British pop stars that have sung in and written West End musicals
As well as West End stars appearing in shows throughout London, pop stars being involved in musicals have always piqued audience interest. Whether it’s a world-class singer making their stage debut in the newest musical or a famous songwriter being involved in a show’s creation, it’s likely to be a sell-out hit. In fact, pop stars can embark on a new path thanks to the theatre, transforming their entire career.
Here’s some of our favourite British and Irish pop stars that have been involved in West End productions over the year, listed in alphabetical order.
From “Hallelujah” days winning The X Factor in 2008, Alexandra Burke has become a West End leading lady of our times. Her theatre debut came in 2014, playing Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard, quickly going on tour as Deloris van Cartier in Sister Act soon after. Burke fans were delighted in 2018, as she appeared in two West End revivals: Chess at the London Coliseum and Chicago at the Phoenix Theatre. Listen to Burke singing alongside the Olivier Award-winning actress Cassidy Janson above. Next up, she'll star in the musical adaptation of the '90s romantic comedy My Best Friend's Wedding.
Cardle’s career skyrocketed when he won The X Factor in 2010. But, he jumped from straight singing to becoming a triple threat actor in 2015, cast as Huey in Memphis at the Shaftesbury Theatre. In recent years, Cardle’s played Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar and Wally Strand in Strictly Ballroom.
Spice Girls fans were elated when Sporty Spice, otherwise known as Melanie C dived into the world of musicals. The queen of girl power definitely impressed, receiving an Olivier Award nomination for her debut West End role as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers in 2009. Three years later, she judged Superstar, a reality television competition that searched for a leading man to play Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar. Chisholm then joined that cast, playing Mary Magadelene. Although Chisholm hasn’t been in a West End show since, we’d love to see her in another production.
Arguably one of the greatest pop stars of all time, Elton John has written music for three musicals. He’s the creator behind “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” and “Circle of Life” as heard in The Lion King, as well as “Electricity” in Billy Elliot. John has also produced operatic music in Aida, however this Tony Award-nominated musical is yet to receive a London premiere.
Reaching the final of The X Factor in 2009, Jones’s West End career took off just months later. Her West End debut came in 2010, playing Cosette in Les Miserables to high praise. Jones’s musical theatre career has seen her on numerous UK tours, including The Wedding Singer and We Will Rock You, but she’s also appeared in brand new musicals such as American Psycho at the Almeida Theatre. In 2019, Jones took over the role of Jenna in Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre from Katharine McPhee. Since Waitress closed, she appeared in A Christmas Carol at the Dominion Theatre, but she’s often appearing in streamed productions.
Irish superstar Ronan Keating channelled his Gaelic roots for his West End debut, playing ‘Guy’ in Once at the Phoenix Theatre from November 2014. In a review for LondonTheatre.co.uk, “(Keating) has a stand-out voice, he... blends in effortlessly… he can sings so soulfully, but he also brings a spellbinding theatrical intensity.” Best known as one-fifth of Boyzone, we wonder if there’ll ever be a jukebox musical dedicated to the Irish band one day.
Hailed the queen of British soul, Beverley Knight has been releasing gospel, rhythm and blues tracks for over 25 years. After a successful career, Knight was then cast as Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard at the Adelphi Theatre, a role made famous by Whitney Houston. Immediately, Knight became a theatre starlet, going on to deliver an Olivier Award-nominated performance as Felicia in Memphis and Grizabella in Cats. In 2021, Knight will return to the theatre once more, this time in The Drifters Girl at the Garrick Theatre. She will play Faye Treadwell, manager of doo-wop quartet The Drifters. Above, you can watch Knight in a Memphis performance.
The Wanted star and Strictly Come Dancing winner Jay McGuiness made his West End debut in 2018, dancing at the London Palladium with fellow Strictly competitors. He'd also starred in a national tour of Big, reprising his performance at the Dominion Theatre in 2019. Recently, he was cast in Sleepless: A Musical Romance at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre.
From Wet Wet Wet to West West West (End), Marti Pellow began his musical theatre career in 2011, cast in a national tour of Jekyll and Hyde. His biggest theatre role to date has been in Evita, playing Che Guevara in a limited engagement at the Dominion Theatre.
Prior to Girls Aloud’s 2013 disbanding, Kimberley Walsh branched out with a West End career. The pop star began to forge a solo path, and has since appeared in four West End musicals. They’re all based on beloved films, but Walsh has definitely made her mark on every character she’s played. So far, Walsh has played Princess Fiona in Shrek, Jovie in Elf, Susan in Big and Annie in Sleepless; A Musical Romance.
Photo credit: Matt Cardle and Beverley Knight in Memphis (Photo by David Jensen)