Rockers Who Made or Starred In Musicals

Green Day and others try out the Great White Way

“Barely Breathing” singer Duncan Sheik released in October 2015 Legerdemain, his first collection of non-theatrical music since 2006’s White Limousine. It’s a big deal for the alluring songwriter— since he’s known these days for his Tony-winning orchestration of .

Sheik is not alone in his stage musical pursuits. The play’s been the thing for Green Day, U2 and many more rockers. Check out their most notable works in our list:

Tori Amos - "The Light Princess"

Tori Amos - The Light Princess
Jason Bell

Ethereal piano woman Tori Amos seemed a sure fit for theater. In 2013, she teamed with Samuel Adamson on this interpretation of a George MacDonald fairy tale. The protagonist, Althea, bared a strong resemblance to the chanteuse, all billowy red hair and fragile furor. Though dreamlike, “The Light Princess” was called “fussy” and “wailing” by the London Telegraph. Despite tepid reviews, the cast recording – featuring Amos on two tracks – was released in October 2015.

Green Day - "American Idiot"

Green Day - American Idiot Broadway

Considered one of the best jukebox musicals by’s Wade Bradford, American Idiot furthered ushered Green Day into new demographics. First they broke ground in the 1990s for bringing punk to the mainstream on ; then the 2004 source album for the Broadway hit elevated the trio into the upper echelon of rock worship. Thanks to its frantic pace and riotous soundtrack, the play won two Tonys and was even nominated in 2011 for best musical. On select dates, front man Billie Joe Armstrong performed the role of the devilish St. Jimmy and might appear in the in-limbo film adaptation. Meanwhile, These Paper Bullets!, a mod Shakespearean musical he and playwright Rolin James wrote, is popping up on stages across the United States.

Fat Mike - "Home Street Home"

Fat Mike - Home Street Home
Fat Wreck Chords

“The problem with most musicals is that there aren’t that many good songs,” NOFX’s Fat Mike told Noisey in 2015. So the punk jester; his porn-star fiancée, Goddess Soma; and Avenue Q’s Jeff Marx whipped up their own show. Home Street Home is American Idiot’s depraved cousin, full of underground filth and zany lyrics. It’s Troma meets Rent, with big numbers like “Fecal Alcohol Syndrome.” The Great White Way went to the gutter on this one. 

U2 - "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"

U2 - Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

People initially marveled at how doomed this production was, with cast and crew dying of strokes and suffering major injuries. The involvement of Bono and the Edge in its music became a secondary story. Now that the Broadway debacle has closed, one might be able to listen to the cast recording as an adequate lost U2 album. Songs like “Boy Falls from the Sky” would have fit in on How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb— which would have made a great sub-subtitle for Turn Off the Dark.

Courtney Love - "Kansas City Choir Boy"

Courtney Love - Kansas City Choir Boy
Cory Weaver

Alterna-rock firebrand Courtney Love has some serious acting chops, proven by her Golden Globe nomination for her role in The People vs. Larry Flynt. But as a grunge goddess, could she handle opera? Apparently so, according to this swooning Rolling Stone review of her turn in Todd Almond’s Kansas City Choir Boy. The libretto debuted at the 2015 Prototype festival in New York City, celebrating an independent spirit and the spontaneity of rock ‘n’ roll.

Damon Albarn - "Monkey: Journey to the West"

Damon Albarn - Monkey: Journey to the West
Jamie Hewlett

Blur’s primary songwriter has primates on the brain. His successful side project Gorillaz became one of the most heralded “fake” bands on the planet in the aughts. He took his obsession one step further when he scored this musical adaptation of a Chinese legend in 2007. He again collaborated with Gorillaz artist Jamie Hewlett on the Chen Shi-Zheng concept, inviting audiences into an anthropomorphic opera. It was Cats with a Buddhist bent.

Trey Anastasio - "Hands on a Hardbody"

Trey Anastasio - Hands on a Hardbody
Houston Theatre

Jam-band disciplines probably consider Phish songs their gospel, so it wasn’t a stretch when Trey Anastasio lent his talents to this folksy musical. Inspired by a documentary on a Texan endurance competition over a pickup truck, Hands on a Hardbody didn’t itself endure long. Deemed too yokel-y for most theater snobs, the show went dark on Broadway after about a month in 2013— though it did earn multiple Tony nominations.

Sheryl Crow - "Diner"

Sheryl Crow - Diner
Signature Theatre

Screen-to-stage interpretations are common, but few get as many high marks as the ’50s romp, Diner. The film’s director, Barry Levinson, guided this new version and recruited the bluesy rocker Crow to handle the tunes. Variety called the “Soak Up the Sun” singer’s contributions “sparkling” and “exciting,” and the initial seven-week run at the Signature in Arlington, Va., sold out weeks before opening night.

Ben Folds - "Losing It"

Ben Folds - Losing It
Exchange NYC

The challenge: Write a 20-minute musical and stage its debut performance all within 24 hours. Ben Folds accepted, relying on his improv skills he honed in concert during his Chatroulette sessions. Enlisting his actress girlfriend, Alicia Witt; nimble instrumentalists; and an eager crew, he birthed a story about a man shaving his mustache for love. The New York Times followed the witty pianist on this adventure, noting that while some of the cast forgot their lines and choreography, Losing It roused the crowd. The event helped raise $50,000 for theater laboratory the Orchard Project.