I just performed a little conversational duet with myself and picked the best of the musical twosomes.
We both agreed that these are the finest:
(10) “Bosom Buddies” from Mame
Such a zippy campfest between two drag queens! I mean two women! The fun of this Jerry Herman number is that in pretending to express how bonded they are, Mame and Vera are actually throwing serious digs. (“If I kept my hair natural like yours, I’d be bald.”) But that’s love, show biz diva-style.
(9) “I Know Him So Well” from Chess
Didn’t love the show, but this duet between Florence and Svetlana is a knockout, ideal material for two belters with lungs and a lot of heart. Whitney and Cissy famously did it–and they weren’t singing about Bobby Brown.
(8) “Do You Love Me?” from Fiddler on the Roof
Both funny and touching, this query song has Tevye asking Golde if after 25 years of washing his clothes and so on, she actually cares for him. Her kvetchy verses followed by his plaintive reprises make for a hilarious contrast, and it’s ultimately sweet when the answer is “I suppose I do.”
(7) “Sue Me” from Guys and Dolls
Basically a Runyonesque companion to “Do You Love Me?” but this time with the woman asking for validation. The Loesser song mixes Adelaide’s staccato passages with Nathan’s plaints, and as in the Fiddler number, the self-deprecations and cute manipulations lead to a big “I love you.”
(6) “A Boy Like That/I Had a Love” from West Side Story
A triumphant and complex Sondheim/Bernstein piece which starts with Anita’s fiery heedings followed by Maria’s earnest pleas, and culminating with the two agreeing that “when love comes so strong/There is no right or wrong.” As Anita softens and sees Maria’s point of view, the duet actually advances the plot. That doesn’t happen in jukebox musicals.
(5) “Every Day a Little Death” from A Little Night Music
Charlotte and Anne perform this haunting Sondheim duet about how “Men are stupid, men are vain” and each day with them brings a little less joy and peace. A beautiful, witty, profound song. It’s “Bosom Buddies” for depressives.
(4) “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Rent
A sizzling musical two-way, with conflicted girlfriends Maureen and Joanne trying to rationalize their behavior (“This diva needs her stage”; “I make lists in my sleep, baby”) while attempting to work out their relationship issues. Intimate, sexy, and so real sounding you’d swear Jonathan Larson was a lesbian.
(3) “Class” from Chicago
Two lowlives–a killer and a sleazy prison matron–commiserate over the decline in manners, and the result is a scream when performed with the proper earnestness. (“Now no one even says ‘oops’ when they’re passing their gas.”) It was cut from the movie–thank God–or it would have been an eternal unwitting reminder of how this Kander and Ebb classic deserves only perfect treatment.
(2) “Anything You Can Do” from Annie Get Your Gun
The ultimate one-upmanship duet. You have to love any number that allows the leading lady to sing higher, longer, and better than the male sharpshooter, and basically beat him at his own game. The Irving Berlin song is playful, engaging, and ultimately powerful. Anything Irving Berlin can do, no one can do better.
(1) “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” from Porgy and Bess
Audra and Norm kill while doing this in the current production. The counterpoint is beyond touching–it’s devastating. Thank you, Gershwins and DuBose Heyward. My duetting partner thanks you too.