Will Broadway ever have an album at the top of the pop charts again?

Last week, the cast album of Love Never Dies hit Number 10 on the UK National Charts.

Yep, a musical was right up there with Lady Gaga and Rihanna and Michael Buble (who I saw in concert last Saturday, and who is destined to croon on a Broadway stage at some point in his career – hopefully before his “buble” pops).

First the West End boosts their attendance by 7.6%, and now they put an album in the Top 10!

Over on this side of the pond, Broadway tunes, especially for new musicals with original music, never chart that high (the Hair revival recording got up to #63, but that was a revival.  I found one release that had Wicked at #187).  In fact, Billboard created a special chart for cast albums in 2006.  Why?  To quote Playbill.com, “The addition of the chart generates exposure for the genre which does not often chart on the Billboard 200.”

Sad face.

Now granted, the Love Never Dies recording has got to be one of the most anticipated cast recordings in decades, with a super phantastic brand, and a composer who might as well be Lady Gaga, he’s such a rock star to his fellow Brits.

But still, I couldn’t help but be a little jealous.

There was a time when Broadway tunes charted higher, or were covered by artists who could force them to the top of the charts.

Don’t believe me?

Take this 10 Question Quiz and test your knowledge of Broadway chart toppers (I got an 80%).

When you’re finished with the quiz, go back and look at the years of the hits in the questions.  Nothing past 1975.

We’ve lost our support from pop music.  It’s no wonder we’re losing audiences.

And it’s no wonder why the West End is gaining on us.

What can we do?  Lobby the music industry?  Ask our composers to write with the charts in mind?  Make one of our musical theater composers a rock star, too?

Let’s do it all and then some.

Because re-establishing Broadway’s place in the fabric of popular culture is one of the most powerful things we can do to grow our audience.

  • I don’t think asking musical theatre composers to write tunes with the charts in mind helps the cause. As we all know, a song like “Send in the Clowns” was written organically because it was called for within the context of the show, not to be on top of the hit parade.
    I’ll be anxious to see if the “American Idiot” album sells well because of the diversity of punk/Green Day AND musical theatre fans. Who knows!?

  • mozz says:

    before his “buble” pops. Hilarious!

  • cgeye says:

    I got 100%, but then I am old. I’m shocked One Night In Bangkok wasn’t an answer.
    I think a missed opportunity came and went with SPRING AWAKENING — that show should have been wall-to-walled as songs for TV shows and American Idol, which is how the youth discover music on mass media outside the internet.

  • I agree with Derek – It’s because Broadway audiences have become more savvy – we expect better craftsmanship from our shows now. Most of the Broadway songs that topped the charts back in the 1930s and 1940s were entirely excerptable from the stories of the shows.
    If you look at a great new musical like “In The Heights”, for example, EVERY song has something to do with the plot.

  • Jesse North says:

    “hopefully before his “buble” pops.” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!
    In addition to that incredible line, I couldn’t agree more – and connect more – with this topic you bring up. Broadway is no longer really a part of pop culture. I hate feeling like I’m a part of a “niche.” I see no reason why contemporary musical theater shouldn’t be on the radio, just as songs from new movies are.
    I know it’s not new, but WICKED songs could easily be on the radio. When I saw NEXT TO NORMAL for the fist time last March, I sat there and thought to myself, “These songs are radio ready.” There is no reason why “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” couldn’t be a pop-radio hit. It just needs to be given the chance.
    Lady Gaga needs to write a musical. I think that’d kick-start things.

  • I was a child of the sixties and a huge fan of show tunes long before I knew that they were show tunes. That’s because my local DJ played them on the radio. Man, if these shows had played in my hometown you bet I would have figured out how to get the money to see them.
    My contribution to the solution?
    “Freedom Summer. An American Musical” &
    “I Write The Songs. America’s Game Show”

  • Deena says:

    Well with “American Idiot” Broadway is getting a ranking album with a play following it rather than the other way around so that puts an interesting crink in your discussion.

  • Marshall says:

    Having worked in Radio most of my adult life, I’d lay the blame on close minded programmers. For years I’ve contended that songs from a show like “Wicked!” or “Spring Awakening” would do very well on an Adult Contemporary format. But getting a Program or Music Director’s ear is impossible. If it doesn’t conform with a playlist that is generated from Billboard and (what used to be) Radio & Records, fergetaboutit!
    Think about all the teen (mostly) girls that have “Popular” on their iPods. Why Radio doesn’t realize this and cater to their likes is simple: it hasn’t been done since 1975. And that’s a damn shame.
    FYI:Got every one right!

  • Danielle says:

    I got 90% and am proud of it. And while I am not one of those phans (A sequel? Come on ALW!), I am a fan of any Broadway album that makes it into the mainstream.

  • dan mason says:

    Like Marshall, I come from the world of radio. If a Broadway song were to ever chart on the Hot 100 again, it would take an already established pop star to cover the song. I love me some Kristin chenowith and Idina Menzel, but neither is young enough to be marketed to an 18-24 year old female that consumes top 40 radio. However, if there was ever a time for Lea Michelle to get a record deal and release a cover of “Defying Gravity” to radio, this would be it. However, Deena raises an interesting point. If pop culture were gravitating towards Broadway thirty years ago, we now live in an era where Broadway is moving towards pop culture. “American Idiot” is just one example of a show taking an exisiting catalog of music and putting it on the stage. There’s also Mama Mia, Xanadu, Jersey Boys, etc. “Glee” has become a phenomenon with young viewers… but despite the number of broadway stars, the show is busier covering Rihanna and Kanye West than it is songs from Broadway.
    Perhaps it’s because, like was said, earlier, Broadway is no longer mainstream. The biggest TV show of the last ten years, “American Idol”, usually dedicates one episode per season to showtunes. Yet, contestants are repeatedly criticized for being “Too Broadway”. The inference being that showtunes cannot have a commercial appeal to the masses.
    It’s a fascinating discussion though…

  • CL Jahn says:

    I don’t think composer need to change their approach; a good song is a good song. And I also disagree that it’s about context: a lot of top 100 songs came from “concept” albums, where the song was definitely out of “context.”
    No, this is a case of perception, and the dissipation of broadcast radio.
    Back when station music directors and DJs programmed music, we heard a wide variety of music on the radio. But now music is programmed by accountants, who aren’t trying to create a unique listening experience but rather are attempting to appeal to a wide variety of a large demographic.

  • dan mason says:

    As someone currently programming two major market radio stations, I must respond to the line about radio being programmed by “accountants”. That is simply untrue. What is true is that in order to appeal to advertising agencies, we need to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible. Hence the abundance of mass appeal music from Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Timbaland on top 40 radio. Do you realize that the average cume of a radio station like Z100 in New York City is over 4 million people per week?? Do you realize that Wicked is playing to sold out audiences at the Gershwin and only reaching a little over 14,000 people in that same time span?? Granted, theater is dealing with a finite number of tickets each week, but you still can’t look at the Itunes charts and argue that more consumers are inclined to download the new Train single than they are a song from Wicked. The reason is that one is mass appeal and the other is niche. If we want more credibility with pop audiences, producers need to engage contemporary artists in getting involved with Broadway. With the exeption of Usher and his Chicago stint, I can’t think of a mainstream musician who has done a broadway show at the peak of their popularity. Fergie and Beyoncew will do movie adaptations of shows, but you can’t find them on a new york marquee. More often than not, the live stage is a place for pop artists to go when they don’t have hits on the radio anymore. What’s it going to take to get a Michael Buble or Justin Timberlake to star in a Broadway musical?? Sadly, the answer is probably “way more money than is fiscally responsible to the investors”

  • hankhodges8nyc@gmail.com says:

    It’s so silly to claim a voice is too “Broadway”. Of course it’s just another way, when referring to male singers, as homophobia. But to imply a voice can be too “Broadway”, brilliantly assessed by such a sophisticated “Dawg” as R.J. (he doesn’t deserve to be typed completely always.) These clowns who believe their opinion matters so much, it’s absolutely LAUGHABLE !!! Who appointed them demigods? I see by the clock it’s 14 minutes and 59 seconds, whoo too !!!
    Oh, by the way, that’s exactly the criticism thrown at a young up & comer named Barbra Streisand when she started branching out artistically. She hasn’t done too bad in the “pop” genre. But of course, these overnight judges, these sadly lacking in the credentials dept., thesevconnoisseurs know best, after all, look at how much money they make & how many viewers mindlessly watch their show. So, they MUST be right. It’s like when “Rocky” was the # 1 movie in the U.S., it obviously meant it was a masterpiece in film-making. Golly, it all makes sense now.

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