Broadway Disco Party! Boogie With Stephen Sondheim, Richard Rodgers, Andrew Lloyd Webber and More

Back in the late 1970s, when the Gallo Opera House and Henry Miller's Theatre were the nightclubs Studio 54 and Xenon, respectively, disco ruled the airwaves. Thirty-five years ago today, on June 17, 1979, one attempt to bring disco to Broadway began previews at the Minskoff Theatre: a musical called Got Tu Go Disco. It played nine troubled preview performances, opened on June 25 to negative reviews, and closed eight performances later. In his review for the New York Times, critic Richard Eder wrote, "Their message seems to be that disco has no particular character, requires no particular effort and therefore is good for everyone. Not for a theater audience, though."

The Got Tu Go Disco Playbill
The Got Tu Go Disco Playbill

Happily, the reverse relationship turned out to be a bit more fruitful. Dozens of Broadway's greatest hits were recorded by disco artists, from songs by Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber to George Gershwin and Frank Loesser. In fact, some of them even made it to the top of the Billboard disco chart. So pull out your polyester suit and platform shoes, and join us for a tour through some of our favorite disco-fied showtunes.

In 1979, Linda Clifford released an album called "If My Friends Could See Me Now," which naturally included a disco version of the Cy Coleman- Dorothy Fields song from Sweet Charity. The song spent five weeks at the top of the Billboard disco chart.

His Master's Fish with Gordon Grody recorded a version of Stephen Sondheim's "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd."

In 1979 producer Boris Midney assembled the studio group Festival to record an entire disco album with the songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita. The album was so successful, it reached number one on the Billboard disco chart. Here is the album's take on "Don't Cry For Me Argentina."

In 1983 The Weather Girls released their version of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's South Pacific.

Gloria Gaynor's 1979 album "I Have a Right" included a disco cover of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's "Tonight" from West Side Story.

In 1977 Claudja Barry released a 45 that included, as its b-side, a disco version of "Summertime" from George and Ira Gershwin, and DuBose and Dorothy Heyward's Porgy and Bess.

Grace Jones' 1977 album "Portfolio" included a disco version of the Charles Strouse- Martin Charnin song "Tomorrow" from Annie. Here is a video of Jones performing the song on the TV show "Celebrity Cabaret."

In 1979 RCA released the album "Disco Spectacular," featuring disco versions of songs from Galt MacDermot's score to Hair. Here is "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In" from the album.

In 1976 the album "The Broadway Brass Takes Guys and Dolls Disco" was released, featuring nine disco versions of songs from Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls. Al Capps is credited on the album for creating the "tasteful, happy, 'today' treatments" of the score. Here is the song "I've Never Been in Love Before" from the album.

Finally, no list of disco-style Broadway would be complete without mentioning Ethel Merman's 1979 release, "The Ethel Merman Disco Album." The album included disco versions of many of Merman's greatest hits, including "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "I Got Rhythm." Here is a video of Merman performing her disco version of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" on a 1970s children's show.