There’s a noble tradition throughout the annals of musical theater history that I like to call the “Now, Ulla belt!”
This phenomenon could also be dubbed The Reverse Jessie Mueller.
Let me explain.
And what better way to explain a cliche than through a rollicking Mel Brooks parody of it?
In The Producers, Ulla sings “When You Got It, Flaunt It” in a ridiculously stereotypical Swedish accent. But as soon as she starts belting — aptly cued by the line, “Now, Ulla belt!” — the actor drops the accent entirely to flaunt the full belt of their pipes (you ever try crooning with an accent? Not easy!).
In true Mel fashion, he’s lovingly mocking the sort of reality-discarding madness that turns musical watchers into musical fanatics. We all agree not to mind when a belter totally breaks character — without a thematic nor dramaturgical reason for doing so — because the only reason needed to justify this obliteration of the fourth wall is the opportunity to hear their vocal chords unleashed, without fidelity to an accent getting in the way.
The latest example (at least on the West End; I’ll report back soon if it survived the jump over the pond): Malinda Parris in & Juliet; it always gets the people going.
And the recent Guys and Dolls at the Kennedy Center confirms that we might as well refer to the trope as a Reverse Jessie Mueller.
I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered as chameleonic a singing voice as hers; just take a gander (WELCOME TO THE ROCK) at her resume:
In Beautiful, she sounded like a deadish ringer for Carole King. The same for Waitress and Sara Bareilles. And if I blindfolded you before pressing play on the as-of-yet nonexistent Guys and Dolls cast album, no one would have any idea it’s her as the easily-imitable Miss Adelaide, with her period-drenched, 1920s Brooklyn accent — think Audrey (the female one) in Little Shop of Horrors — crossed with the fact that her character’s suffering from a literal head cold, which also represents the figurative head cold she’s suffering through: the painful disease of loving a degenerate; you gotta be sick in the head….
Speaking of Guys and Dolls, the inimitable Kevin Chamberlin’s big second-act number served as another reminder: a “Now, Ulla Belt” might get the people going, but not nearly as much as when a thespian with a little extra padding busts out into riotous song and dance.