It’s not unusual to see favorite songs from Broadway productions on the pop charts. Beloved compositions have made the transition from the stage to mainstream culture’s consciousness since The Great White Way’s ‘40s and ‘50s heyday.
Those looking for distinctive or quirky reinterpretations of musical-theater classics sometimes have to look a little deeper, though — or at least be internet-savvy enough to know which keywords will coax something a little different out of the digital ether. We did a little online legwork ourselves just recently in search of some takes Broadway fans (or adventurous listeners in general) might not have heard yet, so let’s raise the curtain on these 10 great, interesting and just plain weird covers.
“My Shot — Rise Up Remix,” The Roots Feat. Busta Rhymes, Joell Ortiz and Nate Ruess
Released at the end of 2016, The Hamilton Mixtape is 23 tracks’ worth of covers and reinterpretations of not only the tunes featured in the Broadway smash, but also a few that didn’t make the cut. There’s plenty to like here (check out Kelly Clarkson’s reverent yet more electro version of “It’s Quiet Uptown”), but this update to one of the production’s most famous songs, grittier and lyrically reworked into a modern-day paean to street life, is a standout.
“Damned for All Time,” Scratch Acid
It’s a short and revved-up yet surprisingly reverent cover (minus the original’s lengthy, flute-laden intro and segue into “Blood Money”) from Jesus Christ Superstar by the provocative ‘80s Austin noise-punk outfit that, while sounding similar, still manages to aesthetically thumb its nose at the very concept of the rock opera. For those not up on their indie history, Scratch Acid singer David Yow went on to become underground royalty fronting the spectacular, bombastic and incredibly influential act The Jesus Lizard, which itself gained a greater following after being covered by a little unit called Nirvana.
“I Dreamed a Dream,” Aretha Franklin
On her 1991 album What You See is What You Sweat, the Queen of Soul reminded fans why she deserves such, ahem, respect by turning a somewhat intimate (for Broadway) song from Les Miserables about yearning into a powerful and emotional ballad that retains the hopeful, inspiring vibe of the original.
“Cabaret,” Dee Snider
Every fan of ‘80s pop-metal icons Twisted Sister knows that frontman Dee Snider is a showman of the first order, but how many know about his 2012 solo album, Dee Does Broadway? On it, the curly-haired, makeup-bespackled singer who once faced down Congress on the subject of censorship turns in takes on 12 classics, often featuring guests as diverse as Clay Aiken and Cyndi Lauper. His hard-rocking version of “Cabaret” opens things up with a guitar riff that would sound more at home in a Bond theme, then goes on to show off both Snider’s pipes and his willingness to commit to the role. It’s jarring and/or amusing, sure, but there’s no questioning the man’s talent and ambition.
“Hello, Dolly!,” Louis Armstrong
This popular reworking of the titular track (it was an instant radio hit in ‘64, and won multiple Grammys) captures the swagger of the original but trades the orchestral grandeur for a more stripped-down, rollicking banjo-backed version that sounds like it would be perfectly at home in the sweaty nightclubs where the entertainer originally began to make his mark.
“So Long, Farewell,” The Vandals
Fans of The Sound of Music’s original may not make it all the way through this one. It starts off on a playful acoustic note — a bit unlike the seminal Southern California punk legends — before turning into a fun little high-volume ripper. Distorted guitars provide the famous melodic turnaround flourishes between the verses and a quick, slam-danceable breakdown before the band turns down the volume once again before a briefly cacophonic finish. Hopefully punk fans will have as much fun with this as the band sounds like they did recording it.
“Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem),” Jay-Z
Yes, yes, we know — nearly everybody has heard this one a lot since it came out. And Hova’s ‘98 Grammy-nominated smash single isn’t really a “cover version” of the Annie classic for which it was named. But those signature samples are indelible and this creative revisitation carries within it the same hope-for-the-underdog themes that resonated with so many around the world. It’s also a lot easier to dance to without looking like a total dork.
“Tear Me Down,” Spoon
Like The Hamilton Mixtape, 2003’s Wig In A Box: Songs from & Inspired by Hedwig and the Angry Inch finds the tunes from a contemporary Broadway favorite interpreted by a whole lot of very cool people. (And this one raised money for NYC’s LGBTQ+ community-supporting Heltrick-Martin Institute.) With its aggressive acoustic guitars, hip-shaking attitude and snappy backbeat, iconic indie outfit Spoon’s Stones-y take on Hedwig’s anthem “Tear Me Down” is a clever and deceptively laid-back standout — but, also like The Hamilton Mixtape, there’s a bunch of other worthwhile stuff filling out the record, as well.
“Skid Row,” Panic! At The Disco
Granted, Little Shop of Horrors was an off-Broadway sensation. So does that mean this big, flamboyant cover by emo’s biggest, most flamboyant ongoing concern (basically in the form of frontman/Broadway fanatic Brendon Urie these last few outings) from 2010 shouldn’t make the list? It’s a great listen, with its slick, contemporary production and then-Panic! bassist Dallon Weekes singing the Seymour parts, and a perfect selection for a band that had pretty much already conquered the place on the Venn diagram where pop-punk kids and high-school and college theater nerds overlap.
“Let it Go,” Fallen Superhero
And finally, since the smash Disney movie Frozen became a smash Disney Broadway attraction, you didn’t really think we were gonna get through this without a unique take on “Let it Go,” did you? Bedroom EDM remixer Fallen Superhero lends the song parents love to hate a vibe that vacillates between moody and celebratory. Does it include those big techno synth flourishes that have characterized excitable dancefloor music for decades? It does, but it also veers off in a wholly unexpected direction in its final minute, peeling the layers away to a fake crescendo build and final downbeat.