The annual performance of Miscast by Music Theatre of Madison asks questions like "Are eight year old girls with red hair and freckles the only ones who get to sing songs from Annie?" The answer, according to executive director Meghan Randolph, is no. At least once a year, the role is open to anyone with the nerve and talent to take the stage.
The fifth edition of Miscast, presented on July 19 at the Bartell Theatre, included more than a dozen songs, performed by men, women, children and animals who would never have the chance to sing the roles in full productions. Playing to an audience filled with fans and fellow performers of musical theater repertoire, the evening got off to a raucous start with a rendition of "The Circle of Life" from Disney's The Lion King. The number was sung with great enthusiasm by a white man in lederhosen (Kevin Blakeslee) surrounded by animals that never graced the African Plains, such as alligators, butterflies, an Angry Bird, a penguin and the Big Bad Wolf.
Some songs were played strictly for laughs, such as Jim Chiolino's rendition of "Maybe" from Annie, performed while clad in the orphan's signature red dress and wig. The comedy in some other songs was also heightened by gender switching. This was the case in the duet "Barcelona" from Company when sleepy playboy Jessica Jane Witham, dressed in a white T-shirt and Guitar Hero boxer shorts, asks flight attendant Dave Durbin to come back to bed instead of putting on her uniform and going to work. It was also true for Kate Mann in "Chip's Lament" from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. This was a lovely performance by a young woman singing about an embarrassing and specifically male problem. Based on her vocal skills, Mann would be a shoo-in for that part. Based on her anatomy, not so much.
Some performances actually transcended their miscasting. Fresh from their performance in Music Theatre of Madison's Bonnie and Clyde an hour before, Brian Shutters, Fiorella Fernandez and Julian Engle performed a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of "Wheels of a Dream" from Ragtime. Ross Shenker delivered a surprisingly touching performance of "Pretty Funny" from Dogfight, about a homely young woman mourning her lost love. George Abbott III showed off his impressive tenor while channeling the late Elaine Stritch in "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Company, and Meghan Randolph nearly brought down the house with a soulful "And I Am Telling You" from Dreamgirls.
Several numbers were delightfully over the top. With the help of props and a lot of creative editing, Katie David and Sarah Blakeslee presented The Book of Mormon: Abridged, a punchline-filled recap of almost every song in the show in less than 10 minutes. Even Mormon fans had to work to keep up with the pace of the hilarious medley. Likewise, an all-male version of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago put the scandalous stories of female murderers in an entertaining new light, as well as a new octave. Robert A. Goderich's "Let it Go," from the movie Frozen, was a refreshing and funny take on the Indina Menzel earworm.
While it was evident that some individuals had rehearsed more thoroughly than others, the evening was filled with unexpected, unorthodox and unforgettable performances that audiences are unlikely to see ever again.