Cross-polination between Broadway and pop music isn’t exactly a new thing. Songs written for the stage have been covered by pop stars since forever. Frank Sinatra made a Guys and Dolls song his signature tune. Let the Sunshine in topped the Billboard charts. Sometimes, though, we come across some that make our brains warp a little – in good ways and bad. Here are some of our favorite Broadway crossover performances from recent-ish years. And yes, there are Jonas Brothers ahead…
The Jonas Brothers: “Poor Unfortunate Souls”
We don’t know. Honestly. We just don’t. But it exists. And yes, we’d rather hear Sherie Rene Scott sing this song, too. But given the fact that these Jonas kids got their start on Broadway, and Nick—at the least—is slated to return, we thought we should share this video of ridiculousness. Go ahead, have a derisive laugh.
Celine Dion: “Memory”
Diva extraordinaire Celine Dion, shown here in her pre-megafame years singing “Memory” from Cats, is having some issues in this video. There’s a language issue and a shoulder pads issue and an issue of general taste and sanity. So of course, this is the most genius thing we’ve ever seen. Unfortunately it does not contain any chest beating. We’ll have to settle for some brusque gesticulating and four-foot bangs instead.
Judy Collins (With the Muppets): “Send in the Clowns”
Yeah yeah, Stephen Sondheim had one of his only pop hits thanks to this version of “Send in the Clowns” by Judy Collins, blah blah blah. Everyone knows that. But we kind of love this crazypants performance from The Muppet Show, which shows Judy split-screened with some mournful dancing clowns. Charming? Yes. Super literal and moderately confusing? You bet.
Jay Z: “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”
Don’t lie. The first time you heard this on the radio in 1998, you nearly drove off the road. In one of the most badass, unlikely combinations of showtunery and hip-hopery we can even think of, Jay-Z sampled the main chorus from Annie’s opening number, and voila – all parties involved got a little bit cooler. Jay-Z’s comments about the sample were equally cool. In the eponymous album’s liner notes, he wrote, “If you notice the chorus, they’re not singing like they’re sad. They’re singing like, ‘Yo. It’s a hard knock life,’ just lettin’ people know. It’s a beautiful thing.” Jay, we could not agree more.
Ben Jelen: “Wicked Little Town”
Remember Ben Jelen? Yeah, we don’t either, except to briefly recall his pretty hair and general cuteness, which enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame in 2004. But his cover of “Wicked Little Town” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch had us smiling. The song was a no-brainer for Jelen, whose smoky voice has a kind of theatrical quality to begin with. Plus, the smooth transition from the stage to the concert hall, in this case, had us feeling pretty good about the state of modern theater.
Sinead O’Connor: “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”
Oh Sinead. Hairless and political and prodigiously talented, she always pulled out some crazy shit onstage that made you happy to have her around. Her idiosyncratic cover of “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” works shockingly well. Both vulnerable and assured, this version doesn’t make us miss or wish for Madonna in the least.
Whitney Houston: “I Loves You Porgy/ And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”
No. You are not on drugs. Or having a fever-induced hallucination. That is indeed Whitney Houston singing a medley of “I Loves You Porgy” and “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” which then transitions super smoothly into “I Have Nothing” from The Bodyguard. And yes, that is Bobby Brown holding infant daughter Bobbi Kristina at around 5:43. And yes, it is ten full minutes long and it is now the best thing that you ever have, and possibly ever will, see on the YouTube. You are welcome.
The Beatles: “Til There Was You”
The Beatles featured this song from Meredith Wilson’s The Music Man on their 1964/64 albums With The Beatles/Meet The Beatles! and Paul McCartney has been quoted saying he didn’t even know the song was a show tune initially. Regardless, this may in fact be the most important pop recording of a Broadway show tune ever, given that The Beatles are the most important pop band ever. Bonus points go to the band for such a pure, beautiful rendition that didn’t screw with the song’s original beauty. And even more to Sir Paul for being so goddamn cute.
Luther Vandross: “A House Is Not a Home”
Featured in the 2010 revival of Promises, Promises where it was performed by the inimitable Kristin Chenoweth, this Bacharach/David song solidly counts as a show tune. And this beautiful performance by Luther Vandross—which even brought Dionne Warwick to tears—makes us cry every time we watch it.
Aretha Franklin: “I Dreamed a Dream”
What even is this? We don’t know for sure, either. Okay, we do. Its Aretha Franklin singing a show tune like only Aretha Franklin can. Actually…she’s singing Les Miz, which is like… so many layers of crazy that we don’t even know where to start. Maybe with the fact that Aretha is so badass she can even change the words to one of the world’s most famous musicals at will? To reflect Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech? Or that the song is almost 100% unrecognizable and yet it STILL gives us chills? We fucking love it. So does Bill Clinton—this was at his inauguration, after all.