15 Musical Theater Duets for Dames, Divas, and Doyennes

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Photo Source: “Frozen: The Broadway Musical” Courtesy Disney

If you dream of being half of a musical theater power couple like Caissie Levy and Patti Murin of Broadway’s “Frozen,” you know that picking the right duet is essential. Not only does your selection need to fit with the range and vocal tone of both performers, but it should also allow each partner to “let [it] go” and really highlight what she can do. Here are some excellent options for two female voices.

Tips for performing duets

It seems reasonable that great solo singers would naturally be excellent duet partners, but that’s not always the case. Performing well with a partner requires a slightly different skill set than singing by yourself, and you may have to adjust your typical technique in order to deliver a great performance. Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you’re preparing a duet.

Listen to each other. This is the most important rule for singing with another person: Pay attention to what the other person is doing and adjust yourself accordingly. This applies to your pitch, tone, tempo, inflection, and every other part of your performance. No one in the audience will know or care which one of you is doing it the “right” way, but they’ll certainly notice if you aren’t paying attention to each other. They just want you to sound good together, and that can only happen when each singer is more focused on singing as a pair than standing out. 

Find the balance. In a duet, balance is about more than just volume. It’s about knowing which line should be given priority at any given time so that the dominant singer can take the lead and the secondary singer can match their voice to support them. Often, this role changes back and forth throughout the song, meaning each performer will need to constantly adjust her voice as she progresses. Understanding your role in the song makes it easier to follow for the audience and creates a pleasing blend rather than the sound of two soloists each vying for the spotlight. 

Do more than wait your turn. Often, duets will alternate between solo voices before eventually bringing them together, and these solo sections can sometimes go on for a while. But if your partner is singing while you’re not, that’s still an opportunity for you to perform. If you were acting out a scripted scene, you’d want to be sure to react to the other actors around you so that when the time came, your lines would feel authentic to what’s happening onstage. The same is true of a duet, which serves as a type of musical conversation, even if the characters aren’t actually aware of each other. Even when you’re not singing, pay attention to your partner’s lyrics and how they’re delivering them. Not only is this more interesting for the audience, but it also helps the song feel more coherent overall. 

Rehearse your blocking. As a solo performer, you may be able to get away with spontaneity in your performance, but the same can’t be said for duets. Before performing your duet in front of an audience, work through the blocking of the song with your partner. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to dance, but it does require you to be intentional with your movements. The last thing either of you needs is to trip over each other onstage because you were each trying something that you hadn’t told the other about. Don’t forget to also rehearse what you’ll be doing during any instrumental sections of the song so that you remain in character throughout the performance. 

Musical theater duets for women

“Marry the Man Today” from “Guys and Dolls” (1950; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser)

If you’re looking for a song that is more about showing off your comedic chops than your vocal pipes, there’s a lot of room for fun in “Marry the Man Today,” in which nightclub dancer Adelaide (traditionally performed with a nasally New York accent) and pious missionary Sarah come to terms with marrying their gambler boyfriends despite their shortcomings. This duet plays out almost like a conversation and provides plenty of opportunities for creative interaction and physical comedy that will (hopefully) leave your audience in stitches. 

“Stepsister’s Lament” from “Cinderella” (1957; music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein)

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from some of the sincere love songs on this list is “Stepsister’s Lament” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” The song is exactly what one would expect from the title: Cinderella’s two “ugly stepsisters” complaining that men always seem to choose women like their lovely stepsister and never someone like them. Another great choice for mezzo voices, this duet is all in the staging and gives both performers ample opportunity to flex their comedic muscles. 

“Bosom Buddies” from “Mame” (1966; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman)

For true mezzos looking for a duet set more comfortably in your natural range, consider the banter-heavy “Bosom Buddies,” performed by two long-time besties who insist that the only person who should be allowed to tell you the hard truths about yourself is your closest friend. This low-voiced number won’t give you many chances to belt, but it is filled with zippy lyrics and comedic moments just yearning to be hammed up by the right performers. 

“I Know Him So Well” from “Chess” (1984; music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice)

There’s no shortage of duets for women centered around loving men that they know they shouldn’t, and “I Know Him So Well” proves the point. It is probably the one song on this list that’s best suited to lower voices. Performed by Svetlana, the estranged wife of Russian chess champion Anatoly, and Florence, Anatoly’s mistress, the song sees them take comfort in each other as they wrestle with their strange relationship and the troubled man. If you are two mezzos searching for a beautiful and emotionally complex song that doesn’t require you to hang out at the top of your register, give this one a shot. 

“In His Eyes” from “Jekyll & Hyde” (1990; music by Frank Wildhorn; lyrics by Frank Wildhorn, Leslie Bricusse, and Steve Cuden)

 

On the surface, “In His Eyes” may seem like a straightforward (if messy) love song, but the duet between sex worker Lucy and Jekyll’s fiance Emma is heavy with underlying tragedy. By the end of the show, two-thirds of their complicated love triangle will be dead, but in this song, Lucy and Emma are merely pondering whether to heed the many red flags that they’ve seen from the man they both love. By the end of the song, they’ve both decided to forgive his wrongs and stay the course, for better or for worse. Sopranos performing this duet, be careful not to get too swept up in the romantic lyrics; despite their adamant denial, both women seem to know that they’re headed down a dangerous path. 

“Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent” (1993; music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson)

When you’ve got two powerful female voices with some serious range, it’s hard to find a better showcase than the monumentally sassy “Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent,” in which free-spirited Maureen and her lawyer girlfriend Joanne argue about their differences and ultimately break up. It’s a confident, angry, and sexy choice that requires some major dramatic commitment from both performers to really sell it, but if you can pull it off, it’s a stunner. 

“I Will Never Leave You” from “Side Show” (1997; music by Henry Krieger, lyrics by Bill Russell)

Typically performed by two women that are similar in appearance and vocal quality, “I Will Never Leave You” sees conjoined twins Violet and Daisy reassuring each other of their mutual love and loyalty, despite the struggles life brings their way. While the lyrics are somewhat tongue-in-cheek since the sisters obviously do not possess the ability to physically separate, the deeper meaning of their mutual commitment to each other shines through, especially when performed by two sopranos with soaring voices. 

“For Good” from “Wicked” (2003; music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)

There are actually a couple of excellent female duets in “Wicked”—the other being “What Is This Feeling”—but if you’re aiming to demonstrate your vocal prowess while tugging at your audience’s heartstrings, “For Good” is probably your best bet. Coming at the end of the show, right before Wicked Witch Elphaba and Good Witch G(a)linda part ways forever, the two enemies-turned-besties share this bittersweet song about friendship and the way it changes our lives. And while the duet builds to a goosebump-raising final chorus, it doesn’t force either singer to belt up into the stratosphere like some others on this list, making this a great fit for mezzo voices. 

“What About Love” from “The Color Purple” (2005; music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray)

A tender, emotional song that builds from quiet and pensive to sweeping and powerful, “What About Love” follows Celie and Shug as they ponder their relationship, and all the complications that come with it, following their first kiss. This duet gives both singers an opportunity to walk through a nuanced range of emotions together and shows that you’re capable of handling roles with significant emotional depth.

“Secondary Characters” from “[title of show]” (2006; music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen) 

An extremely meta song in the midst of an extremely meta show about writing an extremely meta show, “Secondary Characters” is a clever conversation between Heidi and Susan, the friends of the main characters, discussing how they may not get the development of the protagonists of the show, but at least they get this duet with each other. And they’re determined to make it count, with Heidi closing out the song with her best Aerosmith impression. Outside of the ending, it’s a very comfortable and witty number for mezzo voices…but you’ll want to make sure your Heidi has a pretty decent Steven Tyler in her back pocket. 

“You Love Who You Love” from “Bonnie and Clyde” (2009; music by Frank Wildhorn, lyrics by Don Black)

Another duet in which two women commiserate about their relationships with problematic men, “You Love Who You Love” sees the titular Bonnie, along with Clyde’s sister-in-law Blanche, singing about their love for the law-defying brothers. Each performer gets a short solo at the beginning of the song, and then they come together in a beautiful blend that lasts until the end of the piece, so neither singer has to spend much time waiting her turn. 

“When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt” (2015; music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)

Although it was originally written for the 1998 animated film of the same name and memorably recorded as a radio single by Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, the inspirational “When You Believe” was reimagined for the 2017 stage musical. The show-stopping duet is performed by Miriam and Tzipporah, both determined to help Moses complete his task of leading the captive Hebrew people out of Egypt. While it would take some rearranging toward the end of the song to redistribute the child soloist and chorus parts among two singers, that shouldn’t prove much of a challenge for anyone who has heard Houston and Carey’s version. 

“Dance With You” from “The Prom” (2016; music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin)

For a sweet duet that sits mostly in the mezzo range, look no further than “Dance With You,” in which protagonist Emma sings to girlfriend Alyssa that she doesn’t care about all of the drama surrounding the prom itself, as long as they can be together. While Emma gets a bit more to do than Alyssa in this number, both performers get a good stretch of solo time along with some beautiful harmonies toward the end.

“Apex Predator” from “Mean Girls” (2017; music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin)

If you really want to highlight your ability to do some angsty belting, look no further than this cautionary duet from “Mean Girls,” in which the jaded Janis tries to warn protagonist Cady that her new best friend is bad news. Both singers get an entire verse to themselves before coming together powerfully at the end, providing opportunities to show off both solo and harmonizing skills. 

“I Can’t Lose You” from “Frozen” (2017; music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez)

For the stage version of the hit 2013 animated film, original composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez added in several new songs, including the heartfelt duet “I Can’t Lose You” between sisters Elsa and Anna. Taking place shortly after Anna tracks Elsa down in the mountains following the latter’s icy meltdown at the palace, the song highlights the love between the sisters and their opposing goals, with Anna wanting Elsa to come home and Elsa trying to protect Anna from her out-of-control powers. Appropriate for either soprano or mezzo voices, “I Can’t Lose You” splits singing time fairly evenly between its two parts and includes some truly gorgeous harmonies that can’t help but move the audience.

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