Of Broadway’s ‘American Idol’ Grads, Fantasia Is Most Likely to Succeed

Grammy winner and reality competition vet confirmed to make Broadway return this fall

With Fantasia Barrino’s toplining stint in upcoming stage musical “After Midnight” now confirmed, producers have locked in the Broadway return of the only “American Idol” alum to drive box office to the heights that matched producers’ hopes for the former stars of the Fox reality competish.

When “Idol” first became a ratings powerhouse in 2002, Rialto denizens saw a potential golden ticket: Here was a hugely popular TV show generating new batches of high-profile singers and releasing them into the world, at which point at least some of them could likely be lured to Broadway for B.O.-goosing musical bookings.

But with the supremacy of “American Idol” having crested in the recent years, Barrino has been the standout in the long list of new Broadway thesps yielded by “Idol” over the past decade.

The roster of former “Idol” contestants to land on the Main Stem has included Clay Aiken (“Spamalot”), Constantine Maroulis (“Rock of Ages”), Justin Guarini (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”), Diana DeGarmo (“Hairspray”), Jordin Sparks (“In the Heights”), Tamyra Gray (“Rent”) and Taylor Hicks (“Grease”). Crystal Bowersox (“Always… Patsy Cline”) and Bo Bice (“Pump Boys and Dinettes”) have been announced for upcoming shows, but both of those have since been postponed.

Maroulis, who toplined the revival of “Jekyll and Hyde” on tour and on Broadway earlier this year, and Guarini, whose Rialto credits include “American Idiot” and the upcoming “Romeo and Juliet,” have both grown into regular Main Stem presences, but neither has lit any fires at the box office.

Of all of those past “Idol” entrants, the closest thing to a B.O. driver was Aiken, whose 2008 stint in “Spamalot” drove sales up the week he arrived and prompted a slump the week after he left. (His return engagement later that year yielded less notable sales jumps.)

It’s Barrino, however, who can take a lot of credit for rejuvenating a softening production. Before producers booked her to play the title role, the 2005 musical “Color Purple” had begun to show signs of aging, particularly during Broadway’s traditionally fallow winter weeks. But when Barrino joined the cast in April 2007, sales soared a whopping $365,000, or 40%, returning “Purple” to the millionaires’ club and keeping figures elevated all the way through the year-end holidays.

Whether she’ll show the same kind of box office muscle in “After Midnight” remains to be seen. But just as the diverse audience demo of tuner “Color Purple” seemed to share a generous overlap with Barrino’s own crowd of fans, “After Midnight,” a revue centering on the Duke Ellington years at Harlem’s Cotton Club, also seems a snug fit.

Barrino’s “Color Purple” gig was tubthumped by an announcement on “Idol” and a seg on “Oprah.” The performer, a 2011 Grammy winner who released her fourth studio album in April, hasn’t made any similar publicity moves for “Midnight” yet, although she did tease her upcoming Rialto gig (without naming the show) in an interview on “The Today Show.” Her stint in “After Midnight” begins with the start of previews Oct. 18 and runs through Feb. 9, when producers intend to announce another notable name to fill her shoes.

Although few “Idol” alums have driven Main Stem business at individual titles, many legiters would argue that Broadway overall has benefited from the surge of pop culture prominence for performance-oriented series such as “Idol” and, later, “Glee.” But this fall industry types will nonetheless be watching to see whether Barrino still has the “Idol”-spawned box office power she once did.

More Legit

  • Zoe Caldwell Dead

    Zoe Caldwell, Four-Time Tony Winner, Dies at 86

    Zoe Caldwell, an Australian actress with a talent for illuminating the human side of imposing icons such as Cleopatra and Maria Callas in a career that netted her four Tony Awards, died on Sunday due to complications from Parkinson’s disease, according to her son Charlie Whitehead. She was 86. Caldwell occasionally appeared in television and [...]

  • Cambodian Rock Band interview

    Listen: How 'Cambodian Rock Band' Became One of the Most Produced Plays in the U.S.

    One of the hottest trends in American theater this season is Cambodian surf rock from the 1970s — and that’s thanks to “Cambodian Rock Band.” Listen to this week’s Stagecraft podcast below: Playwright Lauren Yee’s genre-bending stage show, part family drama and part rock concert, has become one of the most-produced plays in the U.S. this season. [...]

  • Revenge Song

    Vampire Cowboys' 'Revenge Song': L.A. Theater Review

    There’s highbrow, there’s lowbrow, and then there’s however you might classify Vampire Cowboys, the anarchic New York City theater company whose diverse productions . It’s radical, “good taste”-flouting counter-programming for the vast swaths of the population left unserved by high-dollar, stiff-collar theater options. Vampire Cowboys’ raucous new show, “Revenge Song,” is unlike anything else that’s [...]

  • THE VISIT review

    'The Visit': Theater Review

    Director Jeremy Herrin’s extraordinary take on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play “The Visit” is less of a production and more of a show. A wordy one, to be sure, which is no surprise since it’s an adaptation by Tony Kushner that, including two intermissions, comes in at three-and-a-half hours. It’s never going to be described as [...]

  • Freestyle Love Supreme review

    'We Are Freestyle Love Supreme': Film Review

    For any Lin-Manuel Miranda fans whose hearts sank almost as quickly as they rose upon hearing that, yes, there’s a “Hamilton” movie, and no, it won’t be out for another 20 months, succor may be on the way in the form of a probably faster-arriving movie that features Miranda in almost as big a role, [...]

  • Unmasked review

    Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Unmasked': Theater Review

    It takes guts to admit you were wrong — especially when you have been so right, so often. Take composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose successes with  “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Sunset Boulevard,” and “School of Rock” have made him a musical-theater uber-Lord. Early on during [...]

  • Aaron Loeb

    James Ward Byrkit to Direct Aaron Loeb's Off-Broadway Adaptation 'Ideation' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Aaron Loeb’s darkly comic one-act play “Ideation” will be turned into a movie, Variety has learned. The Off-Broadway production centers on a group of corporate consultants who work together on a mysterious and ethically ambiguous project for the government. It premiered in 2016, and went on to become a New York Times Critic’s Pick during [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content