Since 1970, Broadway music has had its ups and downs. No cast albums cracked the top 30 in the '70s, but, more recently, Dreamgirls and Rent muscled into the top 20. Both of those musicals were turned into movies, as were such other stage musicals as Chicago, Hairspray and Mamma Mia!
What's the most successful cast album of all time? There are three possible answers to that question. The cast album with the longest run at #1 is South Pacific, which had 69 weeks on top, starting in 1949. The cast album with the most weeks on the chart is My Fair Lady, which amassed 480 weeks on the chart, starting in 1959. The best-selling cast album of the Nielsen/SoundScan era is 1987's The Phantom Of The Opera. The two-CD set and a single-disk album of highlights have sold a combined 7,448,000 copies since 1991.Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein wrote four of the 13 musicals that spawned #1 cast albums-Carousel, South Pacific, Flower Drum Song and The Sound Of Music. Andrew Lloyd Webber is the theater composer whose shows have grossed the most. The Englishman's many blockbusters include Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats and The Phantom Of The Opera.
Here's a decade-by-decade recap of cast album lore, working backwards.
The 2000sABBA and the 4 Seasons are runners-up. Mamma Mia! has sold 1,575,000 copies since its release in 2001. Jersey Boys has sold 895,000 copies since its release in 2006.
The highest-charting cast album of the 2000s is Disney's The Little Mermaid, which debuted (and peaked) at #26 in March 2008. The show was based on the 1989 animated movie. But the achievement needs to carry an asterisk: The CD was bundled with tickets to the show, and pre-orders counted.
Jonathan Larson, died of an aortic aneurysm at age 35.Elton John, who co-wrote the show with Tim Rice, has gone on to compose two other shows, Aida and this year's Billy Elliot-The Musical.
The 1980sMichael Crawford and Sarah Brightman.
Phantom wasn't the only 1987 cast album to sell in the millions. Les Miserables, released that same year, was also a giant hit. Dreamgirls was the highest-charting cast album from the '80s. It hit #11 in 1982, becoming the highest-charting cast album since Hair hit #1 in 1969.
The 1970sBen Vereen and Yvonne Elliman, reached #31 in 1972. Godspell reached #34 in 1972. The Wiz, which introduced Stephanie Mills, hit #43 in 1975. Jesus Christ Superstar spawned a pair of top 15 hits: Murray Head's "Superstar" and Yvonne Elliman's "I Don't Know How To Love Him."
The cast albums to two of the decade's biggest Broadway hits, A Chorus Line and Annie, didn't reach the top 50. Cast albums from such blockbuster shows would have made the top 10 with ease 10 or 15 years earlier, but times had changed.Stephen Sondheim's "Send In The Clowns" from A Little Night Music won the Grammy for Song of the Year. It was the first theater song to take that award since Jerry Herman's "Hello, Dolly!" in 1964.
Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and Robert Goulet, had six weeks on top in 1961. Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe wrote the show. This was the second time in five years that they teamed with Andrews for a chart-topping cast album. She also starred in their 1956 classic My Fair Lady.
Two other cast albums hit #1 in the '60s. Carnival, with Anna Maria Alberghetti, was #1 for one week in 1961. Hello, Dolly!, with Carol Channing, was #1 for one week in 1964. Two other cast albums from that decade deserve mention, even though they didn't make #1. 1964's Fiddler On The Roof and 1966's Man Of La Mancha each remained on the chart for more than three years.
Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews, was #1 for 15 weeks. It remained on the chart for 480 weeks, a total topped by only two albums in history. Two songs from the show reached the top 20: "On The Street Where You Live" (for both Vic Damone and Eddie Fisher) and "I Could Have Danced All Night" (for Sylvia Sims).Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, was #1 for 12 weeks in 1958. Flower Drum Song, with Miyoshi Umeki, was #1 for three weeks in 1959. Guys And Dolls, with Robert Alda (Alan Alda's father), was #1 for one week in 1951.
Two other cast albums from the 1950s deserve mention. 1951's The King And I (from yet another Rodgers & Hammerstein smash) peaked at #2. 1958's West Side Story peaked at #5. West Side Story, a collaboration between Leonard Bernstein and future Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, remained on the chart for 191 weeks.
Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, logged a total of 69 weeks on top, more than any other album in history (cast album or otherwise). This was the second time that Rodgers & Hammerstein had the longest-running #1 cast album of the decade. They also scored with The Sound Of Music in the '60s. Martin starred in both shows. "Some Enchanted Evening," the most famous song from South Pacific, became a #1 hit for Perry Como.Alfred Drake, was #1 for 10 weeks in 1949. Carousel, with John Raitt (Bonnie Raitt's father), was #1 for six weeks in 1945. Song Of Norway, with Lawrence Brooks and Kitty Carlisle, was #1 for two weeks in 1945. Cole Porter wrote Kiss Me, Kate. Song Of Norway was an operetta based on the life and music of Norwegian classical composer Edvard Grieg.
Paul Grein writes the Chart Watch blog which appears on the site each Wednesday. His favorite Broadway show is A Chorus Line, though he wishes he'd seen Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady.