Pop Stars on Broadway: Hits and Misses with Ricky Martin, Carly Rae Jepsen, Nick Jonas, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, Etc.
Jukebox musicals are big business and they keep coming. Shows about legendary pop stars and their music, like Dreamgirls, Jersey Boys, Motown, Beautiful and Lady Day, draw tourist crowds to Broadway, West End, Off-Broadway and regional stages year after year. The same goes for fictional shows that feature classic rock, pop and rap, like Rock of Ages, with the upcoming Holler If Ya Hear Me about to enter the ring.
But when active pop stars put themselves through the Broadway ringer, the results are decidedly less certain.
Despite performing in Cinderella on Broadway, Carly Rae Jepsen of "Call Me Maybe" fame, is, well, pretty much still just Carly Rae Jepsen of "Call Me Maybe" fame.
Ricky Martin's reviews in the 2012 revival of Evita with Elena Roger were for the most part no more than decent. I thought he was very good, but I also remember Kevin Kline in the original production, and being expected to measure up to Kline can't be easy for any actor, let alone a Broadway-green pop singer. The revival closed after less than a year despite three Tony nominations.
After Nick Jonas took over in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2012 – the same production and role that had established Daniel Radcliffe as a legitimate Broadway talent – the show closed sooner than scheduled.
Bringing Green Day singer and lyricist Billy Joe Armstrong into the cast of American Idiot, the musical based on the band's megahit 2004 album, didn't save the show from closing after just over a year on Broadway, though a touring company soldiers on.
Ashlee Simpson's stage trajectory was a little different. As her recording career in the late aughts wasn't exactly thriving, she had little to lose appearing as Roxie Hart in Chicago. Broadway, West End and Hollywood Bowl audiences all saw her, and lo and behold the reviews were pretty good.
When all is said and done, it could be that for a pop star aspiring to Broadway glory the pen can be a better tool than the microphone. The best example right now is the Tony-winning hit Kinky Boots with music by Cyndi Lauper, which has established the '80s pop icon as a celebrated player in the musical theater universe.
Taking a similar path, VH1 it-girl Sara Bareilles has scored Waitress, a musical based on the 2007 indie film starring Keri Russell. If things go as producers hope, it will premiere at A.R.T. in 2015-16.