but my dream is to one day be in a production of Sweeney Todd, as the titular character. I’m picturing a completely genderbent production, where a Ms. Sweeney Todd revels after the loss of her husband and daughter, and finds companionship in Mr. Lovett, a comically sadistic pie shop owner. Not only would the haunting music have a fresh mixture of voices, but I think a female Sweeney Todd would change the makeup of the show. The song “Pretty Women” would play quite differently, as well as the bond between an estranged mother and daughter. Not to mention the range of comedic actors that could be chosen from for the role of Mr. Lovett.
Emcee - Cabaret
The Emcee drives Cabaret in a narrator-like role with a flamboyant, animated and sensual flair, so it is not difficult to imagine the many incredible actresses who could do this role justice. Cabaret has been through many iterations and rewrites since its original debut in 1966, so a combination of the score from a few different productions combined with some minor reworking would make a phenomenal new show. Little alteration to the book and lyrics would be needed, as the emcee does not interact much with other characters in the show, serving more as a bridge between the world of the show and the world of the audience. The interactions with the girls of the Kit Kat Club (specifically the number “Two Ladies”) have a few different directions in which they could be altered, as well as the ending - specifically the 1998 revival - where the emcee emerges in a concentration camp uniform. This role makes my genderbending list purely for the abundance of opportunity that would come with this change.
Jamie and Cathy - The Last Five Years
Like Hunchback, The Last Five Years never quite made it to Broadway, but I adore it nonetheless. The story of a relationship from its beginning to its end is told through two perspectives, Jamie’s starting from the beginning and moving forwards, and Cathy’s starting from the end and moving backwards. They meet in the middle for a single duet, as the audience gets to fill in the pieces of what happened. I would propose a genderbent version in which the two main characters swap genders - Jamie and Kevin, if you will. The reason I feel so strongly about a genderbent version of this show is because of how much discussion the production already warrants. You can talk to any fan about their opinions on why the relationship ended, how it could have been saved, and whose side they are on. I fully believe that by changing the genders of the characters, some of these answers would change. Now, we have a young woman succeeding in her career, and the jealous husband who grows sick of being in her shadow. We have a young man struggling with his own confidence and ability as both an actor and as a lover, and the wife who ends up cheating on him. Every song would read differently and spark new emotions in audience members who might have life experiences to match the ones they are seeing onstage.