If you’ve been keeping up with my articles since The Theatrical Board’s inception, you may have noticed a trend in many of my articles: Head Over Heels, Lempicka, Jagged Little Pill, Elphaba being in love with Glinda… if you didn’t know by now, I’m an out-and-proud lesbian who loves theatre as much as women. One of my favorite things about seeing as much theatre as I do is seeing a show for the first time and falling madly in love with the women in the cast. In my nearly ten years of New York theatergoing, I’ve developed massive crushes on a lot of actresses, singers, and performers, and just because I’m a gutsy little so-and-so and I can, in no particular order, here is a list of a few incredible ladies I have absolutely gigantic crushes on (and if they read this article, welp, now they know if they didn’t already know.)
Laura Benanti, my Ring of Keys
In 2008, I was decidedly of a very single-target sexuality. I wanted nothing more in life than to carry Daniel Radcliffe’s babies. So my parents decided it would be a good idea to take 14-year-old me to see some shows in New York, including Equus starring Daniel Radcliffe. (Yes he was naked on stage in that one. I was actually pretty well behaved seeing the show, now that I think back about it.) But what really matters in this story is the first real Broadway show I ever saw: the revival of Gypsy at the St. James, starring Patti LuPone. Patti was absolutely awesome as Mama Rose, but the performance that changed my life that night was the woman with the title role. Seeing Laura Benanti in this musical was basically my Ring of Keys moment. Until that night, I didn’t really know what burlesque dancing or striptease was. I didn’t really know who this captivatingly beautiful actress with a voice like golden bursts of heaven was. And I certainly didn’t know I liked girls “that way.” Watching Laura Benanti as the shy and awkward Louise metamorphose into the confident, enchanting and sensual Gypsy Rose Lee was my first baby step towards realizing my real thoughts about women. In the years since Gypsy, I got to see Laura in She Loves Me eight years later, and again fell for her captivating and funny performance as Amalia. It wasn’t until January of this year that I finally got to meet Laura at Broadwaycon, and finally thank her for helping me realize I was a lesbian all along. Her response was just as iconic as all her performances: “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me!” Well, Laura, your performances are as nice as you are. I can’t wait to eventually see her in My Fair Lady as Eliza Doolittle. I am certain she will be magnificent.
2. Katrina Lenk, the goddess from the front row
The Band’s Visit has a pretty special place in my heart. I saw it at the Atlantic Theatre Company at the very end of 2016 in its world premiere engagement, and it was an instant love affair. I went to see it to support my pal John Cariani, who was playing the deadbeat dad Itzik, but I came out of the show loving every single performance and moment. The woman playing Dina the cafe owner, Katrina Lenk, was instantly mesmerizing. I had vaguely remembered her from the lovely musical Once, but this performance was absolutely in another solar system. The first time I saw Katrina sing Omar Sharif, I wept. She performed with such grace and intelligence. She looked absolutely drop-dead stunning in that iconic black and maroon dress. I was in the front row at this performance, and was so emotionally invested in her performance I wanted it to transfer to Broadway immediately so I could watch Dina’s journey all over again. I had to wait another year for that to happen, but in the mean time, I got to see Katrina play one of the lesbians in what instantly became my favorite play of all time, Paula Vogel’s Indecent. My girlfriend and I rushed a matinee of the play and serendipitously ended up in the front row. Watching this beautiful and important show about my heritage as a Jew, a lesbian, and a playwright was a powerful afternoon of theatre, made even more powerful by Katrina’s gorgeous performance. After the show my girlfriend and I stagedoored and got to thank Katrina for her marvelous performance. I told her I loved her in The Band’s Visit and that I hoped it would transfer to Broadway. She was absolutely lovely at the stage door, and said she hoped it would too. Just a few weeks later that transfer was official, and a year later Katrina Lenk cast a spell on the Broadway community and won the Best Actress in a Musical Tony. Katrina continues to weave Dina’s special brand of magic on audiences eight times a week at the Barrymore - if you haven’t seen her or the show yet, go!
3. Natalie Walker, the Twitter queen of my heart
When Katrina performed Omar Sharif on the Tony Awards, she struck a chord with the next wonderful woman on my list, who tweeted “Umm Kulthum and Omar Sharif is Ring of Keys for bi people.” Of course the next person on my list is Natalie Walker, she’s absolutely iconic. I can’t remember when I first became aware of Natalie’s social media presence (it was probably her series of summaries of Broadway musicals) but I fell headfirst into a spiral of Natalie content when I did. I watched video after video of her performing at various 54 Below concerts and immediately knew I needed to see her live in concert. Our paths crossed briefly at the Great Comet Tony Awards afterparty, where we first started talking. I was a babbling, drunk, starstruck idiot that entire night, the most so while talking to her and her Twitter husband Heath Saunders. When I got the opportunity to see the two of them do The Nightmare Before Christmas in concert together, I jumped at it. Of course, Natalie was the perfect Sally. When I got to see Natalie go on as Megan the goth Puff in Puffs, she blew me away with her perfect deadpan comic timing. It was a treat to see her at 54 Below at the end of the summer with Heath, absolutely crushing performances of “Cabaret,” “Me and my Town,” and a hilarious original song, “The Only Straight Boy in the Room.” Natalie is a gorgeous and hilarious human being both on and off social media. She is kind to all her fans, always has something smart and funny to say, and has the most Iconic™ looks. Natalie Walker is a perfect woman, and I hope I get to see her again as soon as possible. (If you haven’t read our editor in chief’s interview with Natalie yet, please do. You’ll fall for her like I did, I promise!)
4. Bonnie Milligan, from 54 Below to Arcadian Princess
If you’ve read my review of Head Over Heels, you know how much I adore Bonnie Milligan as Princess Pamela. But I’ve adored her since before she stepped foot on the Hudson stage. Similarly to Natalie, when I first discovered Bonnie I went on a deep spiral of 54 Below videos on Youtube. Apologies for accidentally dropping into Head Over Heels style rhyming verse for this next statement, but every song she effortlessly belted, my heart and… other parts duly melted. The first time I got to see Bonnie live was at the Nightmare Before Christmas concert at 54 Below where Natalie was Sally. In a master stroke of gender swap casting genius, Bonnie was Oogie Boogie. This beautiful and endlessly talented woman getting to sink her teeth into such an iconic villain character was a total gift to behold. Getting to hear Bonnie belt just a few feet away from me was seriously life-changing. I chatted with her after the concert and she was sweet as can be. I immediately went back on a Youtube spiral and demanded she get a Broadway vehicle of her own. And she did, and she’s crushing it eight times a week. Just this week it was announced that Head Over Heels would be getting a cast album, and my heart exploded for Bonnie. Bonnie getting to be on a Broadway cast album is a dream come true. Not only will we get to have her delightful performance recorded for posterity, people from all over the world will get to discover Bonnie Milligan as the next great leading lady on Broadway. Beautiful is all I see when I look at her.
I could go on and on about all the ladies I love in the theatre today, but I may have to save that passionate excitement for another article. I just have so much love to go around! If you have any favorite Broadway ladies you’re crushing on too, feel free to share in the comments.
(Photo by Jenny Anderson.)