Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What exactly is a Jukebox musical?

No other term in theatre has lately been the subject of both disdain and pleasure than "the jukebox musical." Like most such terms, several subsets seem to get lumped into one thing.
Is it

A. a musical that uses a set of songs by an artist to tell an original story?
B. a musical that uses a set of songs to tell the artist's story?
C. a musical that uses a set of familiar songs to create a unique piece of theatre made that much easier to digest because the songs are a known quantity?

I'm thinking all of the above, because I can give examples for each that I've heard the "j" word associated with each.

I guess this topic even came to my head as I was contemplating the announcement that a musical based on the career of Run DMC was in development. That, in turn, made me think of likely Broadway-bound American Idiot. Which made me smile... I remember the kids who listened to Run DMC when I was in school, and see the same type of kid loving Green Day. Boy, did they have a lot of unkind things to say about those of us who enjoyed drama club and show tunes! Little do they know... they are singing show tunes now themselves! But I digress...

Looks like the RunDMC musical will fall under type B, just like Jersey Boys. Not having seen it, I'm going to guess that American Idiot will be a combination of A and C.

Other type A's include the mega-hit Mamma Mia! (ABBA), the mega-flop Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys). How about the fan-it/critical flop, We Will Rock You (Queen)?

Bs include The Boy from Oz (the Peter Allen story) and will likely include the British import Thriller (the Michael Jackson story), not to be confused with the show in the works based on the songs on the same-titled album. Hmm...subset D - Thriller, American Idiot?

Of course, this begs the question: are musical revues jukebox musicals? Putting It Together (Stephen Sondheim) seems to fit A and C, while the forthcoming Sondheim on Sondheim seems to fit B and C.

And what about dance shows? There are the hits Movin' Out (dance theatre set to the songs of Billy Joel) and Fosse (dance theatre set to the works of Bob Fosse) or the flop The Times They Are a-Changin' (dance theatre set to the songs of Bob Dylan). I guess they are C?

And what about movie musicals turned into stage shows? After all, they use sets of previously known music to create a musical. (At least all of the Disney shows so far have relied on both the known songs from their films and always add several new ones.) Hit: Xanadu Flop: Singin' in the Rain. Where will Dirty Dancing fit in?

The more I think about it, the more confused I get! :-)

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