70 years ago, at the onset of the “Golden Age of Broadway,” songs from the theatre dominated the radio and pop charts – My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, South Pacific, The King and I, The Pajama Game , Guys and Dolls, and West Side Story, and in the 60’s and 70’s Hair, Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, Man of La Mancha, Camelot, Fiddler On The Roof, Sound of Music and The Rocky Horror Show, continued the tradition, while a rash of biblically-inspired spectaculars such as Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell and Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat sent more show tunes into the pop charts.
But as the age of the singer/songwriter/producer dawned and the concept of jukebox musicals evolved, songs that had already been hits for their creators were simply re-packaged and recycled, the heavyweight musicals of this kind have included – Elvis, Buddy Holly, Saturday Night Fever (Bee Gees), Mamma Mia (ABBA), Shout (Johnny O’Keefe), We Will Rock You (Queen), The Boy From Oz (Peter Allen), Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), Xanadu (ONJ and ELO), Beautiful (Carole King), Bat Out Of Hell (Jim Steinman), All Out of Love (Air Supply), Ain’t Too Proud (The Temptations) and Tina (Tina Turner).
More traditional musicals like Cats, Phantom of the Opera , Evita, Miss Saigon, Les Miserables, and Grease continued to produce original hit songs, but increasingly they were being elbowed off the stage and the charts by the ubiquitous jukebox musicals with their librettos of instantly recognizable and relatable chart-tested hit songs.
Local artists have artfully mined the cache of showtunes at their disposal to create hit records over time, in the 1960’s Frank Ifield took two recycled show tunes to #1 in the UK – I Remember You (The Fleet’s In 1942) and Lovesick Blues (O-oo Ernest 1949), as well as another top ten hit with Don’t Blame Me (Clowns in Clover 1932), Normie Rowe’s first chart success was the Porgy and Bess show tune It Ain’t Necessarily So, Doug Parkinson scored with his version of the title song from Hair, and the two local cast versions of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972 and 1992 produced best-selling albums and several hit singles.
4TR this week revisits the Australian Cast Versions of Jesus Christ Superstar, with the all-star lineup in 1972 that included Trevor White, Marcia Hines, Jon English, John Paul Young and Stevie Wright, and again in 1992 when John Farnham, Kate Ceberano, Jon Stevens, Russell Morris and John Waters took the cast album back into the top 10, twenty years after the original.
Folkie Gary Shearston blindsided everyone when he re-invented the famous Cole Porter showtune I Get a Kick Out of You in 1974, with his quirky take on this song from 1934 becoming his biggest international hit.
The Brisbane trio New World would become one of the early success stories for the Chinn/Chapman RAK label in the UK in the early 70’s but before they made the move there, New World took their gentle acoustic pop version of Try To Remember, a song from the off-Broadway show The Fantasticks, into the local charts.
Colleen Hewitt has long been one of the foremost female singers in this country and in 1971 she brought her amazing vocal power and vibrancy to the definitive version of the song Day By Day from the musical Godspell, while Jason Donovan had his biggest UK hit in 1992 when a member of the cast of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and took Any Dream Will Do to a UK #1 in June of that year.