The Magic of the High Belt on Broadway: Treble Edition
Posted Monday, June 6th 2022 by Tim Rosser
Why does a high belt fascinate us so? I remember hearing an actress performing a high, strong belt in a regional performance of the musical Jekyll and Hyde when I was younger...
I'll never forget the thrill of hearing a chest-mix sound, feeling swept away with the huge feeling it conveyed and being flabbergasted that it could somehow come out of a human. I suppose that's why I never tire these days of working with singers on developing their high belts. The chest-mix has magic powers, and conquering it unlocks so many possibilities, so here are 10 songs to inspire your inner high-beltress!
Idina Menzel brought world-wide attention to her chest-mix with her performance in the movie Frozen. Never before had a Disney princess sung so brazenly! She also created the role of Elphaba in Broadway's Wicked, a role that's been sending larynxes through the roof at the Gershwin Theatre since 2003. Here's one of my favorite recordings of hers, from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party.
I wouldn't be surprised if Barbra Streisand influenced most of the singers on this list on their journeys to the top of the treble clef. She got her big break in the original Broadway production of Funny Girl in 1968. If this doesn't give you chills... I don't know... you're probably reading the wrong article.
I had to include "A New Life" from Jekyll and Hyde. (I'm just now appreciating the aptness of this song's title.) Linda Eder originated this role and went on to marry and continue to collaborate with its composer, Frank Wildhorn, for many years. May this video be as formative an experience for you as it was for me the first time I saw it.
LaChanze is just plain incredible. There are so many good recordings I could recommend, but "Waiting for Life," by the incomparable Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, was my introduction to LaChanze. The Once on This Island tune continues to be one of my favorite songs of all time.
Before she won Broadway's heart, and a Tony award, for singing the more "legit" role of Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel, Lindsay Mendez belted Elphaba for Wicked's 10th anniversary on Broadway. Before that, she became an internet sensation for her crazy amazing high belt and song interpretation skills, championing songs by up-and-coming composers. Watch Lindsay, the icon, mix belt for her life in "Lost in the Brass" by Tommy Newman and Gaby Alter. (Legend has it she learned to play the flute just for this role in Band Geeks - she was dominating on the flute before Lizzo!)
Enclosed in the link below, you will find two of the fiercest singers this world has to offer us. Somehow those singers were not only brought together through the generosity and wisdom of the gods, but their skills were (thankfully) applied to a phenomenal arrangement of a wonderful song to make us question everything we thought we knew about sense and logic and the extremes of the human voice. I present to you Jennifer Hudson and Cynthia Erivo singing "The Color Purple," by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray.
The world of belting is getting smaller as the list gets longer. Didn't LaChanze originate Celie in The Color Purple, and didn't Idina Menzel originate Elsa in Frozen? Yes, it's all true. Lots of mixing and matching goes on. The moral of the story is, once you find an outstanding beltress and an outstanding song for belting, don't let them go; however, if you find you have the secret amazing power to freeze things at will, do LET IT GO! Caissie Levy is another incredible vocalist to add to our list. She is phenomenal in Caroline or Change and HAIR, but this performance of "Let It Go" by husband and wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez is pure magic.
Bonnie Milligan is one of those people who make singing look so darn easy. It's almost peripheral to how grounded and hilarious she is. I bet if she did stand-up, I would spend the entire evening on the floor, gasping for air. And then she has this insane voice. What a star! This sort of intense, high belting seems like just another Tuesday for her. The song is "Beautiful" from the Go-Go's musical Head Over Heels. Check out the riff into the key change...
We're coming to the end of the list, and Patti LuPone has to be here. The Patti angel who lives on my shoulder and tells me what's right and what's wrong is suggesting I share this Evita glory from the 1980 Tony Awards. Are you beginning to question the credibility of your author? Don't worry: I do hear the Patti voices, but they mostly tell me to do good things... like, wear my mask properly and turn off my phone before the show starts. The Patti voices are telling you to listen to this selection from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita.
Here is Tituss Burgess. Yes, I'm including him on this list of beltresses. If you don't already know him, you'll understand there is no question he belongs on this list by the time you get to the end of his performance of "Home" from The Wiz by Charlie Smalls.
There you have it! This article was aimed at high belt songs for treble voices. Perhaps we'll do another for the lower voice? We'll see what my Patti angel says...
If you are on a journey to find your chest-mix and have a higher voice, consider these singers as some good role models. As basic as it may sound, so much of achieving this unusual coordination is recognizing what it sounds like and knowing it can be done. The rest is shapes, breath management, perhaps a bit of "strength training," ...and magic! (I'm mostly joking about the magic...mostly...
Tim studied music at Oberlin Conservatory and since then has pursued a 14+ year career as a voice teacher, vocal coach, music director, and pianist here in New York City. He’s worked with many of Broadway’s biggest stars in these capacities, including Kristen Chenoweth, Tituss Burgess, Chita Rivera, and Andrew Rannells, and on several Broadway shows as a pianist and conductor, including The Addams Family, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and Carousel. Tim is always honored to join singers on their vocal journeys. Helping a singer to unlock their vocal powers is one of the most gratifying things he’s ever been a part of. He has tremendous respect for anyone who has the courage to challenge themselves to grow, and is eager to be a positive force in that process!
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