Monday, October 23, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: Big Trends: The Rise of the Jukebox Musical

40 Years of Broadway: Big Trends: 
The Rise of the Jukebox Musical 

Historically, musical revues and follies type show were once the bread and butter of Broadway. They were what we'd call the jukebox musicals of their era. Back then, and just like now, they were made up of popular songs. The difference is that back in the day, popular songs were Broadway songs. Over the past 40 years, the Main Stem has seen a sharp, seemingly overpowering, rise in jukebox musicals - shows whose scores consistently entirely of previously released songs.

Under the umbrella of this style of musical, there are several sub-genres. Below are examples of significant titles in each. As with all shows, some were great successes, others were fast flops. Some were award-winners, others met with disdain. Several were popular without critical acclaim. It's the hope of all producers that their show will become a phenomenon. Will their jukebox musical be the next Mamma Mia! or will it be the next Escape to Margaritaville?

Musicals Based on Movies Using Their Soundtracks For Songs

Many shows based on movies come to Broadway with original scores, largely because those movies were already musicals! But several movie-based shows have come in using their hugely successful soundtracks for their stage scores. (This is one reason that there needs to be a distinction between soundtracks and cast recordings.)

  • Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Tarzan, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid, Frozen: Disney On Broadway
  • Moulin Rouge!
  • Saturday Night Fever
  • Xanadu

Musicals Based on Complete Rock Albums

Back in the day composers like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice would create concept albums recorded with the idea of a full musical production soon after. Think Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Chess

Most recently, there were three rock albums used to create musicals with cohesive stories and using their tracks. To varying degrees, they were created with an inkling toward story, but not necessarily a Broadway staging. All three were successful in their own way, each award-winning and with respectable runs and national tours.
  • The Who's Tommy The Who
  • American Idiot Green Day
  • Jagged Little Pill Alanis Morissette

Dance Musicals

Choreographers have been creating dance shows and ballets based on song catalogs. Broadway has seen its share of them, as well - Bob Fosse, Susan Stroman and Twyla Tharp are a few who have created whole shows with dancers doing their thing pop music. Here are a few such shows from the past four decades. Some were long-running hits (one is a Best Musical!). Others were short-lived. All were daring.

  • Twyla Tharp: Movin' Out, The Times They Are A-Changing, Come Fly Away
  • Susan Stroman: Contact
  • Bob Fosse: Dancin' (revival)

Musical Revues

The grand tradition of the Broadway Musical Revue continues even today. These shows are a variety of song and dance numbers, united by a period of music or by the collective works of an artist. While they may have an umbrella feature to give them context, revues have no real story. The recent past has had its share of this style of musical, with the usual success and failure rate.

  • Jazz and Blues: After Midnight, Black and Blue
  • Composers/Lyricists: Smokey Joe's Cafe - Lieber and Stoller, Swinging on a Star - Johnny Burke, Sondheim on Sondheim - Stephen Sondheim
  • Director Retrospectives: Jerome Robbins' Broadway - Jerome Robbins, Prince of Broadway - Hal Prince, Fosse - Bob Fosse

Musical Biographies - "The Bio-Musical"

You'd think that musicals based on world-renowned pop artists, using their songs to tell their life stories would be a slam-dunk every time. Turns out that's not always the case. Those with the most compelling stories, the most creatively told are the ones most successful. Bio-musicals need to be more interesting than an impersonator giving a reasonable facsimile of fondly remembered songs. For better or worse, here are a dozen such shows that had their time on Broadway:

  • Neil Diamond: A Beautiful Noise
  • Florence Greenberg: Baby It's You!
  • Carole King: Beautiful
  • Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: Jersey Boys
  • John Lennon: Lennon
  • Michael Jackson: MJ
  • Barry Gordy: Motown: The Musical
  • Gloria and Emilio Estefan: On Your Feet!
  • Donna Summer: Summer
  • Peter Allen: The Boy From Oz
  • Cher: The Cher Show
  • Tina Turner: Tina

Musical Songbooks and Eras with Original Stories

With the early 80s success of My One and Only and its use of the Gershwin's songbook, Broadway saw a great influx of such shows, including two more using the same songbook. With the international super-success of Mamma Mia!, a new wave hit the Rialto (and continues even today) with a variety of artists lending their catalogs to new stories, ideas and themes. The usual applies: generally, the most creative and well-developed shows rose to the top.

  • Max Martin: & Juliet
  • George & Ira Gershwin: Crazy For You, Nice Work If You Can Get It
  • The Disco Era: Disaster!
  • Jimmy Buffett: Escape to Margaritaville
  • Bob Dylan: Girl From the North Country
  • The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations
  • The Go-Go's: Head Over Heels
  • ABBA: Mamma Mia!
  • Britney Spears: Once Upon a One More Time
  • The 80s Hair Band Era: Rock of Ages
Contest Question #18:
Of all the contributors to the above jukebox musicals, which one is a Nobel Laureate?

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