Lena Hall as Pink? Idina Menzel as Radiohead? 10 Covers of Pop Songs by Broadway Stars You Have to Watch

Lists   Lena Hall as Pink? Idina Menzel as Radiohead? 10 Covers of Pop Songs by Broadway Stars You Have to Watch
Broadway stars can also rock. Have you seen these amazing live covers of pop songs by Broadway performers?
Idina Menzel
Idina Menzel

In a world where we don't hear Broadway music on the radio, it's only natural that many musical theatre performers sing pop music from time to time. After all, the fact that they earn their living working onstage doesn't mean they're any less a part of their own generation in terms of musical tastes. This has been happening for decades. Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler famously crossed over from Broadway to careers not just in the movies, but on record, with many top-of-the-chart hits, including covers of contemporary pop and rock songs like Streisand's version of "Stoney End" by Laura Nyro and Midler's "Stay With Me" originally made popular by Percy Sledge. Betty Buckley has consistently sung associated with artists ranging from Janis Joplin to Rufus Wainwright, and Patti LuPone sang "Because The Night," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Superman (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman" on "Patti LuPone at Les Mouches." This type of thing seems to be happening far more frequently today and thanks to the easy accessibility of sites like YouTube, there is a wide selection of pop/rock covers by the next generation of Broadway stars to enjoy.

10. Blake Daniel, "Last Kiss" (Taylor Swift)

Spring Awakening's Blake Daniel took part in "A Taylor Swift Love Story" at 54 Below and offered his interpretation of the singer-songwriter-superstar's tender ballad, "Last Kiss." Daniel is immediately impressive for the simple sweetness of his voice, but what he reveals over the course of the song is something deeper. His unwavering focus makes the lyric compelling and suggests a breathtaking vulnerability. People often remark that Taylor Swift is more than a pop princess, but a gifted artist as composer and lyricist, and Daniel's performance gives much credence to the claim.


9. Krysta Rodriguez and Andy Mientus, "Telephone" (Lady Gaga and Beyoncé)

Far on the other end of spectrum is Krysta Rodriguez and Andy Mientus' version of "Telephone," the Lady Gaga/Beyoncé duet from Gaga's 2009 album, "The Fame Monster." Besides the fact that these two Broadway stars sound great together, there's something synergistic about their casting in this number. Rodriguez, a fan favorite on "Smash" and in such Broadway shows as First Date and The Addams Family, demonstrate the spunk and sass that have distinguished Lady Gaga as the diva she is. And then, strangely, Mientus, the hottie Marius in Les Misérables, makes sense as Beyoncé. Does that make Mientus' boyfriend Michael Arden Jay-Z in this analogy?


8. Ciara Renée, "Age" (Lianne La Havas)

Pippin and Big Fish star Ciara Renée brings a light touch to English folk and soul singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lianne La Havas' single "Age" from her 2012 album "Is Your Love Big Enough?" Renée's vocal dexterity enables her to deliver a nuanced interpretation that finds both the humor and the heart in La Havas's lilting tune. The actress-singer is especially enjoyable in the way she manages to sustain her dramatic through-line even on the vocals that are not words.


7. Elizabeth Stanley, "Hold My Heart" (Sarah Bareilles)

Elizabeth Stanley recently received a Drama Desk nomination for her hilarious turn as Claire De Loone in On The Town. The Broadway veteran of Company, Cry-Baby and Million Dollar Quartet demonstrates even more versatility in this beautifully restrained rendition. Stanley's assured soprano affords her a profound loveliness as builds thrillingly to an ultimately belty finish. Stanley is an actress of considerable depth, and her vocal pyrotechnics feel totally earned.


6. Robin De Jesus, "Wrecking Ball" (Miley Cyrus)

Two-time Tony-nominated scene-stealer Robin De Jesus is renowned for his comedic talents and dynamic presence. As anyone who remembers his star-making performance in the cult hit film "Camp" can tell you, De Jesus is also a serious actor of enormous empathy and affecting truth. All these gifts come together in his cover of Miley Cyrus' hit, "Wrecking Ball." De Jesus seamlessly integrates the full range of his earnest and forceful voice to convey fiery intention with full focus.


5. Lena Hall, "Sober" (Pink)

At "Broadway Sings Pink," Tony winner Lena Hall was almost out of place in that there's hardly any crossover. Hall is a legitimate rock 'n roller. As she flies up to the high notes of the famously rangy Pink's hard-edged anthem, there's not a drop of Broadway brass. And yet, there is something smooth in Hall's roughness. You sense she could sustain this for multiple performances. Pop/rock material can be challenging for theatre performers in that it was intended to be sung by the songwriter, and Hall is able to transcend this issue with complete conviction.


4. Natalie Joy Johnson, "What's My Name?" (Rihanna)

Natalie Joy Johnson is a Broadway star who covers pop with a great deal of success in Co-Dependent Mondays, her weekly show at Hell's Kitchen night spot Therapy. The Kinky Boots and Legally Blonde star takes Rihanna's subtle and steamy duet with Drake and makes it a dramatic tour de force. Playing the campy chanteuse seems to poke fun at the lyrics, but Johnson's passion and volcanic voice ultimately rise to the level of the stratospheric stakes and bring the one act play to a goosebump-inducing conclusion.


3. Jeremy Jordan, "I've Told You Now" (Sam Smith)

What's the right word for Jeremy Jordan? Divo? Deev-bro? Is that a thing? Jordan has a fabulous and unique quality as a singer, more like the great leading lady belters than most male performers, and yet he comes across as masculine, a leading man for our time. His stunning vocals on Sam Smith's "I've Told You Now" is truly spectacular from the searing high notes that cut through the melody with laser precision and the ability to melt to cream when he wants to the roaring power at the end. Jordan has firmly established himself as a star with undeniable presence and dramatic authority. It's almost as good as the song is his swagger when receiving the applause.


2. Alysha Umphress, "Valerie" (Amy Winehouse)

There is nobody on Broadway like Alysha Umphress. As she has proven in On The Town, she's a gifted actress and singer, but what really sets her part is her pure musicianship. Unlike most musical theatre stars, with Umphress, there is zero pushing; her power comes from her musicality. She sings Amy Winehouse's "Valerie" like the jazz standard it is worthy of becoming, playing up its retro vibe. Umphress doesn't have to ape Winehouse's original. It's her own hipness hipness that makes it cool.


1. Idina Menzel, "Creep" (Radiohead)

Idina Menzel has had such an enormous influence on the current crop of female musical theatre stars that one tends to forget just how special she herself is. I hear her imitators so often, I begin to dismiss her style, and it's always a surprise going back to the genuine article and remembering what is brilliant and compelling. In this Radio City Music Hall performance of Radiohead's "Creep," Menzel gets to show off her staggering high notes and earthy sensuality. Right from the diva introduction she gives, Streisand-esque as she faux-innocently drops the song titles of her hit songs, Menzel is nothing but stellar. She owns this material. She is of the Radiohead era. Let us not forget the watershed cultural impact of Rent. Menzel's trademark 90s rock chest voice is the real deal and there's nothing ersatz about her cover of this seminal alternative rock hit.

(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed solo plays Patti Issues and Bad with Money. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)

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