10 Country Stars Who Ruled Broadway

These 10 stars helped countrify Broadway.

If you find yourself sitting in a bar in New York City surrounded by people looking New-York pretty, you’ll likely encounter at least one person who is talking about the new cast member of the Broadway classic Chicago, namely Jennifer Nettles of the band Sugarland.

The blonde siren landed the gig at the Ambassador Theatre in 2014 and debuted her role as Roxie Hart earlier this month. This isn’t the first time Nashville has encroached on NYC though, in fact, it’s becoming clear that Music City is taking the Big Apple by storm.

In 2013, NASH FM began broadcasting at 94.7 in New York, and according to Rolling Stone, it’s the first country station to broadcast in the area since 1996. In September of this year, two days after playing Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, Luke Bryan is scheduled to play a gig at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn – the first ever country concert at the venue.

This isn’t a new trend though, if you look closely enough at history, you’ll see country musicians have been singing on the Great White Way for a very long time now.

10. 2015 – Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, Moonshine – That Hee Haw Musical

Flickr/Disney ABC Television Group

Joining Jennifer Nettles on Broadway this year are Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally for an original musical based (loosely) on the hit television comedy-variety show Hee Haw. Clark and McAnally penned 19 songs that will be featured in the musical, which will open in Dallas this spring before heading to Broadway in October. The duo have collaborated before, most notably on Miranda Lambert‘s “Mama’s Broken Heart” and Kacey Musgraves‘ “Follow Your Arrow”, the latter of which won Song of the Year at the 2014 CMA Awards.

9. 2013 – Carrie Underwood, The Sound of Music


The first live television broadcast of a Broadway musical was in 1953 when Julie Andrews played the title role in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. That tradition continued in 2013 when NBC broadcast a live television performance of The Sound of Music that featured country darling Carrie Underwood in the lead. Live TV broadcasts, like live theatre, carry a multitude of variables that can result in disaster, but the 2013 performance went off without a hitch, despite the mixed reviews from critics.

8. 2012 – Billy Ray Cyrus, Chicago

Billy Ray Cyrus in Chicago
Broadway.com/The Road to Chicago, Episode 2 (screenshot)

Before Jennifer Nettles tackled the classic Fosse musical, Billy Ray Cyrus tried on the role of Billy Flynn for an eight week run. The “Achy Breaky Heart” singer sported a nod to his trademark mullet in the role as the lawyer who can’t lose, and brought in less than rave reviews for the part.

7. 2009 – Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 the Musical

Wikipedia/”9 to 5 (musical)” by Source (WP:NFCC#4)

Though she didn’t reprise her role as Doralee Rhodes, Dolly Parton nonetheless was nominated for a Tony award for her work on the stage adaptation of the 1980 hit movie 9 to 5. The show ran on Broadway at the Marquis theatre from April to September of 2009 and continued a nationwide tour until its close in 2011. Dolly Parton was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award for Best Original Score for her work writing the music for the show.

6. 2001 – Reba McEntire, Annie Get Your Gun

Marquis Theatre/Annie Get Your Gun Promotional Poster

Not all country stars impressed theatre critics on the Great White Way, but the same cannot be said of Reba McEntire. The country icon played the part of wild west sharpshooter Annie Oakley in the musical Annie Get Your Gun from January to June of 2001 to rave reviews. Playbill called her “A new force of nature” and said her performance “rocketed her into the pantheon of great ladies of the American musical theatre.”

5. 1998 – Kenny Rogers, The Toy Shoppe

Kenny Rogers in The Toy Shoppe
Youtube/ReserveDirectTravel (Screenshot)

This heartwarming story of a struggling toy shop and its owner was written by country star Kenny Rogers, and he debuted in the role of the shop owner at the Beacon Theatre on Broadway. You may have seen the play more recently in Branson, Missouri, where it was revived (and ran through 2013) with country singer Billy Dean in the lead.

4. 1987 – Gary Morris, Les Misérables

Gary Morris in Les Miserables
Photobucket/Quiquo’s Bucket

At the height of his career as a chart-topping country star, Gary Morris was cast in the role of Jean Valjean in the original Broadway run of the show. Morris took over the role from Colm Wilkenson, the acclaimed Irish tenor,  and was the first American to play the role on Broadway. He played the role from November of 1987 until May of 1988.

3. 1985 – Roger Miller, Big River

Roger Miller as Pap in Big River at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in 1985
Roger Miller (L) as “Pap” – Eugene O’Neil Theatre NYC 1985

In 1985, the 11-time Grammy winner Roger Miller took on the task of writing the score for a Broadway musical called Big River, based on the Mark Twain novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Miller even performed the part of Huck’s father, Pap, for three months after actor John Goodman left the role. The show won the “King of the Road” singer a Tony award for Best Score, and a Drama Desk award for Outstanding Lyrics. The show itself pulled in seven Tony awards total before the end of its two-year run at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

2. 1981 – Linda Ronstadt, The Pirates of Penzance

Linda Ronstadt in The Pirates of Penzance
Youtube/Universal Pictures (Screenshot)

Though she may be most well known as the First Lady of Rock, Linda Ronstadt is far from being a one-trick Stone Pony. In fact, she won an Academy of Country Music award for her collaboration with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, as well as conquering several roles on Broadway. Her first part was as the lead in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Pirates of Penzance, and she rocked the Penzance off her portrayal of Maybel. The show started off in 1980 playing in Central Park as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival, but moved to Broadway the following year where it ran for 22 months, earning Ronstadt a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical.

1. 1931 – Tex Ritter, Green Grow the Lilacs

Green Grow the Lilacs Poster WPA1937

The patriarch of the Ritter family and famed country singer Tex Ritter graced the Great White Way as Cord Elam in the production of Green Grow the Lilacs. The show ran for only three months – January to March – and mostly lives on today as the plot basis for the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!.

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10 Country Stars Who Ruled Broadway