Broadway has seen its fair share of mainstream influence in recent years, with the hip-hop infused Hamilton becoming a worldwide phenomenon and the more recent stage favorite, the pop radio-friendly Dear Evan Hansen. Making it's way to Broadway next is country -- well, sort of.
Jennifer Nettles, best known as one-half of superstar country duo Sugarland, is putting her own spin on the Wicked romance ballad "As Long As You're Mine" with the help of Wicked star Annaleigh Ashford. The two teamed up for the latest installment of the musical's "Out Of Oz" video series, which sees artists perform unplugged versions of songs from the show. If it seems a bit odd to hear a country crooner like Nettles in a Broadway setting, it's actually not strange at all: Not only has Nettles been doing stage work since she was a little girl, but this is her second "Out Of Oz" appearance (she sang "No Good Deed" in September). In fact, she even starred on Broadway as Roxie Hart in Chicago in 2014.
"Having spent time on the Broadway stage definitely helps one’s confidence in terms of feeling just validated in that world," Nettles tells Billboard. "Most people only know my voice as a country artist. If all you hear are songs are played on the radio, you get a very branded, commerced, marketed, specific limited sound. For me it’s a big treat when people get to discover me as a vocalist in a new genre."
Nettles will be balancing both of her worlds this year, as she has some Broadway shows in the works and is also planning a Sugarland tour, the pair's first since 2012. Billboard caught up with Nettles to chat about her latest "Out Of Oz" venture, what she learned from her time on the Broadway stage and whether it'll have an impact on what she does on the road with Sugarland later this year.
Check out the "As Long As You're Mine" performance and our chat below.
You've actually starred on Broadway yourself in Chicago -- what did that experience teach you about the ins and outs of being a Broadway star?
I was impressed by just the level of talent and also the community that happens within every production. It is something that I had missed since I was a girl in terms of working in theater. You get some of that community whenever you’re in a band, but it’s different because you can be in a Broadway production and regardless everybody goes home that night and the decisions that one makes does not affect the other. You might be the star, but you’re not the boss. So the kind of comradery that can be there is a little different and becomes familial in a very specific way. Being on the road, that’s familial too, but I made friends there that I will have for the rest of my life and I’m very grateful for that experience. It’s beautiful, really.
What would you say are the similarities and differences of singing on Broadway and singing country music?
Where differences are concerned, musical theater allows for a lot broader of a vocal dynamic. In terms of range and melody, and in terms of composition, it allows for a lot broader and diverse range. At the same time, country, on the other hand, they tell different stories in different ways – so while each of them are about the story telling in and of itself, they approach it musically in very different ways. Even modern pop music runs in the realm of a chord progression that’s like a 1, 4, and 5 chord of every key signature and it’s much more narrowly structured. But when you get into musical theater, much like in classical or jazz, it just opens up the world musically a bit more.
Sugarland hasn’t toured since you were on Broadway… do you think your experience with that kind of performing will play into Sugarland’s show this year?
The fun thing about Chicago is that there’s so much dance and very specifically Roxie. So you might see a little bit of Roxie on the Sugarland stage, who knows [Laughs].
Even with the comeback of Sugarland, are you still pining to eventually play Elphaba on stage?
We’ll see. I sort of have my sights set on, right now, an originating role. So I’ve been seeding and watering my relationships within the community and having a lot of fun doing readings and workshops for new productions. So I’ve got my sights set on that next.
That’s the beautiful thing about what we have done and what we will continue to do. As artists, there are times when we’re together and do what we do and then there’s times that you do other things. I think you have to go and fill your cup and do so diversely, otherwise then you burn out.