Top 10 Country Stars Who Conquered Broadway
Ten years ago, Reba McEntire stormed Broadway with rave reviews and shocking box office success as the title character in 'Annie Get Your Gun.' Over the years, many musicians have pulled the same move as Ms. McEntire, crossing over into the world of theater. In this list of the Top 10 Country Stars Who Conquered Broadway, we honor singers from Roger Miller to Dolly Parton who took their talents to the Great White Way with great success.
The runner-up on the third season of American Idol, Diana DeGarmo joined John Rich for CMT’s 'Gone Country' reality series and then released an acoustic EP titled 'Unplugged In Nashville.' In 2006 she appeared as Penny Pingleton in 'Hairspray' on Broadway. Then, in 2010 she landed a spot in 'Hair' on Broadway, before starring in the countrified role of Doralee Rhodes in the national tour of Dolly Parton’s '9 to 5' musical.
The father of actor John Ritter, Tex Ritter was best known for the hits ‘You Two Timed Me One Time Too Often’ and ‘I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven.’ Prior to his hit songs in country music, he had a successful radio, television and film career that started with roles in stage plays, including 1928’s 'The New Moon,' 1930’s 'Green Grow the Lilacs,' and 1932’s 'The Round Up.' Ritter was also one of the founding members of the Country Music Association and led the effort to build the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
The former Duke Boy made an easy transition to country music, placing seven modest hits on the Top 40 Billboard country music charts. In 1996, he became the host of the Nashville Network’s 'Prime Time Country' nightly television show. In 1999, he headed back to Broadway and scored a Tony nomination for his performance as Frank Butler, opposite Bernadette Peters, in 'Annie Get Your Gun.' In addition to roles in 'Chicago' and '42nd Street,' he had a part in the 2005 Broadway play 'Glengarry Glen Ross' and 2007’s 'Catch Me If You Can.'
K.T. Oslin landed roles in the touring productions of 'West Side Story,' 'Promises, Promises' and 'Hello Dolly.' The latter role brought her to Manhattan for a spot in the chorus of the Broadway version. While in New York, she recorded several commercial jingles, wrote songs and sang on demos, all while dreaming of making it in Nashville. After writing a few songs for other country music singers, at age 44 -- an age when most artists are peaking or done with their careers -- she broke through with the Grammy-winning hits ‘80's Ladies,’ ‘Do Ya' and ‘Hold Me.’
Laura Bell Bundy has several starring roles on her resume, including Amber Von Tussle in 'Hairspray,' Galinda in 'Wicked' and the original Elle Woods in the 2007 musical 'Legally Blonde.' Portraying Woods led to her first Tony nomination for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. In 2010, she released a Top 40 country hit and line dance favorite, ‘Giddy On Up,’ from her album 'Achin' and Shakin.'' In addition to several television shows and movies, she appeared alongside Kellie Pickler and Lady A's Hillary Scott in Miranda Lambert’s ‘Only Prettier' video.
Few people are aware that this Grammy-winning country music legend actually wrote and performed in his own theatrical production! 'The Toy Shoppe,' co-written by Kenny Rogers and Kelly Junkerman, first opened off-Broadway at the Beacon Theater in 1998, with Rogers in the role of toy store owner Hank Longley. After a six-week run in New York City, Rogers took the Christmas musical on the road as part of his holiday concert tour. Acting came easily to the man who popularized the character Brady Hawks in the longest running mini-series in television history, 'The Gambler.'
Gary Morris placed 16 songs on the Top 10 Billboard country music charts, including the original version of ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ in 1983. At the height of his Nashville recording career, he bravely played opposite Linda Ronstadt in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Puccini's opera 'La Boheme.' Then, he accepted the heroic lead role of Jean Valjean in 'Les Miserables' on Broadway. The platinum-selling, Grammy-winning cast album actually features Morris singing ‘Bring Him Home.’ Proud of his New York accomplishments, Morris became the first person in history to sing an opera song on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
Dolly Parton took on the challenging task of writing all the songs for the national-touring Broadway version of '9 to 5,' which was based on the 1980 movie and hit song. Opening on Broadway in April of 2009, the show received four Tony nominations, including Parton’s nod for Best Original Score. Impressively, the show also received 15 Drama Desk nominations, but only saw one win for Allison Janney for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. In 1982, Parton also enjoyed success as the star of the movie version of the musical 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,’ where she was nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical.
In 2001, Reba McEntire made the move to Broadway to play Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s musical 'Annie Get Your Gun.' As a replacement, she was ineligible for a Tony Award, but Reba received outstanding praise and reviews from New York theatre critics and won just about every other major theatre award. The New York Times states, "Without qualification, the best performance by an actress in a musical comedy this season. Ms. McEntire doesn’t need a gun to bring Manhattan to its knees!” In 2005, Reba returned to Broadway for a concert format production of 'South Pacific.'
Thanks to his hit ‘King Of the Road,’ Roger Miller made history by winning six Grammys in one night in 1965. Then, 20 years later, he surprised the country music industry by cashing in on an impressive seven Tony Awards for his Broadway musical 'Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' Miller wrote the music for the Mark Twain-inspired production that ran for over 1,000 performances at the Eugene O’Neill Theater from 1985-1987. Miller even got the chance to appear in the production when he replaced John Goodman in the role of Huck's father, Pap. The show also earned three Tony nominations for its revival in 2003, 11 years after Roger’s untimely death.