19 Times Chart-Topping Recording Artists Came to Broadway

Lists   19 Times Chart-Topping Recording Artists Came to Broadway Josh Groban isn’t the only music star to lead a Broadway show.
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It’s no surprise to see a big movie or television star above the title in a Broadway play or musical, but the Rialto also likes to make room for recording artists. Playbill dug into the Vault to find 27 times these 19 chart-topping singers made the leap to the Broadway stage, from most recent to yesteryear. Some of them may surprise you!


Ingrid Michaelson – Sonya in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Ingrid Michaelson
Ingrid Michaelson Nathan Johnson

This singer of such singles as “The Way I Am” and “Girls Chase Boys” joined the cast of The Great Comet for a limited run in July, 2017.


Sara Bareilles – Jenna in Waitress

Sara Bareilles
Sara Bareilles Josh Lehrer

Bareilles initially made her Broadway debut as a writer, penning music, lyrics, and orchestrations to Waitress, but in March, 2017, she replaced original leading lady Jessie Mueller and appeared in the show as well.


Brandy Norwood – Roxie Hart in Chicago

Brandy Norwood
Brandy Norwood Jeremy Daniel

Though Brandy is best known as a recording artist, she was no stranger to acting or musical theatre when she joined the cast of Chicago on Broadway in 2015; she starred in the sitcom Moesha from 1996 to 2001 and played the title role in the 1997 television adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.


Josh Groban – Pierre in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

117156 - Josh Groban in NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 - Photo by Chad Batka.jpg
Josh Groban Chad Batka

Groban started his college education studying musical theatre, but when he was discovered a few months later, he became a recording star. Groban returned to his musical theatre roots for The Great Comet, earning a Tony nomination for his performance.


Sting – Jackie White in The Last Ship

This 16-time Grammy winner, responsible for such hits as “Every Breath You Take” and “All This Time,” wrote the score to The Last Ship and replaced Jimmy Nail as Jackie White about two months into the run.


Mýa – Velma Kelly in Chicago

Mya
Mya Photo by Amy Arbus

A Grammy-winner for her performance of “Lady Marmalade” alongside Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Li’l Kim, Mýa first appeared in Chicago when it was adapted for the big screen in 2002, performing “Cell Block Tango” as the murderous Mona. In 2008, she returned to the property, playing Velma Kelly on Broadway.


Clay Aiken – Sir Robin in Spamalot

Clay Aiken makes in Spamalot.
Clay Aiken makes in Spamalot. Photo by Joan Marcus

Aiken gained quite a fan base when he came in as runner-up on the second season of American Idol. His debut album Measure of a Man went multi-platinum and he won the 2003 Fan’s Choice Award at the American Music Awards. He came to Broadway in 2008, replacing David Hyde Pierce in the role of Sir Robin.


Huey Lewis – Billy Flynn in Chicago

Huey Lewis
Huey Lewis

Lewis is best known as the front man for his band, Huey Lewis and the News, and their hit songs like “If This is It” and “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” He came to Broadway in 2006, playing a two-month stint as Billy Flynn in Chicago.


Usher – Billy Flynn in Chicago

Usher
Usher

Usher’s second album My Way made him a star and a Grammy winner in 1997. Nine years later, he lent his star power to Broadway’s Chicago, appearing as Billy Flynn for two months in 2006.


Sean Combs – Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in the Sun

Audra McDonald and Sean Combs in <i>A Raisin in the Sun</i>, 2004
Audra McDonald and Sean Combs in A Raisin in the Sun, 2004 Joan Marcus

Known for such albums as “No Way Out,” “Forever,” and “The Saga Continues,” Combs is one of the few recording artists to come to Broadway in a play, the 2003 revival of A Raisin in the Sun. Combs got to recreate his performance for the 2008 television adaptation, winning a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie for his performance.


Mel B – Mimi in Rent and Roxie Hart in Chicago

Mel B
Mel B Len Prince

Also known as “Scary Spice,” Mel B began a solo career after the Spice Girls went their separate ways. She came to Broadway in 2004, playing Mimi in Rent, and returned to play Roxie Hart in Chicago in 2016.


Michelle Williams – Aida and Roxie Hart in Chicago

Michelle Williams, Broadway's next Aida.
Michelle Williams, Broadway's next Aida.

After making a name for herself as part of Destiny’s Child, Williams debuted on Broadway in 2003, taking on the title role in Disney’s Aida. She returned to Broadway in 2010 playing Roxie Hart in Chicago.


Kevin Richardson – Billy Flynn in Chicago

Kevin Richardson currently stars in Chicago
Kevin Richardson currently stars in Chicago

Richardson got his start performing in shows at Walt Disney World and performing in dinner theatre, so when the Backstreet Boys went took a hiatus in 2003, he returned to his acting roots. Richardson played Billy Flynn in Chicago on Broadway, on tour, and internationally.


Joey Fatone – Mark in Rent and Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors

Joey Fatone in Little Shop of Horrors
Joey Fatone in Little Shop of Horrors Photo by Joan Marcus

Fatone is best known as a member of ’90s boy band NSYNC. Shortly after the band announced a hiatus in April of 2002, Fatone joined the cast of Rent as Mark Cohen. Two years later, he closed out the Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors, replacing Hunter Foster as Seymour.


Reba McEntire – Annie in Annie Get Your Gun

Reba McEntire stars in Annie Get Your Gun.
Reba McEntire stars in Annie Get Your Gun.

McEntire was ideally suited to take on the role of country sharpshooter Annie Oakley, already having gained notoriety as a country singer and actress when she came to Broadway in 2001. She received raves for her performance in the Broadway revival of Annie Get Your Gun, returning to musical theatre a few years later for a 2005 Carnegie Hall concert of South Pacific.


Carole King – Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers

Carole King and Philip Lehl
Carole King and Philip Lehl

Though Carole King’s work—and life—has been on Broadway eight nights a week in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical since 2013, King made her debut as a Broadway performer in Blood Brothers in 1994.


Petula Clark – Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers

Petula Clark
Petula Clark

Most famous for singing “Downtown,” Clark also appeared as Mrs. Johnstone during the Broadway run of Blood Brothers. She also later played Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard on tour.


Madonna – Karen in Speed-the-Plow

Madonna in the original Broadway production of David Mamet‘s Speed-the-Plow.
Madonna in the original Broadway production of David Mamet‘s Speed-the-Plow. Brigitte Lacombe

In 1988, Madonna was one of the most famous pop stars working; she’s already released her albums Madonna, Like a Virgin, and True Blue. She’d also appeared in the 1985 movie Desperately Seeking Susan, so it was certainly quite the coup when she came to Broadway in the original cast of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow in 1988.


Cher – Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

Karen Black, Cher, and Sudie Bond in Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
Karen Black, Cher, and Sudie Bond in Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

First known as half of the folk rock duo Sonny & Cher and their big hit song “I Got You Babe,” Cher became a star in her own right soon thereafter, as both a recording star and a fashion icon. She made her Broadway debut in 1982’s Come Back to the 5 and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and later starred in the play’s film adaptation as well.


Linda Ronstadt – Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance

George Rose, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith and Kevin Kline in <i>The Pirates of Penzance</i>, 1980
George Rose, Linda Ronstadt, Rex Smith and Kevin Kline in The Pirates of Penzance, 1980 Photo by Martha Swope/©The New York Public Library

Though she was famous as a folk singer and recording artist, Ronstadt made the surprising leap to Broadway in 1981 in an operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. Ronstadt received a Tony nomination for her performance.


David Bowie – John Merrick in The Elephant Man

David Bowie
David Bowie

Another rare occurrence of a recording star joining the cast of a Broadway play, Bowie took over the lead of The Elephant Man for three months in 1980.


Steve and Eydie – Judy Harris in Golden Rainbow
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé were known primarily as a duo act, famous for their singing voices as well as their onstage banter. They also appeared together on Broadway in Golden Rainbow, a musical adaptation of the Arnold Schulman play A Hole in the Head.


Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwellBlock.com.

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