This summer, many a Broadway eye is looking north toward Boston where American Repertory Theater is premiering Waitress, the new musical adaptation Adrienne Shelly's 2007 Sundance hit, with an original score by "Brave" and "Love Song" singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles and book by Jessie Nelson, directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus.
The transition from platinum-selling pop star to theatrical composer and lyricist is a natural one for Bareilles who grew up in Eureka, CA, performing in local musicals alongside her mother and older sister. She brings a great affinity for and familiarity with the form to this new endeavor. Perhaps, though, these qualities are not necessary to write a good musical? Shows like Hamilton and Spring Awakening have expanded the idea of what genres of music can be effective on the stage. Maybe this type of shaking it up is exactly what will keep Broadway relevant as styles and tastes shift over the coming decades. Still, there are certain things that cannot change. However the goal is reached, a piece of theatre needs to tell a story, to move and entertain. With all the diversity in music today, there may be countless new avenues to do just that.
10. Neon Trees
Alternative rock band Neon Trees has the potential to fashion a really fun musical. They're infectiously peppy grooves and straightforward, conversational lyrics would fit right in on Broadway. The video for their recent non-album single, "Songs I Can't Listen To" (featuring "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black as the love interest opposite lead singer Tyler Glenn) is something of a throwback to the linear, narrative style of the early days of MTV and illustrates how effective the band's work can be at conveying a story.
9. Brandon Flowers
Brandon Flowers, the leader singer and principal songwriter of Las Vegas-based rock band The Killers, has proven what a good Broadway tunesmith he'd make in his recent solo work. His light tenor brings a theatrical expressiveness to everyday lyrics with a human quality in a way that recalls early period Billy Joel. Similarly to the way Joel's songs held the stage in Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out, I can imagine Flowers' material providing the fodder for highly active, exciting presentation.
8. Florence Welch
Florence Welch, of the English indie rock band, Florence and the Machine, is a songwriter of unique poetry. As much metaphor as she uses, her songs always retain a sense of being grounded. This dichotomy has served many a showtune since the Golden Age of Broadway musicals and songs like "Shake It Out" could offer a whole new sound for an old-school style.
World Music Award winner Mika has been winning fans by the million since his mainstream breakthrough in 2007 with the album "Dodgy Holiday." His chart-topping 2007 single, Grace Kelly, is an immediate earworm with its persistent "Why don't you like me?" chorus, as theatrical and "in-the-moment" as a lyric can be.
6. Missy Elliott
Five-time Grammy winner Missy Elliott has been a groundbreaking force as a female rapper and as a woman in the music industry at large, collaborating with a wide variety of artists from Timbaland to Whitney Houston. The forceful lyrics in her 2002 rap song "Work It" display convey an empowered, assertive disposition buttressed by confidence and humor that would make for riveting theatre.
5. Lana Del Rey
Multi-talented singer-songwriter (and model) Lana Del Rey has gained in popularity over the last few years, due in part to her atmospheric style, somewhat reminiscent of the late, great Amy Winehouse, as well as sultry singers of the mid-20th century, like Nancy Sinatra and Julie London. Her gritty "Diet Mountain Dew" has fewer pop culture references than some of her other work (despite the near product placement of its title and chorus), but is a haunting example of the transportive nature of her work.
4. Nas Sekou
Multi-platinum-selling rapper Nas is known for his colorfully frank lyrics capably of conjuring vivid stories, fascinating to hear. This alone could be valuable in musical theatre, but Nas also brings to the table a jazz sensibility, as heard in the accompanying groove on his 2004 "Sekou Story." Perhaps this is the can be traced to his father, acclaimed musician Olu Dara. While it's been many decades since Broadway and jazz intersected, I can imagine the roads crossing again via a Nas musical.
3. Alicia Keys
Billboard's Top R&B Arist of the 2000s Decade Alicia Keys has broken down walls with her musicality and lyrical integrity since the start of her career in the 1990s. She writes the kind of dynamic ballads that can energize a room. This may be the perfect marriage of contemporary R&B with theatrical storytelling. Like much of her work, Keys' 2012 soft hit, "Brand New Me," is beautiful.
2. Thom Yorke
Radiohead lead singer and songwriter Thom Yorke is known for his emotional intensity and the introspective depth of his lyrics, given emotional flight by soaring vocals with falsetto flourishes. The band's early hit "Creep" offered naked vulnerability and pleading intention that would make for a compelling theatrical performance.
Of all the major music artists popular today, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Adele's work is perhaps the most similar to traditional musical theatre. Her expressive lyrics, sometimes intimately confessional, sometimes explosively confrontational, seem to happen in real time, like dialogue elevated to a heightened level, exactly the way people often describe the ideal Broadway song. Her five-time platinum 2011 power ballad "Someone Like You" could be an 11 o'clock number if it were inserted into that slot in a musical.