It’s true that musical theatre has never been afraid of trying new things, and this seems to be especially true today. Whether it’s the diverse hip-hop influences in Hamilton, or the electro-pop opera that was Great Comet, or the musical melting pot of Hadestown, new musical landscapes are constantly being explored. That said, there remains one genre largely untouched by Broadway: heavy metal.
Numerous shows have drawn from the world and history of rock, often through the catalogues of famous bands, such as Green Day (American Idiot), The Who (The Who’s Tommy) or the entire 1980’s glam rock scene (Rock of Ages). Many of these shows embrace the wild side of the genre, and often to acclaim and commercial success, but none of them cross into heavy metal, and I’m honestly surprised.
Though admittedly an acquired taste, heavy metal definitely shares many characteristics with musical theatre.
Larger-than-life characters and personas? Check! Many metal performers are well-known for their showmanship and theatricality (such as Ozzy Osbourne’s infamous incident with a live bat). Also, many acts make use of elaborate costumes (such as Slipknot or GWAR) and sets (Iron Maiden is well-known for the enormous statues of their mascot).
A rich tapestry of styles, subgenres, and degrees of complexity? Check! Metal is a remarkably diverse genre, and over the years has been blended with practically every other genre, from jazz to classical to rap, to one degree or another.
A diverse and devoted worldwide fanbase? Oh, that’s a big check. Metal has a strong following around the world, and many of the more famous bands can effortlessly sell out stadiums.
Talented performers exploring new possibilities of musicianship? Definitely. Some of the most accomplished instrumentalists in modern music have been metal musicians, and many vocalists can do frankly amazing things with the human voice (such as Ronnie James Dio or Rob Halford).
So why hasn’t the world of musical theatre tapped this particular well? Perhaps it is the admittedly shocking/controversial material than many bands of the genre explore, or the intimidating quality the music usually has. Perhaps it has to do with the public’s preconceived notions of each world, viewing the two as mutually exclusive. This last point is interesting, because a surprising number of metal acts have covered well-known Broadway classics. Dee Snider (lead vocalist of Twisted Sister) even released a full album of Broadway covers called Dee Does Broadway, including a duet with Patti LuPone (yes, really).
So, is Broadway ready for heavy metal? I think that if it was given an honest chance, absolutely.