By: Iris Wiener
Norbert Leo Butz as Dreamgirls’ Effie. Carmen Cusack as Hamilton’s King George. Kelli O’Hara as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Willy Wonka. The evening’s line-up reads like an April Fool’s joke, but casting this unique is par for the course at MCC Theater’s annual Miscast gala, which was held Monday night at Hammerstein Ballroom. Now celebrating its 30th year, MCC produces the event to help fund their Off-Broadway work, in addition to supporting their Youth Company and in-school partnerships that serve New York City public high school students.
The exciting evening features performers taking on roles in which they would never be cast, allowing them the opportunity to give numbers of their own choice a new twist. O’Hara kicked off the show, followed by Miscast newbie Mandy Gonzalez (Hamilton), who paid homage to Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt. He also happened to be sitting only a few feet away, awaiting his turn at the mic. Before launching into her rendition of “Waving Through a Window,” Gonzalez had Platt sign her prop cast, a la Hansen, and even asked for a seat to his show.
Also performing at Miscast for the first time, Come From Away’s Jenn Collella got emotional, prompting her to remind herself, “Don’t cry before you sing. That’s a rule.” She spoke of being told “no” quite often, not only as an actor but as a female and a lesbian as well. In that vein she chose a song that she felt demonstrated kindness and compassion- “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle.
Carmen Cusack added humor to the evening when she pre-empted Brian D’Arcy James’ upcoming return to Hamilton as King George with her own rendition of “You’ll Be Back.” As for James, he reminisced about performing in Titanic twenty years ago, in addition to his continued passion for Maury Yeston’s music. He proceeded to take on Nine’s “Unusual Way,” enhanced by Al Crawford’s incredibly beautiful lighting design. Stephanie J. Block confessed to having a major “talent crush” on James, a sentiment surely shared by everyone in the room following his emotional song. Block went on to croon The Wild Party’s “What is it About Her?” a song made famous by James, the original Burrs.
“I’m sitting between Jennifer Holiday and Norbert Leo Butz, how’s your night going?” doe-eyed charmer Ben Platt asked. The night was going really well for the audience after he sang “The Man That Got Away” from A Star is Born, a nod to his childhood during which he dressed as Dorothy at every opportunity.
Though Jennifer Holliday’s raspy, captivating rendition of “I Am What I Am,” a breathtaking tune from La Cage aux Folles, was saved for the finale, the true show-stopping performance came when Butz took to the stage. The two-time Tony winner took on Effie to Brandon Victor Dixon and James’ other Dreams, along with Block, O’Hara, Collella and Jordan Fisher. Butz’s inner, powerful black-diva was as stunning as it was funny as he demonstrated his compelling vocals in Dreamgirls’ “It’s All Over” and “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.” The cherry on top? Watching original Holliday (the original Effie), react to the once in a lifetime spectacle.