The Two Types of Jukebox Musicals: Which One Is More Successful?

While musicals featuring pre-existing music have been around for decades and decades, the “jukebox musical” genre was born on Broadway with the debut of Mamma Mia back in 2001.

And when that show blew up, not only on Broadway but all over the world, many a Producer (not to mention a few music companies) lined up to take their shot at creating the same kind of phenomenon.

Some have worked . . . like Jersey Boys and Beautiful.

And others have not . . . like Good Vibrations and Lennon.

Since this season (and a bit of last season) seems to have an inordinate number of jukebox musicals (and since I’m in conversations about a show based on a superstar’s catalog myself) and since the jukebox musical has been the subject of serious debate with our big critics, I decided to do some “data diggin'” on the two types of “jukebox” musicals to try to determine which one was more commercially successful.

I sorted these types of shows into two buckets:

1 – A musical with a brand new story unrelated to the music.

2 – A musical based on the life of the songwriters or a “Bio Musical

And then I looked at the numbers.

Since Mamma Mia, we’ve had 19 “jukebox” musicals open on Broadway (and for this research, I did not including Summer or Head Over Heels, since their fate has yet to be determined).

11 of those musicals or 58% have been “new plot” musicals.

8 of them or 42% have been “bio musicals”.

And now we get to the interesting part.

The average # of total performances for the run of all 19 musicals is 762.

The average # of performances for the new plot musicals is 408.

The average # of performances for the bio musicals is 1198.

And how does that translate to commercial success?

Of the 19 jukebox musicals, 6 recouped or 31.6%, which is above the 20% industry average for recoupment, suggesting there is a commercial advantage to a musical with a pre-existing catalog.

But which type of jukebox musical is more successful?

Only 18% of the new plot musicals recouped (2 out of the 11) . . . which is below our industry average of 20%.

A whopping 44.4% of the bio musicals recouped (4 out of the 9).

Takeaway?

The bio-musical has proven a more commercially advantageous subset of the jukebox musical genre (which is ironic, considering there have been more attempts at musicals with a new plot).

But in this biz, just when a trend emerges something comes along to break it.

And with the super good buzz on the upcoming Jagged Little Pill and Girl From The North Country, we could see a shift in these stats in next twelve months.

I’ll be around to update these stats a year from now so stay tuned.

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Comments
  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    Which are the ones with an original story?

  • Jane Seaman says:

    Thanks so much, Ken. This has gene much discussion amongst my college musical theatre students. This was valuable information! As you said, the juke box musical has been around for decades….look at all the Gershwin posthumous creations. Not one has been a biomusical. Maybe it’s time George and Ira got one ABOUT them?!

  • Jane Seaman says:

    Thanks so much, Ken. This has generated much discussion amongst my college musical theatre students. This was valuable information! As you said, the juke box musical has been around for decades….look at all the Gershwin posthumous creations. Not one has been a biomusical. Maybe it’s time George and Ira got one ABOUT them?!

  • Robert Winthrop Talmage says:

    Most of the time, the artist’s backstory on the road to fame, fortune and sometimes personal destruction is so much more compelling than a flimsy attempt to weave a scattershot catalog of songs together and create a coherent, cohesive tale. In sum, story and song working together wins the day. RWT

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