Musicals have always been the backbone of theater lineups from Broadway to the West End, and the true classics usually achieve crossover success on the charts as well. Aside from a CVS receipt-length list of Tony awards, composers of smash hit musicals tend to stack up platinum plaques and Grammy awards for plays that resonate with both stage audiences and casual listeners alike.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the most successful composer of all time, and the man behind iconic musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Cats, is one of only fifteen EGOT winners (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony); he has won four Grammy awards, including the prestigious Grammy Legend award in 1990. And the sustained sales success of original cast recordings isn’t generational, either, as the accompanying album to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2015 Broadway blockbuster Hamilton has spent 164 weeks on the Billboard 200. The Grammy-winning cast recording peaked at number 3 and remains in the top 40 more than three years later, even spawning a mixtape that featured artists like Nas, The Roots, Alicia Keys, and Wiz Khalifa hopping on covers and remixes of hit songs from the musical.
In an interview on SiriusXM with Jeffrey Seller earlier this year, Lloyd Webber admitted he had been somewhat disenchanted with musicals for awhile until Hamilton restored his faith. “I got quite depressed because as wonderful as Book of Mormon is and a great fun evening, it ain’t about the music,” said the seven-time Tony Award winner. “I felt there were quite a lot of big hit musicals at the time where music seemed to be taking very much a backseat, and that’s why when I first saw Hamilton in preview at the Public Theater, I thought it was the most fantastic thing I’d ever seen.”
Sometimes, the crossover works pretty well in reverse, too. Massively successful albums like Green Day’s American Idiot and Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill have both been adapted for the stage in recent years, and Travis Scott told Ellen during a recent interview that he wanted to turn his Astroworld follow-up into a musical.
With musicals taking center stage once more, it begs the question of which albums deserve to be reborn on stage? It’s time we dig through the record crates to find the timeless stories that could potentially transform into viable works of theater.
Here’s a list of some that would make for extremely entertaining plays, in no particular order. If you have any beautiful, dark, twisted fantasies about other albums you’d love to see adapted for the theater (like Cudi’s groundbreaking Man on the Moon), pitch us in the comments!
good kid, m.A.A.d city by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is one of the greatest storytellers in hip-hop history, and he’s put himself on the shortlist of GOAT-level emcees in a relatively short amount of time, showing tremendous range and progression from project to project. But his 2012 major label debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city transcends other great albums in its ability to paint an extremely vivid image for audiences through captivating writing, deep character development, and unrelatability in the best way, where the listener is forced to experience the tale vicariously through K. Dot’s eyes and not their own.
A quintessential case of nature versus nurture, Kendrick’s hardened Compton anthems like “m.A.A.d city” and “Backseat Freestyle” are balanced out by more introspective journal entries of a kid just trying to escape in one piece.
Described as a short film by Kendrick, gkmc bleeds drama, captivating the listener and binding them to our protagonist by the end. On the track “The Art of Peer Pressure,” Kendrick opens with a warning for everyone to sit down and listen close, as he rolls down Rosecrans reliving his story for us.
With Compton at the heart of the play, a stage adaptation would be flush with palm trees and vibrant neighborhoods, soundtracked by the razor-sharp narration of Lamar. After winning the Grammy for Album of the Year and catapulting Kendrick to a worldwide superstardom, it’s clear the celebrated gkmc has mass appeal, but stage design and casting would be key, as the pivotal parts of Sherane and K. Dot’s parents add crucial context to his story.
With Digi+Phonics, the in-house production team behind some of the album’s most iconic cuts, in charge of scoring the stage rendition, it would have to open in a theater that bumps. And we need Schoolboy Q back on handwriting duty for the Playbill since he did such a memorable job on the album cover. Wonder if a Tony winner has ever worn a pair of Nike Cortez on stage to accept their award.
A Grand Don’t Come For Free by The Streets
Before recording his second album as alter ego The Streets, legendary British artist Mike Skinner became enamored with the work of Hollywood screenwriters like Syd Field, Robert McKee, and John Truby, and wanted to try his hand at writing one long narrative. “I wanted to try and put what I’d learnt from them into practice,” Skinner explained in his book The Story of the Streets. Every song needs a drama at the centre of it, and once you have the drama, the song writes itself—that’s what I firmly believed, and still do believe.”
The end product was A Grand Don’t Come For Free, an everyman tale that became one of the best grime and hip-hop stories ever told, named one of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The minute details in The Streets’ narration make this album incredibly West End-ready. Backed by production that ranges from dark and dirty to upbeat and sitcom-y, the show would pull you in with friendly vibes before punching you in your emotional gut. On A Grand Don’t Come For Free, The Streets lets us tail him through the regular ups (finding out the girl you like likes you) and downs (losing a thousand bucks) of life, flexing his songwriting muscle even while describing the lack of cell service in the club or running errands.
While The Streets musical may not have the commercial appeal of some other adaptations on this list, it would surely make for one of the most endearing. I’ll never forget when “Could Well Be In” taught a younger me that girls who play with their hair when you talk to them might actually be into you. Now, a whole new generation of audiences will fall in love with the quirky and unique story of A Grand Don’t Come For Free.
Wolf by Tyler, the Creator
Tyler’s Wolf opens up with what sounds like a high school marching band backing our protagonist while he sits in the bleachers X’ing out enemy faces in the yearbook. This is also where we’re introduced to the characters Wolf and Sam by Dr. TC, a recurring cast member of the saga that was Tyler’s Bastard, Goblin, and ultimately Wolf.
The Odd Future ringleader has been an expert at character development, whether in his deeply layered concept albums or in real life by giving us Frank Ocean, The Internet, Earl Sweatshirt, Domo, and countless others like Rex Orange County.
But that’s not the only area he excels, as writing, production, creative direction, stage design, and a host of other skill sets make up the versatile dynamo that is Tyler. His ability to transport his listeners into the worlds he has created is proof positive that a Tyler-crafted Wolf stage production would be equal parts stunningly beautiful, shocking, all over the place, and confusing.
Tyler has evolved far beyond the musical stylings of his three early projects that proceeded Cherry Bomb and Flower Boy, but it would be fascinating to see him take the somewhat jumpy narrative style of the Dr. TC trilogy and turn it into one singular entity for both diehard fans and newcomers alike to experience in an immersive live experience.
Rather than setting up shop in one theater, this feels more like a third stage to be added to Tyler’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival and maybe brought on tour. It would be the most fun you’ve ever had at a play with intermission the only thing that’s illegal.
Toxicity by System of a Down
Heavy metal band System of a Down’s game-changing 2001 album Toxicity was so ahead of its time it isn’t even funny, much like most of the subject matter at play. The witty and piercing storytelling on Toxicity touches on addiction, the criminal justice system, protestors, CIA corruption, and Charles Manson.
The brash and haunting instrumentation is paired with vocals that sometimes scream in your face while other times whispering in your ear. It’s the rare hard rock masterpiece that feels like it really comes from the heart, packed with just as much beautiful melody as there are hypnotic strings and drums that make you second guess blasting it near any active fault lines.
What better time than now to expand on the questions that “Toxicity” raised almost two decades ago?
The musical would be strange, no doubt. It opens on the same Hollywood Walk of Fame as the video for the album’s title track, focusing on a ritzy hotel that attracts both the stars of Tinseltown and out-of-towners looking to get a taste of the glitz and glamour they’ve seen on the big screen. But just to stage right of the boutique hotel’s gold-drenched entrance laid another temporary residence for many, a sprawling tent community held together by despair and discarded items of the more fortunate.
As we meet various patrons of the hotel returning from their important affairs of the day, they cross paths with their destitute neighbors, who shout the seemingly senseless and psychotic warnings we hear on songs like “Chop Suey.”
Generational talent Serj Tankian’s performance on “Deer Dance” slides between beautiful and brutal seamlessly, painting a picture that contrasts LA’s shimmering outward appearance with the extreme wealth disparity and police brutality that lay beneath the surface.
This play would provoke thought and prioritize disorder over the ordinary, demolishing any preconceived notions about “rock operas.”
Lemonade by Beyoncé
All Beyoncé albums are earth-shakng, and affect the entirety of pop culture in a major way—but Lemonade was something else altogether. The reclusive Queen Bey and her husband, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, usually let the world inside their relationship exclusively through their music, but leaked footage of an elevator scuffle between Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s sister Solange, plus rampant rumors of infidelity, led many to wonder if America’s couple was doomed.
Returning to the playbook that had served her and Hov so well in the past, Beyoncé issued her statement with the monumental Lemonade. The visual album premiered on HBO and captivated millions, as Bey shared her side of the story, answering many tough questions but also creating a few more. The album is both heart-wrenching and invigorating, letting you sit shotgun as an icon faces tremendous adversity on her journey to forgiveness and fulfillment. It’s a celebration of blackness, and a story of moving forward and using truth to strengthen a bond.
Andy Kellman for AllMusic wrote that “the cathartic and wounded moments [in Lemonade] resonate in a manner matched by few, if any, of Beyoncé’s contemporaries.”
This is a no-brainer for the stage, from both a storytelling and commercial perspective. Beyoncé and her creative team already did most of the dirty work in turning the Lemonade album into a full-fledged film, complete with flawless transitions between dialogue and song. With Bey’s incredible live choreography and an orchestra to add immense depth and texture to an already gripping piece of art, it seems impossible Lemonade wouldn’t take Broadway by storm. You want to talk about touring potential? According to Billboard, Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s recently-wrapped On The Run II Tour grossed over $250 million in 48 stadiums across Europe and North America. In 2016, Bey’s Formation Tour, which coincided with Lemonade’s release, grossed over a quarter-billion dollars as well. There isn’t a city where this play wouldn’t cause a frenzy for tickets.
Now, who do we cast as Beyoncé? Let us know on Twitter who you think could fill Queen Bey’s shoes on stage.
The Hundreds X The Phantom of the Opera and The Hundreds X Cats drops Friday, November 30.