Never mind “She sells seashells by the sea shore”: Actors who take on show-stopping patter numbers have to be able to deliver complicated lyrics at lightning speed. Gilbert & Sullivan were masters at clever wordplay, of course, and the tradition continues with Kander & Ebb (“Money,” “We Both Reached for the Gun”), Sondheim (see below, plus “Franklin Shepard Inc.”) Schwartz (see below, plus “War Is a Science”) and many more. Just for fun, we gathered clips of five classic musical tongue twisters. Click and enjoy, then say "red leather, yellow leather" five times.
“Getting Married Today,” Company
Arguably the most famous patter song in all of musical theater thanks, in part, to Jayma Mays’ rendition on Glee, this runaway bride anthem has been sung by Carol Burnett, Alice Ripley, Madeline Kahn and Katie Finneran. But you’ve got to watch original star Beth Howland at the 1970 recording session being coached by Sondheim himself, with a groovy Hal Prince introducing the clip.
“Therapy,” Tick, Tick…BOOM!
Before the Rent cast rocked the Life Café with “La Vie Boheme,” Jonathan Larson composed a wordy ode to “Therapy” in the autobiographical musical Tick, Tick…BOOM! There are speedier versions on YouTube, but we can’t resist this low-tech video of an angst-y Raul Esparza and Amy Spanger (now starring in Chicago) in the 2001 off-Broadway production.
“All for the Best,” Godspell
Before joining NCIS: Los Angeles, Barrett Foa charmingly played Jesus in a 2000 off-Broadway revival of Godspell that also featured Shoshana Bean, Chad Kimball and Leslie Kritzer. In a fast and funny two-fer, Foa and Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson team up for a duet of Stephen Schwartz’s “All for the Best” at a 2009 cabaret evening in L.A.
“The Speed Test,” Thoroughly Modern Millie
It’s always fun to revisit Sutton Foster’s star-making performance as Millie Dillmount in the 2002 Broadway premiere of Thoroughly Modern Millie, and never more so than when she joins dashing Marc Kudisch (as Trevor Graydon III) to show off Millie’s superior steno skills. Fun fact: The tune is from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Ruddigore.
“(Ya Got) Trouble,” The Music Man
Old-school but still fabulous: Robert Preston recreates his Tony-winning performance as con man Harold Hill in the 1962 movie version of The Music Man. When it comes to riling up the good folks of River City, Iowa, in the summer of 1912, nothing beats a patter song about the evil potential of billiards, with a background chant of “Trouble, trouble, trouble…”
BONUS: “Potiphar,” Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
For lovers of camp, we can’t resist including this clip from the 1999 film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Donny Osmond goes shirtless in the title role alongside Joan Collins in a boobalicious costume as Potiphar’s wife. Maria Friedman manages to keep a straight face while singing the song.