5 Songs That Prove Eurovision! Should Be Broadway's Next Jukebox Musical
The popular European song contest is a natural fit for the Great White Way.
The overwhelming box office success of Finding Neverland has made one thing undeniably clear: Broadway audiences can't get enough of that Europop sound! Although he's making his musical-theater debut, Neverland composer Gary Barlow is a force to be reckoned with on the European pop scene, having fronted the band Take That and served as a judge on The X Factor UK. He's written hundreds of songs and was once rumored to be in talks with the BBC to compose the U.K.'s 2010 entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.
For the unfamiliar, Eurovision is an annual competition sponsored by the state broadcasters of several European countries. Each participating country sends an artist with a new song to perform in a live concert hosted by the previous year's winner. After the performances, an arcane system of ranked voting (which combines juries and televoting) determines the winner while spectators cheer along for their home country. It's kind of like the World Cup, but gayer.
The contest has a long history of crossover with the musical-theater world. Phantom of the Opera composer Andrew Lloyd Webber penned the U.K.'s 2009 entry, "It's My Time." Also, one of Broadway's most popular musicals, Mamma Mia!, is based on the songs of ABBA, the Swedish band that won Eurovision 1974 with "Waterloo." They are arguably the franchise's most successful alumni.
With that in mind, we offer a modest proposal: The next Broadway jukebox musical should be based on the Eurovision Song Contest, which is taking place this week in Vienna. Eurovision's combination of high camp, committed showmanship, drama, and thinly veiled politics is a perfect match for the bright lights of Broadway. The show could even have the audience vote for a winner at each performance, Edwin Drood style.
In case you're not convinced, here are five Eurovision classics to turn you into a true believer.
1. Svetlana Loboda — "Be My Valentine (Anti-Crisis Girl)" (Ukraine 2009)
In hindsight, Ukraine's Svetlana Loboda was eerily prophetic in 2009 with her insistence that Europe needed an "anti-crisis girl" like her. Unfortunately, Eurovision voters didn't listen (Loboda came in 12th). Now with "little green men" infiltrating the east of Ukraine, Greece on the brink of default, and the U.K. considering an exit from the European Union, she can only click her bedazzled heels and say, "I told you so." Winner or not, "Be My Valentine" epitomizes all that is great about Eurovision: pyrotechnics, half-naked dancers, and marginally coherent English lyrics. Loboda remortgaged her house to pay for the expensive set (which she referred to as "The Hell Machine"), making this entry the Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark of Eurovision. Add a glitter cannon and this song is ready to take a Broadway stage near you.
2. Verka Serduchka — "Dancing Lasha Tumbai" (Ukraine 2007)
Another Ukrainian song! That country really has mastered the art of Eurovision, which is why we're sad that fiscal austerity has kept Ukraine out of this year's competition. But they were all-in for 2007: Playing a German space alien reminiscent of Klaus Nomi, Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka (real name Andriy Danylko) delivered a frenetic call to boogie down. Many saw the nonsensical title (which sounds somewhat like "Russia Goodbye") as a furtive jab at Ukraine's much larger neighbor, something Serduchka steadfastly denies. Of course, it is beyond a doubt that the song is riddled with subtext. For the highbrows in the crowd, there's even a sly reference to Shakespeare: "To dance or not to dance…it's not a question!" Who needs another Broadway revival of Shakespeare when you've got lyrics like that?
3. Silvia Night — "Congratulations" (Iceland 2006)
Perhaps owing to her Norse roots, Iceland's Silvia Night (the alter ego of Ágústa Eva Erlendsdóttir) is the greatest troll ever to take the Eurovision stage. In fact, she extended her show far beyond the boards, having regular in-character tussles with reporters and technicians. Her role of a vain, trash-talking diva was actually a shrewd commentary on the song contest and dubious European libel laws. All this led to a performance that was simultaneously meta-theatrical and interactive. Like a traveling one-woman Sleep No More, she brought her house of horrors with her all over Athens (that year's host city). She earned loud boos from the Greek audience, whose sense of humor was decidedly less predisposed to irony. Still, Night's show didn't end once she left the stage in defeat: In a viral video, she was seen berating the assembled press, shouting, "Ungrateful bastards! You vote for ugly people from Finland who don't even have real makeup artist!"
4. Lordi — "Hard Rock Hallelujah" (Finland 2006)
About those ugly people from Finland…it's hard to believe there's not a skilled makeup artist (or several) behind the detailed look of Lordi, the heavy metal band that clinched the win in 2006. Their macabre getup makes the stunning makeup and mask design featured in the recent Broadway revival of Side Show look like child's play. A Eurovision musical highlighting Lordi would almost certainly get a Tony nod for Best Costumes.
5. Conchita Wurst — "Rise Like a Phoenix" (Austria 2014)
The reigning Eurovision champion is an Austrian drag queen named Conchita Wurst (real name: Tom Neuwirth), who last year wowed the audience with the Bond-esque power ballad "Rise Like a Phoenix." Wurst's perfectly painted face and finely manicured beard raised plucked eyebrows across Europe, especially in countries where such "genderqueer" style is not appreciated. Thousands in Russia, Armenia, and Belarus petitioned their state broadcasters to cancel the contest. Russian MP Vitaly Milonov even wrote a strongly worded letter to Russia's Eurovision selection committee denouncing Wurst's performance. Europe overwhelmingly voted for Wurst anyway (with five points coming from Russia). It was Kinky Boots meets Hairspray when she held her trophy aloft and pronounced, "This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity and we are unstoppable."