10 Famous Songsters You Never Knew Were Musical Theatre Writers

News   10 Famous Songsters You Never Knew Were Musical Theatre Writers
Before they wrote "It's Raining Men" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" the talents behind these pop songs (and others) actually wrote musicals. What other karaoke staples have theatre-writer roots? Find out.
Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow Joseph Marzullo/WENN

They aren't the Marvin Hamlisches or Leslie Bricusses of the world — artists who are widely known for working consistently in musical theatre and pop music — but these ten songwriters actually started out writing for the stage before moving on to careers as radio hit-makers.

1. Jim Steinman
Most famous songs: "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "I'd Do Anything For Love"
Musicals he wrote before his songwriting career: More Than You Deserve, Kid Champion, Rhinegold

Jim Steinman
Jim Steinman Photo by Jsteinfan

Jim Steinman had deep roots in the musical theatre community before he switched gears to become a successful radio songwriter. His show Kid Champion, which played the Public Theater in 1975, showed definite signs of his future. The musical told the story of a rock star falling from grace (played by Christopher Walken), and both the musical style and themes pointed to Steinman's next moves. He also wrote Off-Broadway's More Than You Deserve which introduced him to Meat Loaf, a later pop collaborator. Steinman has become a Grammy Award winner and one of pop's most successful voices, but he has also kept one foot in musical theatre, working on projects like Whistle Down The Wind in 1996 and Broadway's Dance of the Vampires in 2002.

2. Carole Bayer Sager
Most famous songs: "That's What Friends Are For," "Don't Cry Out Loud", "Through The Eyes of Love," "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)," "On My Own," "Nobody Does It Better," "The Prayer"
Musical she wrote before her songwriting career: Georgy

Carole Bayer Sager
Carole Bayer Sager

In 1970, a stage musical version of the movie Georgy Girl opened at the Winter Garden Theatre, with music by a 22-year-old Carole Bayer. Georgy closed after only four performances, with critics dismissing the whole enterprise. The show was never recorded, but demos suggest a zippy, modern, heart-filled score with a pop sound quite unlike anything that had been heard on Broadway. While Bayer Sager would return to Broadway with the semi-autobiographical They're Playing Our Song in 1979, immediately after Georgy, she began to focus more on her pop career. She has become one of the most significant pop songwriters of our time with a Grammy, Oscar and Golden Globe to boot.

3. Jimmy Webb
Most famous songs: "Up, Up And Away," "MacArthur Park," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Didn't We"
Musicals he wrote before his songwriting career: The Children's Crusade, Scandal, Dancing Girl

Jimmy Webb
Jimmy Webb

"Didn't We," recorded by both Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, was originally written by Jimmy Webb for a musical he worked on in college called Dancing Girl. Webb likely would have made his Broadway bow with a musical by now, if we hadn't lost Michael Bennett to AIDS at the age of 44. Webb and Bennett were collaborators on both A Children's Crusade and Scandal in the 1980s. Webb had much success in the pop world by this point, but he's on this list because his musical theatre work has remained unproduced and become so forgotten — and it was almost major!

The Children's Crusade was being planned for Madison Square Garden, would feature around 100 child performers, and was the story of how a group of kids attempted to bring peace to the Holy Land during the 13th century. Scandal was the last major musical Bennett worked on for Broadway before he died. Webb spent over a year at 890 Broadway, writing for the show every day, but it never got on.

4. Randy Newman
Most famous songs: "You've Got A Friend In Me," "When She Loved Me," "He Gives Us All His Love," "I Love L.A.," "If I Didn't Have You"
Musical he wrote before his songwriting career: Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong

Randy Newman
Randy Newman

Like Webb, Randy Newman worked on quite a few musical theatre projects at the same time as his pop career. But an Off-Broadway revue of his work called Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong, in 1982, played 17 performances, long before he had the success he has today. The show starred Mark Linn-Baker, Patti Perkins, Deborah Rush, and Treat Williams. The New York Times compared it unfavorably to Pump Boys and Dinettes, and wrote "there is not nearly enough musical variety or ingenuity to sustain an evening in the theatre."

Newman would go on to work on musicals including Harps and Angels and Faust, but while he has 20 Academy Award nominations, Newman has yet to make his official Broadway musical debut. (Interestingly, both Webb and Newman have one Broadway credit: Patti LuPone sang work by each in her 2000 concert, Matters of the Heart.)

5. Paul Jabara
Most famous songs: "It's Raining Men," "All Night Long," "Last Dance," "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)"
Musical he wrote before his songwriting career: Rachael Lily Rosenbloom And Don't You Ever Forget It

Paul Jabara
Paul Jabara

Paul Jabara was a theatre actor, then a theatre writer, and then one of disco music's pioneers. He appeared in the original Broadway production of Hair, the original West End production of Jesus Christ Superstar (as King Herod), and in the original Los Angeles cast of The Rocky Horror Show (as Frank-N-Furter) before turning his attention to writing.

Jabara penned one of the most infamous Broadway flops of all time: Rachael Lily Rosenbloom And Don't You Ever Forget It. Widely considered one of the campiest shows to ever play the Great White Way, Rachael closed during previews, never receiving a recording or even any reviews. It starred Ellen Greene in the title role. After that, Jabara became a king of hits on the disco scene before dying of AIDS at age 44.

6. Joe Raposo
Most famous songs: "Sesame Street Theme," "Bein' Green," "C Is For Cookie," "There Used to Be a Ballpark," "The First Time It Happens"
Musicals he wrote before songwriting career: You're A Good Man Charlie Brown (additional music), A Man's A Man, A Teaspoon Every Four Hours (incidental music)

Joe Raposo
Joe Raposo

Joe Raposo aspired to be a musical theatre writer, but his career was beset by obstacles. He composed incidental music for a Broadway play called A Teaspoon Every Four Hours that closed on opening night and enjoyed success as a theatre arranger and supervisor (You're A Good Man Charlie Brown)… but his only Broadway credit as composer-lyricist, Raggedy Ann, closed after only five performances, and he died soon after.

Raposo was celebrated for his work on Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and The Great Muppet Caper as well as for other film and TV. Raposo wrote a stage adaptation with Sheldon Harnick of It's A Wonderful Life that played a special one-night engagement on Broadway after his death. Frank Sinatra was Raposo's biggest champion. He recorded many of his songs and referred to him as "the genius."

7. Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Most famous songs: "What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?" "The Windmills Of Your Mind," "The Way We Were," "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" "Nice 'n' Easy," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers"
Musical they wrote before their songwriting career: Something More!

Alan and Marilyn Bergman
Alan and Marilyn Bergman Photo by Monica Simoes

Something More! was a short-lived 1964 Broadway show (15 performances) that told the story of a best-selling novelist who ditches life in Long Island for Italy, searching for "something more" with his wife (played by Barbara Cook). Alan and Marilyn Bergman wrote the lyrics to this score early in their careers, and then moved to the pop world, where they attained major success, even winning three Academy Awards for Best Original Song. They returned to the theatre in 1978 for Ballroom, but have mostly stayed out of the theatrical realm.

8. Ray Davies
Most famous songs: (with The Kinks) "You Really Got Me," "Waterloo Sunset," "Lola," "A Well Respected Man"
Musical they wrote before songwriting career: Chorus Girls

Ray Davies
Ray Davies

Ray Davies, lead singer and songwriter for the immensely popular British rock band The Kinks, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and received the title Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) from the Queen for his contributions to music. Still, he has a somewhat unrealized aim to break into musical theatre. In 1983, Davies told the Boston Globe that there was an eight-year-period where The Kinks were at their worst and it was because he really wanted to be writing musicals.

In 1981, Davies had his first stage musical produced in London. Chorus Girls was a fictional story about Prince Charles being kidnapped. Davies has also written the musicals Around The World In Eighty Days, Come Dancing, and Sunny Afternoon, an autobiographical jukebox musical of sorts.

9. Norman Gimbel
Most famous songs: "The Girl From Ipanema," "Killing Me Softly with His Song," "It Goes Like It Goes"
Musicals he wrote before songwriting career: Whoop-Up, The Conquering Hero

Norman Gimbel
Norman Gimbel

Norman Gimbel had two shots at Broadway, and both were disappointments. Whoop-Up was a campy romp on an "Indian reservation" (although only one Native American actor appeared in the cast), and closed after 56 performances in 1958. The Conquering Hero only played eight performances in New York, in 1961, and its out of town tryout (where director-choreographer Bob Fosse was fired) was so disastrous that it inspired the now-legendary Larry Gelbart quote: "If Hitler is alive, I hope he's out of town with a musical." Gimbel turned to the pop world, soon leaving New York for Los Angeles, and gained great recognition as a songwriter. He is a Grammy and Academy Award winner.

10. Barry Manilow
Most famous songs: "Mandy," "Copacabana (At The Copa)," "Can't Smile Without You"
Musical he wrote before his songwriting career: The Drunkard, Now (musical director, arranger)

Barry Manilow
Barry Manilow Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In 1964, when he was only 21 years old, Barry Manilow wrote music and lyrics for an Off-Broadway show called The Drunkard, which played for eight years at the 13th Street Theatre. The Drunkard was a 19th-century melodrama, very different from Manilow's next prominent off-Broadway credit, Now, a topical revue. Now only ran for three weeks, and as the 1960s ended, Manilow moved away from theatre (although he'd be back!) and focused on his soon-to-be skyrocketing singer-songwriter career.

Manilow has later returned to his theatre roots, working on projects like Copacabana and Harmony, but he has yet to reach Broadway with an original musical.

On "The Today Show" in 2013, Manilow shared: "When I started, [writing musicals was what I really] wanted to do, and then the record career took off and we just never found [the] five years that you need to [make] a bona fide musical [happen]."

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