Five singers who went from Billboard to Broadway with ease

These singers killed it on stage.
Theo Wargo/GettyImages
1 of 5

In 1964, when he was just 13 years old, future rock star Phil Collins landed the role of the Artful Dodger in a West End production of Oliver! Then his voice changed. Though he never gave up his love of acting, Collins' musical theater days were essentially over.

Given his subsequent success with Genesis and on his own, that may have been for the best. Collins always had a nice voice. And he has shown his acting chops over the years. But, to my ears at least, he doesn’t have a live theater voice. He doesn’t have a big voice. The kind that elevated some Broadway stars to the heights.

Barbra Streisand did have that voice. But after her early live theater successes in I Can Get It For You Wholesale and Funny Girl, she rarely returned to Broadway musicals. She recorded the show tunes and took several leads in film adaptations, but joining up with a full cast for a scripted and staged musical – well, that’s a tall order for anyone.

Five singers who killed it on Broadway after making waves on the Billboard charts

What we’re looking for today are successful recording artists who did take on that challenge, and came out on top. There’s a certain bravery involved in risking your rep like that. In the studio, your voice can get all the help it needs. The same is true in film adaptations. Of course, all these performers have sung live countless times. But concert performances are different animals. Though you may be putting up a persona, you are not acting. Not with a bunch of other actors and with scripted lines and marks to hit. You may even have to do a little dancing.

And even if you are comfortable with the acting and the dancing and the marks, there’s always the issue of voice. I first became aware of that back in 1989, when one of the biggest rock singers in the world tried his hand (and voice) on the Broadway stage.

At first blush, Sting seemed like an inspired choice to take on the role of MacHeath in a revival of the Brecht-Weill Threepenny Opera. He had charisma. He had done some acting and wasn’t half bad. But the performance, and the entire show, fell flat.

Contemporary reviews called Sting “stiff” on stage. That’s true. But the bigger problem was his voice. Sting has an excellent voice for delivering a Police hit, but standing next to a bunch of Broadway vets, that voice sounded astonishingly small and thin. You can play MacHeath in many ways, but small and thin ain’t one of them.

But there have been recording stars who fared better. Today, we’re going to take a quick look at five of them.