Broadway hits like Dear Evan Hansen and Hamilton are re-defining the reach that a Broadway score can have; Evan Hansen’s original cast album debuted at number 8 on the Billboard 200 chart, the highest on the chart by a cast recording since Camelot in 1961. Hamilton’s album has been certified triple Platinum—meaning three million albums sold—in the less than two years since its debut.
And mainstream pop artists have taken notice: The Hamilton Mixtape, an album featuring the songs of Hamilton being covered by such artists as The Roots, John Legend, Busta Rhymes, Sia, Kelly Clarkson, and Alicia Keys, was released in December 2016, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
But the creation of covers of Broadway songs by major pop artists is not without precedent. Here, we take a look at seven of our favorite covers of Broadway showtunes.
1. “Skid Row” from Little Shop of Horrors – Panic! At the Disco
Panic! At the Disco front man Brendon Urie was recently announced to make his Broadway debut in Kinky Boots, but it won’t be the first time Urie singings showtunes. In 2010, the Las Vegas band released a cover of “Skid Row” from the 1982 Off-Broadway classic musical Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Urie takes on the lines sung by Audrey, while bass player Dallon Weekes sings Seymour’s part. The single has never been part of an album, but was released for free online. It’s not currently available through any official source, but you might be able to find it searching on a certain popular streaming video service. Trust us, it’s worth the listen just to hear Urie’s upper register.
2. “It’s the Hard Knock Life” from Annie – Jay-Z
Jay-Z used the popular song from the 1977 Broadway musical Annie as the title for his third album, Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life. The album features a track called “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” which—while not a straight cover—extensively samples the original Broadway cast album performance of the showtune. The song peaked at 15 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list, and was ranked 11 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip-Hop.
3. “Corner of the Sky” from Pippin – Jackson Five
Less than a year after Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin opened on Broadway, the popular Jackson 5 released their cover of the title character’s anthem, the last song on the first side of their 1973 album Skywriter. While Skywriter was not one of the most successful albums in their catalog, their recording of “Corner of the Sky” is a solid cover arranged in that signature Motown style.
4. “Popular” from Wicked – Mika, featuring Ariana Grande
Mika released his “Popular Song,” based on “Popular” from Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked (featuring the song’s chorus), on his 2012 album The Origin of Love. While the original version featured vocals by Mika and Priscilla Renea, a revised single edition with new vocals by Ariana Grande debuted on Grande’s 2013 debut album Yours Truly. Grande, of course, has Broadway roots herself, having been in the original Broadway cast of Jason Robert Brown’s 13 and last year’s Hairspray, Live! telecast as Penny.
5. “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” from South Pacific – The Weather Girls
Most famous for their hit “It’s Raining Men,” this disco duo (originally made up of Izora Armstead and Martha Wash) covered the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” from South Pacific on their 1983 album Success, the same album that featured “It’s Raining Men.” The song is wildly updated from its Broadway classic origins to become a disco dance song that makes it more than worth a listen.
6. “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables – Aretha Franklin
R&B star and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin covered Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s famous anthem—first sung on the West End by Patti LuPone and on Broadway by Randy Graff—on her 1991 album What You See Is What You Sweat. She also performed the number in 1993 at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. While Franklin brings her soulful style to the vocals, it is a more or less faithful cover of the original. The notable exception? Franklin’s improvised interjection “What in the hell is going on today,” which you can hear at the 3:18 mark.
7. “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof – Gwen Stefani, featuring Eve
In 1993, London ragga duo Louchie Lou & Michie One recorded an adaptation of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s “If I Were a Rich Man,” re-titled “Rich Girl.” The song used for its chorus the melody from the original showtune and re-written lyrics. Ten years later, Gwen Stefani had this song re-arranged and recorded it with rapper Eve for her debut solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby. The track was released as the album’s second single, later reaching the top 10 on several Billboard charts. The song was also certified gold and received a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration in 2006.