Sunday, 25 August 2019

Hardest Female roles in Musical Theatre

Being a musical theatre performer is not easy in the slightest; from the auditions to getting a job, to the constant rehearsals and finally recreating an incredible performance to a paying audience night after night. This is even before you look at some of the challenges some roles might have within them; either emotionally, physically or vocally. Here at Pocket we have teamed up with our friends at and we've put together a list of roles we think are among some of the hardest. And don't just take our word for it, we've had help from some of our performer friends who have played the roles to give you an insight to what it was like from their perspective. 

There are so many more that could be on this list so if we've missed any, tweet us what you think should be on it! @PocketSizeBlog

Eva Peron in Evita

Not only a historic icon but a mammoth Musical Theatre role! Patti LuPone has spoken out publicly about how hard this role was for her, claiming that Lord Webber wrote the role the way he did because he hates women. It's a massive sing, and acting-wise, the journey the character goes on is huge. It's an obvious choice for our list!

Katie Shearman (The Sound of Music & Girlfriends at the Union) was the Alternate Eva on the 2018 UK Tour. 

"One of the hardest challenges about playing Eva, other than the score, is definitely her journey. From being the young, fearless dreamer at age 15 to becoming a First Lady in a Male-dominated world to then feeling betrayed by her own body when cancer unfortunately defeats her when she's 33. Personally for me, you could play her so many ways, and the challenge was to not play a copy of one of the great Eva’s in the past, but to make her my own. It’s very interesting playing a role that is a historical figure as you want to tell her story respectfully. I absolutely loved playing Eva and I hold her very close to my heart. I will cherish this role forever."

Kim in Miss Saigon

The role that has made stars out of those who play it, it's one of the hardest roles simply because it's an absolute marathon. It covers so much and the actor must portray this young part with such a huge range of emotion. Therefore, the actress must have acting abilities that surpass her age. It's also vocally very challenging. The tone and range required is a lot for any performer, let alone a young actor.  

Joreen Bautista was the Alternate Kim on 2017 the UK & Ireland tour of the London revival production.

"Having played this role at seventeen, which was exactly Kim’s age at the very beginning of the first act, I was able to find instant common ground as she and I went through a similar personal story. The struggle came with having to mature in the latter, and embodying Kim’s growth in a span of just a bit more than 2 hours. A lot of what she goes through are things I haven’t had experienced myself, the most vital of which is having to play a mother who is ready to sacrifice all that she is for her child. Playing Kim has taught me so much. She has inspired me to bring the lioness out of the cub I was, and I will always take everything I have learnt and gained from telling her story with me."

Elle Woods in Legally Blonde

This role is on stage for around 17 out of the 18 musical numbers in the show and when she's not on stage, she's backstage changing into another costume. Vocally, its a big sing and the score has become so iconic now; the stamina an actor has to have for this role is outstanding. It's not only a performance, it's an entire workout!

Jennifer Harding (Funny Girl, Mamma Mia & It's Only Life) played the role of Elle in the 2015 Kilworth House production.

"Elle is one of those roles that literally presses Play at her first entrance and runs straight through until the show comes down. I remember feeling a bit like a formula one car; you run offstage, you hold your arms and legs out, and a team of people change you, water you, fix your mic and makeup, then hand you your dog and push you back on stage! Finding Elle becomes pretty easy once you start breathing into the rhythm of the show, it’s a whirling dervish of pink and positivity. It was genuinely one of the hardest, most satisfying roles of my life, and I feel like I was gifted a chance at her. Forever grateful."

Maria in The Sound of Music

Vocally, this role is an epic soprano sing, plus the role is supposed to have a youthful energy so finding that balance in an actor is not an easy task. The character only leaves the stage a handful of times and mostly it's to get changed! You also have the huge challenge of matching up to everyone's expectation, as everyone has seen the amazing Julie Andrews performance.

Charlotte Wakefield (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Spring Awakening & Crazy for You) played the role of Maria in the 2013 Regent's Park Open Air production, a performance that earned her an Olivier nomination. 

"Apart from the obvious comparisons to Julie Andrews that any actress playing Maria faces, the challenge for me was the scale of the vocal score. Although I already had two leading lady roles under my belt, this score was a whole new genre for me with my soprano range having never been explored professionally. The only time I left the stage was to either run around the set to my next entrance or to do an exceptionally quick change so staying in the moment was a must. Maria is a role I will forever cherish. I learnt so much about my craft and how to lead a company. I loved every second."

Effie White in Dreamgirls

Though this role isn't on stage as much as some of the other roles on our list, each song in this score is a huge moment in itself for this role. It requires a lot from the actor, so much so that in the last West End production they had three actors share the role. Effie goes through a lot of emotional turmoil and the actor has to portray her from a very young age to an adult with a child.

Moya Angela (Americas Got Talent, Ghost & In Transit) played the role of Effie on a US tour and in the West End production at the Savoy Theatre.

"The hardest thing about playing Effie White is the discipline you have to develop when you step away from the theatre. It’s a strict diet, a lot of shutting up, and barely talking on the phone. It takes a lot more than what people see you do onstage in order to pull that off night after night. It actually takes a superhero to sing it consistently. There is so much power behind each note. But it’s out of this world when done amazing."

Charity in Sweet Charity

Although this role may not be the biggest sing on our list, the acting skills required for this are very particular. Not only does Charity never really leave the stage, she has to have incredible comic timing whilst having wonderful dance abilities and tones of dialogue. Some of our most treasured actors have played this role, and continue to do so!

Tiffany Graves (Chicago, The Wild Party & The Producers) was the alternate Charity in the 2009 London revival.

"Charity Hope Valentine was an emotional roller coaster and an absolute joy to play. I was never off-stage (even changing costume whilst still in a scene) and it's a big dancing role so having stamina and being fit and in good health was a must. Vocally, the songs vary in style and the emotion is a full journey ranging from 'ridiculously in love happy' to 'bottom of the barrel misery'. I think her name sums it up best: Charity - to give as much of yourself to the role and to your fellow actors on stage as possible; Hope - that you hit all the emotional marks to tell her story whilst having the stamina to get through the show night after night; and Valentine - loving doing it, because it's the best feeling in the world to tell her story and knowing you get to do it all over again in 24 hours!"

Elphaba in Wicked

Elphaba doesn't stop belting in this show! On top of having to be very careful and precise with the storytelling of this role, she's so delicate near the beginning and forceful towards the end; a difficult balance to get right. Some of these songs are huge sings, and they're only made harder to perform by having to fly and being painted green!

Jodie Steele (Heathers, Rock of Ages & Fame) was the Standby for Elphaba on the UK & International Tour.

"A show as Elphaba is a mountain to climb; I feel, one of the greatest roles a female can play in musical theatre. I was both honoured and terrified the first time I took to the stage as her. There are many challenges you face with the role, not only with the mammoth vocal range that is required but also the mental challenge of playing a role that has been played before by so many great actresses. You rarely leave the stage and when you do it is normally to quick change or to have a makeup top-up. You’re often separated from your cast due to make up requirements at both the beginning of the show and in the interval (not forgetting being the last to leave once you’ve got that green face off!). However, I wouldn’t have changed my experience playing that incredible woman for all the world! She’s one of a kind!"

Christine DaaƩ in Phantom of the Opera

Everybody always assumes that the Phantom is the more difficult role in the show. Of course, his songs are not easy but compared to the size of the role and stage time, Christine steals it! It's a huge soprano sing and she really does have to carry the show. Although it slips under some people's radar, we shan't let it!

Kelly Mathieson is played the role of Christine in the London Production of Phantom of the Opera.

"Vocally, Christine is one of the most craziest roles to sing. I do a bottom G and also a top E. The stamina you have to provide is out of this world. It can also be a challenge to sing as there is a lot of different styles going on at times. I tend to keep my Christine quite classical but I do 'mix' some of the music in my voice. All in all she is exhausting but the most liberating and heartwarming sings you will ever be able to do!"

Alex Owens in Flashdance

This role, made famous from the film, requires an incredible dancer. It's what the whole film is about! But in the musical version, the actor playing the role not only has to perform all of the dancing (the film had four people, one being a man, perform the famous 'What a Feeling' Number) but has to sing whilst doing all of that and go on the whole emotional journey of the character in 2 hours.

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt (Murder Ballad, The Wild Party & In the Heights) originated the role on the original UK tour and in its West End run at the Shaftesbury Theatre.

"Alex Owens in Flashdance was the most physically challenging role I've played to date. The show is 90% Alex. She doesn't leave the stage unless it's for a costume change. From what I remember the quickest change backstage was 8 seconds where I needed the help of 4 dressers. I sang something like 13 songs all mezzo-soprano with long sustained top register notes whilst dancing full choreography. Looking back, from a physical point of view, I can't believe it was possible. Before rehearsals began they paid for a personal trainer, all the dance lessons I could take and pilates to help prepare me. I can't think of a female role in any musical which was heavy on the dance, sing and scenes which compares to this role and that's why I'm happy to leave it as a memory. It was the fittest I've ever been but boy was it wicked. Alex Owens is quite simply a warrior and I'm proud I got to create her for stage."

Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard

We've all heard someone murder a Whitney song at Karaoke, we've probably even been one of those people ourselves! So you can imagine how hard it would be to play a role who sings the majority of the score which is entirely made up of Whitney songs. Having to produce this performance time after time is definitely not an easy task for anyone. The role also has an interesting emotional arc which adds even more pressure on any actor playing it.

Rachel John (We Will Rock You, Sister Act & Hamilton) played Nikki and covered the role of Rachel on the UK Tour and at the Dominion Theatre.

"The role has a lot of expectations tied to it. Firstly, her voice! There is no one like Whitney Houston and I knew there would be comparisons. With any character you have the honour to play, you want the freedom to embody and convey it, but when a legend is immortalised it comes with its own pressure. I would remind myself, that my responsibility was to keep thinking of Rachel Marron and not Whitney. It was not karaoke. I found the songs sat really well in my voice and was so blessed to be able to perform them. I looked forward to every show and it made my heart glad. This job and especially this role will always have a special place in my heart."

Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard

We all know that any female role in an Andrew Lloyd Webber show can be very difficult. The role requires a lot of range, and in this case with Norma, the acting has to be phenomenal. The lady portraying this role has to have a certain presence about her while still getting across that she is stuck in her own past and slightly delusional.

Ria Jones (42nd Street, High Society & Cats) created the role of Norma Desmond in the original workshop of the show before covering Glenn Close in the role at the London Coliseum and then leading the UK Tour.

"I found the toughest part of the role of Norma Desmond was the emotional roller coaster that she is on throughout the show. The songs aren’t too vocally demanding for me, luckily they are placed in a great part of my voice. The final scenes are the most emotionally demanding and draining. However, I felt so fulfilled as a performer after each show and on such an adrenaline rush that I didn’t really notice that (until the next morning!). I also feel with Norma is that you have to be careful that you keep her real, human and fragile and show her vulnerability. Her character is camp. But you must not become a caricature. It’s for the audience to decide if she is camp, not me. She really is the most wonderful character I have ever played. Challenging yes, but also the most fulfilling!"

Mama Rose in Gypsy

This has to be one of the biggest acting and vocal challenges not only on our list, but in Musical Theatre. The range and power required for the score is huge and the journey the character goes on is exhausting to watch, let alone play! Without many breaks in the piece and having to carry so much of the weight of the score on her back, this is a role that some of the greatest musical theatre actresses of our time have played and it continues to be on so many people's dream lists.

Louise Gold (Fiddler on the Roof, Mary Poppins & Oliver!) played Mazeppa and was the understudy to Imelda Staunton at the Savoy Theatre.

"Mama Rose has to be one of the most challenging and layered roles in musical theatre. Rose has echoes of King Lear in the scope of her emotions. Her own anger and frustrations channelled into her ruthless scheming for her daughters, who then both betray her. She has huge charisma which is the only reason she gets away with her appalling behaviour for so long. There is also something of Mother Courage in her refusal to be defeated and her ability to turn a blind eye to anything of it suits her. It requires first and foremost an actor but one who is absolutely at ease with the songs. Having had the chance to play the role for 3 performances, as cover to the wonderful Imelda Staunton, I was only able to scratch the surface of the role. I would love to play the part again in a production of my own someday soon."

Celie in The Color Purple

This role is not only a huge sing, but it also requires an impressive acting skill set as well. Celie goes through so much in the show; an abusive stepfather and husband, her sister moving away from her and her own children being taken away. The actor has to go on that journey every night.

T'Shan Williams (Heathers, The Life & Caroline, or Change) played the role of Celie in the 2019 production at the Leicester Curve and Birmingham Hippodrome. 

"Celie has one break in act one and one break in act two, and both are the duration of two short songs. Any other time she’s briefly off stage, is to either, run from stage left to stage right or for a quick costume change. So needless to say I was shedding pounds! As well as Celie being one of the biggest vocal journeys I’ve had the privilege to sing, it's also the most emotionally draining. As for her story arc spanning over 45 years of her life, she’s the survivor of an abundance of abuse and turmoil. I soon realised, that being in that headspace, I had to find ways to get out of it nightly. And as for playing her redemption in the most honest way, I had to take myself there show by show to feel it every night, as if for the first time. It was only then that I got to celebrate Celie's reward, I'm here! Playing Celie is a dream come true in every aspect of the word. She stretched me artistically and broke through barriers I never knew I had. The Color Purple will forever be imprinted on my heart as the deepest of Joys!"

Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes

This role has been played by some of the greats of our time, and the challenges of this role come from every direction. Her dancing has to be top-notch to match up to everyone around her, her singing must be that of an incredible cabaret act and the acting must be able to portray all those things we expect from a character like this.

Kara Lane (The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun & Mary Poppins) played the role in the 2013 production at Kilworth House.

"My biggest challenge was trying to make sense of her ‘evangelist turned nightclub singer’ title, as to me these were 2 extremely contrasting worlds and I struggled to find the truth of her character, however, through research I discovered a celebrity evangelist named Aimee Semple McPherson who I feel was the closest real-life personality to Reno and this helped me make sense of her character. Of course there’s all the singing and dancing as well, and at the end of our first run-through I was sick of hearing my own voice due to the amount of songs Reno has, so I played around with exploring the different sides of Reno - the modern, confident, independent, loose woman vs a woman with strong religious beliefs and a desire for good old fashioned love - to make each song different and this helped me immensely."

Caroline in Caroline, or Change

Set against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights movement, the musical deals with how people and a nation deal with change. Caroline rarely leaves the stage, she really carries this show and so the demands on the actor are huge. The character has an immense strength within her and despite this, she has condemned herself to working as a maid in a basement as punishment for what she feels is the reason why her husband left her.

Naana Agyei-Ampadu (Made in Dagenham, The Oresteia & Avenue Q) was the alternate Caroline in the West End revival at the Playhouse theatre in 2018.

"Caroline is rarely not on stage and sings throughout the show. The emotional journey of this character, being a single mother of four and an underpaid maid in the 1960’s, was gruelling and by the end of the show most nights I was in tears! I realised though that doing such an emotionally and physically demanding role needed total submission on my part, to the character. Every show was different for me because every performance I felt something different about her, the struggles, the joys, desires and despairs. I feel that for me it was the only way to get the best ‘performance’. Many times after the show it would feel like an out of body experience, I would feel exhausted but that’s when I knew I had really lived her on stage!"

Honourable mentions!

Some other roles we couldn't fit on our list! Let us know your thoughts on Twitter on what roles should be included too! Maybe we'll do a part 2...

Lilli Vanessi/Katherine in Kiss Me, Kate, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, Dolly in Hello, Dolly!, Diana in Next to Normal, The Girl in Tell Me on a Sunday, Bobbi in Company, Carole King in Beautiful, Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Peggy Swayer in 42nd Street. 
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