Five singers who went from Billboard to Broadway with ease

These singers killed it on stage.
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Linda Ronstadt definitely did not have Sting’s problem. She had a voice big enough to fill any arena. Though never formally trained, it seemed for a while in the 1970s that there was not a single song she could not sing. Country, pop, rock. Fast or slow. Angry or sentimental. Ronstadt did it all. And when she picked the right material and teamed up with the right collaborators, she became one of the biggest recording artists in the world.

But she wanted more. So she took the role of Mabel, the lovestruck ingenue with massive vocal chops in Joseph Papp’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. After playing Summer in the Park in 1980, it arrived on Broadway as 1981 dawned. She was on stage with some genuine royalty. The swashbuckling young Kevin Kline and the magnificent veteran George Rose had two of the other leads. If Ronstadt was not capable, it would have shown up immediately.

The singing was instantly apparent. But it took a little longer for her to get comfortable with the acting. That probably had as much to do with confidence as anything. It may have helped that she was playing opposite another relative novice who had recently done what she was attempting. Rex Smith was another up-and-coming rocker when he landed the lead in Grease in 1978. In Pirates, he had a bigger role than Ronstadt, playing the object of her infatuation. He acquitted himself very well. Both Ronstadt and Smith reprised their roles for the film version of Pirates a few years later.

Ronstadt would continue to explore many different styles of singing throughout her career, as both a pop singer and stage actor. A few years later, she starred in Papp’s version of Puccini’s La Boheme. Now a stage veteran, she was joined in that production by another newcomer – country recording star Gary Morris. The show did not have the same success as Pirates, but it did lead Morris on to a stint in Les Miserables several years later.