The Definition of a Jukebox Musical

Wikipedia is wrong.

According to everyone’s favorite online encyclopedia, “A jukebox musical is a stage or film musical that uses previously released popular songs as its musical score.”

I disagree.  And I’d bet another $100 that Hal Prince would too.  Would you want to tell him that LoveMusik was a jukebox musical?

Here’s my definition:

“A jukebox musical is an original stage musical not based on a film that uses previously released popular songs that have no direct relation to the story as its musical score.”

Ok, so I’m no Webster’s.  Let me explain with examples.

Mamma Mia = Jukebox Musical (An original story about a girl searching for her father using Abba music)

All Shook Up = Jukebox Musical (Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night using Elvis tunes)

Jersey Boys = NOT a Jukebox Musical (Four Seasons music telling the Four Seasons story)

See what I mean?  Jersey Boys just doesn’t feel like a Jukebox musical.

Times They Are a Changin’?  Yes.  Movin’ Out?  Yes.  Good Vibrations?  Put another dime in the jukebox, baby.

Lennon?  No.

Lennon is dependent upon that music.  It couldn’t be done with The Carpenters catalog.  Mamma Mia (with a different title), on the other hand, could have been attempted with Lawrence Welk music.  Sure, it would have sucked, but that’s not the point.  Same thing with LoveMusik.  These are Bio Musicals, not jukebox musicals.

Xanadu, Saturday Night Fever . . . not Jukebox musicals.  They are musical adaptations of movies that already had the music integrated.

Here’s what’s crazy . . . both Wiki’s definition and my definition make shows like Crazy For You and Forever Plaid, jukebox musicals.

Maybe we should add something to the definition that states it only applies to shows after 2001 (the year when Mamma Mia hit Broadway).

Any other definitions out there?

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Different is nice, but it sure isn’t pretty . . .

Musical Theater and Straight Plays are different. I’m not just talking about the fact that one has chorus girls and sequins and higher price tickets. There is an inherent difference in the expectations of the audiences that creators of musicals need to recognize.

Need an example? At the end of Romeo & Juliet, what happens?  They both die.  Tragedy.
Sadness.  Love itself dies with them.

Now, let’s look at the musical adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story, arguably the greatest musical ever written because of its seamless integration of music, book and dance.

What happens at the end of West Side Story?  Only ONE of them dies.  Ah ha!  Already
you’re starting to see the difference. But wait for it . . . wait for it . . . West Side isn’t over yet.

After Maria’s feisty “How many bullets are left” speech, the Jets start to carry off Tony’s dead body.  But, like Jesus carrying the cross, they falter.  Who comes running to their aid?  A Shark!  That’s right; the two warring gangs come together right before your eyes.  And a ray of sunshine is cast on what was a very dark tragedy.  Suddenly, there is hope that the future will be better.

Doesn’t sound like R&J, does it?

Musical theater audiences don’t mind tragedy.  In fact, they love a little drama.  But you can’t leave them with a tragic aftertaste.  No matter how dark your tale, it’s important to leave them with the idea that things could get better.  That the sun will come out . . . you know when.

Want another great example of this?  Look at the ending of the original London production of Miss Saigon.  Then look at what they did when they came to Broadway. It’s a subtle change that demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about.

Email me if you figure it out.

 

Be kind to the animals.

A friend of mine was telling a story today and he used Cats as a reference. And, on cue, most of the group
snickered. What’s so funny about Cats? 

I’m going to spare you an essay on whether or not Cats is a good musical.  That’s not my point. My point is that whether you like it or not, Cats is a classic of American Musical Theater.

Here’s why:

A classic is something that stands the test of time. Cats ran for 7485 performances.  Almost 18 years. If modern musical theater began around the turn of the century (some say it started with The Black Crook, others say Show Boat, so I’m picking a mid point), that means that Cats had a run on Broadway equivalent to almost 20% of the medium’s life.

Imagine a book (other than the bible) staying on the NY Times Bestseller list for 18 years! And just because it closed on Broadway doesn’t mean that its life is over.

On the contrary, 18 years is just the beginning.  Like Show Boat, Cats will continue to purr around the world in regional productions and high schools for many more than 9 lives.  

So instead of kicking the kitties, let’s figure out what makes people want to see them now . . . and forever.

Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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