A History of Celebrities Singing Musical Theater at the Hollywood Bowl

Yesterday, director Adam Shankman announced—via Instagram—the celebrity-filled cast for his production of Hair at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. It won't be the first time celebrities of, let's say variable ability, have staged Broadway concerts there.

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Yesterday, director Adam Shankman announced—via Instagram—the celebrity-filled cast for his production of Hair at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. Thus the likes of Kristen Bell, Hunter Parrish, and a bunch of Glee cast members will join a tradition of famous people belting out musical theater hits at one of Los Angeles' legendary concert venues. We know Bell, who is playing Sheila, can hit a note thanks to her performance in Frozen, and Parrish is a Broadway vet, but other celebrities have not fared as well on the Bowl's vast stage.

Though the Bowl started putting on basically fully staged shows in 2000, the venue started doing three performances a year starting in 2006, with a production of The Sound of Music, Karen Wada reported in the Los Angeles Times. That show cast Marni Nixon, so often only heard in feature films, as the Mother Abbess. But things have gone downhill since then, as the Bowl has favored titles with more star power than actual talent. On top of that, the Bowl—which seats over 17,000 people—is an awkward place to stage musicals.

Jumping down the YouTube rabbit hole of these performances is sort of a mixed bag—even the footage itself can be rough, considering the venue's enormity—but here are some of the good, bad, and the ugly. (Hi, Vanessa Hudgens!)

Reba McEntire in South Pacific (2007)

Reba McEntire and Brian Stokes Mitchell had already done a concert performance of South Pacific at Carnegie Hall by the time they got to the Hollywood Bowl. Despite her country music and sitcom celebrity, Reba isn't really a bad choice for Nellie Forbush, a character who calls herself a "little hick," though McEntire's broad belt can feel exhausting when compared to someone like Mary Martin's sweet soprano.

Lea Michele in Les Miserables (2008)

Okay, so no matter what you want to say about Lea Michele, she can belt out "On My Own" with the best of them. A pre-Glee Michele played Eponine in this Bowl production.

Jessica Biel in Guys and Dolls (2009)

This is where things get dicey. Though the cast of the 2009 production of Guys and Dolls was filled with musical theater vets like Brian Stokes Mitchell and Ellen Greene, the role of Sarah Brown went to Jessica Biel. Biel definitely has a passable voice, but she does seem to strain a little. But you know what? It's not as bad as it could have been.

Ellen Greene in Guys and Dolls (2009)

On the other hand, Greene—most famous for her portrayal of the similarly-voiced Audrey in stage and screen versions of Little Shop of Horrors—kills it as Miss Adelaide.

Vanessa Hudgens in Rent (2010)

Neil Patrick Harris directed this production of Rent, which had its bright spots. Namely Aaron Tveit as Roger. A low point? Vanessa Hudgens writhing her way through Mimi's "Out Tonight."

Nicole Scherzinger in Rent (2010)

The Pussycat Doll has nothing on Idina Menzel, but she gives an impressive performance opposite Tracie Thoms, who appeared in the role of Joanne on Broadway as a replacement and in the 2005 movie.

Stephen Moyer and Ashlee Simpson in Chicago (2013)

Look, the Brooke Shields-directed production of Chicago didn't receive bad reviews. But we'll just leave this here.

Further Rabbit Holes

Once you start down the Hollywood Bowl tunnel, we wouldn't be surprised if you were tempted to continue exploring YouTube's selections of concert productions. Where would we start next? How about Hugh Jackman and Audra McDonald doing Carousel at Carnegie Hall in 2002. It's really great.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.