November 29, 2023
Watch: Alex Newell Performs Spectacular 'Meadowlark' at Philly Benefit
READ TIME: 3 MIN.
At a recent Philadelphia benefit honoring composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz, Tony winner Alex Newell brought the house down with a performance of "Meadowlark." The song needs no introduction to those who love cabaret – in the right hands, it is a showstopper, as it was with Newell, who looked spectacular in a flowing white gown.
Watch Alex Newell perform "Meadowlark" at the Mazzoni Center Honors benefit in Philadelphia.
But in 1976 when none other than Patti LuPone introduced it at the end of the first act of "The Baker's Wife," it was considered a problem by producer David Merrick, who repeatedly tried to get it cut from the show, much to the chagrin of Schwartz. Today it is what is best-remembered about the musical, which went through a revolving door of talent as it toured the country during that initial try-out. Lupone recalled by the time the show reached Washington DC, its last stop prior to New York, there were nights when there were 25 people in a 2700 seat house. She joked when introducing the song at a concert in Nantucket that the show was the least attended in the history of the Kennedy Center. Little wonder it folded there at the request of Schwartz and his librettist Joseph Stein.
Watch Patti LuPone sing "Meadowlark" from her 1994 Nantucket concert.
LuPone has subsequently sung "Meadowlark" in concert, including that Nantucket concert in 1994 shortly after returning from London where she had been fired from "Sunset Boulevard." Some have called this concert the best she ever gave in her xx-year career.
Cut to the recent tribute to Schwartz at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center this past month. It was a benefit for the Mazzoni Center, the comprehensive health and wellness center serving Philadelphia's LGBTQ+ community, and featured a starry cast: composer Jason Robert Brown ("Parade," "Bridges of Madison County"), Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Paula Cole, Tony nominee Charlotte d'Amboise ("A Chorus Line," "Jerome Robbins' Broadway"), Tony nominee L Morgan Lee ("A Strange Loop"Godspell," "Aladdin"), Tony nominee Terrence Mann ("Les Miserables," "Beauty and the Beast"), Lizzy McAlpine,), and Lauren Hart, and the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus.
Watch Alex Newell perform "Independently Owned" from "Shucked"
But it was recent Tony-award winner Alex Newell ("Shucked") performing "Meadowlark" who is best-remembered. Watching her impeccably calibrated performance, it is easy to understand why she receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of "Independently Owned," her number from "Shucked." It is also difficult to believe that the 30-year old,-non-binary performer was recently at the center of a political controversy.
That happened when the conservative group One Million Moms called for a boycott of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade targeting Newell and "& Juliet" performer Justin David Sullivan as the reason why. The One Million Moms wrote in their web petition: "Justin David Sullivan, who personally identifies as non-binary, will be featured in the '& Juliet' parade performance. On stage in the musical, Sullivan plays the role of "May," a non-binary friend of Juliet," One Million Moms said in a statement. "Alex Newell, a biological male who also identifies as non-binary, won a Tony Award this year for his starring performance in 'Shucked,' playing the female role of Lulu. Shame on Macy's for promoting and sponsoring this type of entertainment."
Their effort – as most of their boycotts – fell flat with both performers going on as scheduled and the parade receiving its highest ratings in history.
Though just 30, Newell has an extensive list of credits in the theater and television. TV credits include "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist," "Empire," and "Glee."On Broadway they appeared in Tony-winning revival of "Once on this Island." Recently, Alex starred in the pre-Broadway show, The Last Supper. As a singer, Newell has released tracks with Clean Bandit, Blonde, and The Knocks.
Last spring when there was speculation as to which category the non-binary Newell would choose to be nominated in, they chose actor. "It's a hot topic, isn't it?," she explained to Variety in an interview. "It's a hot topic, isn't it? I went based off the English language. The standard has always been a male is an actor and a female as an actress. And I don't like that. Because when I say I'm an actor, I mean that is my profession, the craft that I studied, the craft that I'm doing. Everyone who does acting is an actor. That is genderless."