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7 of the Best Biopic Shows to Ever Hit Broadway

11.01.18

BY: SHERRY AMATENSTEIN

Lately I’ve been startling people on the subway as I irrepressibly hum “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and “I Got You Babe.” The reason for the off-key warbling is the imminent opening of The Cher Show, which begins previews tonight, November 1st. In similar format to Summer: The Donna Summer Show, three singer/actresses – Teal Wicks, Micaela Diamond, and Tony-winner Stephanie J. Block – play the Goddess of Pop at various stages of her life.

Signs are up at The Cher Show! Photo: Instagram, @thechershow.

Signs are up at The Cher Show! Photo: Instagram, @thechershow.

In addition to Donna and Cher, a slate of other icons will soon be getting their stories told on the Great White Way, including The Temptations, Tina Turner, and Michael Jackson. This tendency toward real-life stories is hardly new; however. There’s something about a ripped-from-history’s-pages tale that sets the stage for the kind of night out that will have you singing on the subway the next morning. Here’s a look back at seven of Broadway Spin’s favorite biopics to ever hit Broadway.

Ethel Merman in Gypsy.

1. 1959 – GYPSY

To date there’ve been five Broadway productions of the ageless musical loosely based on celebrity stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, her sister June, and their stage mother from hell, Rose. The latter was initially portrayed in 1959 by Ethel Merman, followed by Angela Lansbury, Tyne Daly, Bernadette Peters, and in 2008, Patti Lupone. The original production was nominated for a whopping eight Tony Awards, but won exactly… zero – though Merman did take home a Grammy that year for Best Musical Theatre album. PS: There’s an awesome off-Broadway musical called The Book of Merman happening now that we highly recommend! (Plot: Two Mormon missionaries ring Ethel Merman’s doorbell.)

Patti = Queen.

2. 1979 – EVITA

Patti Lupone’s performance at the June 2018 Grammys of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” proved that the Tony-winner is as mesmerizing as when she first electrified Broadway in 1979 as Eva Peron in this epic musical – not that anyone was really doubting. Evita – which marked the final major collaboration of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice – ran for a whopping 1,568 performances on the Great White Way (despite lackluster reviews from critics). It was revived in 2012 (sans-Lupone) for just under a year and Madonna played the title role in the 1996 movie version… but we have mixed feelings on that.

The Four Seasons in all their glory. Photo: Instagram, @jerseyboysbway.

3. 2005 – JERSEY BOYS

Based on the life stories of the members of The Four Seasons, Jersey Boys opened on Broadway in 2005, won four Tony Awards and ran for an impressive 12 years. From “Sherry” to “Big Girls Don’t Cry” to “Rag Doll,” The Four Seasons defined ‘60s sound, but in many ways they struggled with their own success. In 2017, the show reopened in a more intimate setting at New York’s New World Stages, where it remains today.

Photo: Instagram, @beautifulonbway.

4. 2014 – BEAUTIFUL: THE CAROLE KING MUSIC

Yes, #thefutureisfemale… but so was the past. Beautiful: The Carole King Musical tells the story of the singer/songwriter’s early life and work – concluding as her marriage to Gerry Goffin crumbles and her solo career begins to soar. It’s a notable example of a strong female lead discovering her own strength, a theme that’s just as relatable today.

The Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City.

5. 2015 – HAMILTON

OK – Duh. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rap musical racked up 11 Tonys, including Best Musical, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and earned its investors nearly unprecedented returns… not bad for a bio of America’s first Treasury Secretary, who was also the subject of the country’s first political sex scandal. Last week, Hamilton‘s gross sales number dropped over $300,000 from the week before — but it still brought in $2.945 MILLION DOLLARS, so it’s not all bad news.

Photo: Instagram, @wecomefromaway.

6. 2017 – COME FROM AWAY

Producers of Come From Away feared that it would be labeled as “the 9/11 musical.” Because they pulled off such a feel-good production, however, the show escaped that fate. Instead, it’s affectionately talked about in terms of the story it really tells – which isn’t about terrorist attacks, but about true human compassion. Come From Away details the open-hearted hospitality the residents of Gander showed to nearly 7,000 travelers (and their pets!) whose planes were diverted to this tiny Canadian town for 5 days after the attacks. It was nominated for seven Tony Awards, but lost most to rival Dear Evan Hansen. Still, its breakout star Jenn Colella snapped up the Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.

Photo: Instagram, @donnasummerbway.

7. 2018 – SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical features 23 of the late disco diva’s hits including “Hot Stuff” and “MacArthur Park.” Strong performances by Storm Lever as “Duckling Donna,” Ariana Debose as “Disco Donna,” and La Chance as “Diva Donna” (who earned a Tony nod for this role), inject this girl-power production with the sparkle it truly deserves. We love this one because it’s just so much fun. As a bonus, Bond 45 next door often offers a semi-official disco-themed “afterparty.”

The Cher Show is playing at the Neil Simon Theatre and tickets are in play through Broadway Roulette.