When Jennifer Hudson took the Tony Awards stage last year to perform “Neverland” from Finding Neverland, the first Broadway show under Harvey Weinstein’s Weinstein Live banner, hopes were high for the then-yet-to-open show’s Tony prospects.
But the stage-hogging move by Weinstein — featuring a singer who was not in the show’s cast — caused a backlash in the Broadway community. “The Tony committee spanked us by being unorthodox,” Weinstein says. “The Broadway community likes to do things a certain way, and I think we paid the price for it. If I had to do it all over again, maybe I wouldn’t have done it.”
Still, Neverland was invited back to the performance line-up at this year’s show, to promote the Finding Neverland concept album (June 9 via Republic Records) featuring an all-star lineup that includes Jennifer Lopez, John Legend, Christina Aguilera and Jon Bon Jovi performing songs from and written for the musical penned by co-writers Gary Barlow (Take That) and Eliot Kennedy. The show’s star, Matthew Morrison, is also featured on showcase ballad “We Own The Night.” The show’s cast, led by Morrisonand Kelsey Grammer, will be on hand to perform lead single “Stronger” on the June 7 Tonys telecast, followed by a Good Morning America performance featuring Kiesza the next day.
Though Finding Neverland is the first original Broadway musical to get the pop-star treatment in over 15 years (Elton John peaked at No. 29 on the Hot 100 in 1999 with LeAnn Rimes’ “Written In The Stars,” from John’s Tim Rice co-penned musical Aida), Weinstein hopes it’s not the last. “The only thing that semi-impresses my five kids is that I know a couple of rock stars,” says Weinstein, who personally recruited Bon Jovi, Aguilera, Legend and Rita Ora (“my wife [Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman] dressed her a few times.”) “It’s super important to build a bridge between the youth today and Broadway,” Weinstein says. “It can be done, and I think this is gonna be a unique way to do it.”
Universal, meanwhile, tapped artists like Nick Jonas, Zendaya, Pentatonix, Christina Perri and The Goo Goo Dolls with the help of UMG chairman Lucian Grainge, head of U.S. recorded music Michele Anthony and Republic’s chairman Monte Lipman and exec VP Tom Mackay, who says vocal chops were the primary consideration point for each artist. “These songs are difficult,” Mackay tells Billboard. “Anybody who knows about material performed on Broadway knows that you have to have a lot of range and a lot of talent. We would live with the songs in demo form, then sit there and say, ‘Who do we think can really nail this?’”
Adds Barlow, “Usually there’s a reason these things haven’t been done recently, but the process was surprisingly smooth. I’d love this record to bridge my pop world with the musical theater world — they should exist together.”
Though Weinstein doesn’t take this particular awards snub personally (“I’ve had enough in that area”), he does lament the fact that his bold move hurt actors Morrison, Kelsey Grammer and Laura Michelle Kelly. “Tony love is very nice for a show, especially our cast. But this has nothing to do with Matthew or Kelsey or Laura Michelle or [director] Diane [Paulus.] This was Broadway saying, ‘Hey, Hollywood boy, you and Denzel [Washington] and your buddy Jake [Gyllenhaal], this is our turf. Play by the rules or don’t.’”
And Weinstein is already listening: plans are already underway for Weinstein Live’s next Broadway foray, a musical adaptation of Around The World In 80 Days, with Kennedy and Barlow back again in the songwriting helm. And yes, he may play a little nicer on the next go-round: “We’ll try to find the happy medium.”
An edited version of this story appears in the June 13 issue of BIllboard magazine.