Time to sing along, jukebox musicals play a familiar tune


The familiar tune fills the theater and you want to sing along. Jukebox musicals offer theater audiences recognizable approach to musical theater.

A jukebox musical isn’t the traditional musical score. For these musicals, a familiar tune is transformed into a new story. While some traditional theater fans might find these musicals less original, audiences often love them. In a way, it transforms the traditional Broadway show into an almost concert-like atmosphere.

Recently, jukebox musicals have become even more prevalent. Previously, shows like Movin’ Out and American Idiot saw a performer’s songbook transformed into a fictional storyline. Combining a series of songs together, the show was able to create a fictional story based on the music.

(Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

For example, Movin’ Out took Billy Joel’s songs from different decades and created a story. While his songs might not have been intended to create this storyline, the songs were able to work into a plot. Fans of Billy Joel went to the musical because they were fans of his music. Some of those people may not have been traditional theater fans, but they wanted to see the interpretation of the songs that they enjoyed.

As these shows brought in larger audiences, more of these types of productions started to hit Broadway. Instead of transforming the songs into a fictional plot, the musicals often focused on a biographical aspect of the performer. The popular songs played more of a chronological role in telling a story.

In Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the songs showed a progression from songwriter to performer. Some fans may not have known the numerous songs that King wrote. But, in this show, the songs showed the how and why she wrote them. From a bad marriage to building her self-confidence, each song was like adding a piece of the puzzle.

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL – MARCH 14: In this handout image provided by Broadway Across America, (L to R) Curt Bouril (Don Kirshner), Ben Fankhauser (Barry Mann), Abby Mueller (Carole King) and Becky Gulsvig (Cynthia Weil) perform in “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on March 14, 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida . (Photo by Joan Marcus/Broadway Across America via Getty Images)

For the fan, a show like Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, was entertaining because it offered that glimpse behind the scenes. Of course, everyone loves singing along with the favorite songs at the end of the performance. But this musical is more than that. It is part love letter and part inspiration. I don’t know anyone who can leave this show without feeling touched by the arc of Carole King’s career.

Other jukebox musicals blend a performer’s songbook into the chronology. In On Your Feet, the Gloria Estefan story, her songs were part chronological and part inspiration. While the story tells Estefan’s rise to fame, the songs aren’t necessarily in chronological order. The music is blended together to tell the why behind her life. From her connection to Cuba to the love for her husband, this songbook gives a glimpse of how personal each song is.

NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 12: Gloria Estefan and Ana Villafane of ‘On Your Feet!’ perform onstage during the 70th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

Looking at today’s theater productions, many of the jukebox musicals focus on the performer’s life. Donna Summer and Cher both have musicals written about them and use their popular songs. While the personal history is entertaining, many people are seeing these shows just for the music.

Often these shows have a slight concert feel to them. While there is high production value, audiences feel encouraged to be a little less reserved while watching the show. From toe-tapping to clapping, you might even see a few people mouthing the words to the songs.

These type of musicals will continue to flourish on Broadway. Similar to the Hollywood remake, the new productions don’t need a completely original story. With musical already created, these musicals can come tougher more quickly. Plus, the popular performers come with a built-in audience fan base. It is a win-win for producers.

Thinking about these types of musicals, it will be interesting to see what other performers could have a musical based on either their lives or music. Many of today’s popular artists could work well in this genre. I wonder if Kanye West could have a musical about his life…

Truthfully, a more widely appealing artist would probably be a more likely choice. Even though Broadway embraces controversial topics and trending issues, theaters do need to fill seats. An option like Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Lopez could bring in the ticket sales. A few rumors say that a Brittany Spears-themed musical is even in the works.

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While musical theater will always have new and creative productions, jukebox musicals are here to stay. These productions might not have the huge emotional, roller coaster like other productions, but you should have an enjoyable night at the theater. After all, isn’t seeing a show about entertainment? These types of productions are definitely entertaining.