With Rock of Ages confirmed to be returning in 2018 and the new Tina Turner musical having just been announced to be opening at the Alydwch Theatre in London in Spring 2018 it made me think about the rise in ‘jukebox’ musicals. There seems to be a fashion at the moment for these style of musicals. Cilla (Cilla Black) has just started touring, as has Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield) and not long ago we had Soul Sister touring the UK focusing on Tina Turner. Thriller (Michael Jackson) has been running in the West End for years, We Will Rock You (Queen) fairly recently closed at the Dominion theatre and Bat Out of Hell (Meatloaf) has just closed. Not to mention Mamma Mia (ABBA) which has been in the West End for 18 years and talks of Mamma Mia 2. Is it time we see more original theatre?
Some of the big hits on Broadway like Waitress and Dear Evan Hansen have captured the world’s attention. With Hamiliton opening soon at Victoria Palace a lot of people had hoped that these musicals would follow suit. Admittedly Groundhog Day has been announced to be returning to the West End after it closes this weekend on Broadway but we seem to be seeing more and more ‘jukebox’ or tribute musicals rather than new stories with music interwoven.
Being really critical I wonder if this purely a way of making money. Theatres obviously rely on paying audiences. Shows have flopped or been cancelled early due to a lack of audience members. Some shows just work better on tour whereas others have strictly limited runs planned beforehand. But, as with celebrity casting, I wonder if this ever prominent style of musical is designed to tap into the same market – appealing more widely to the mass general public who may not have previously been theatre-goers.
Personally, I prefer musicals with a clear story. Those that have a message, songs interwoven and leave an impact on you. Not all original shows have this, and clearly it is a matter of personal taste and preferences, but of the productions I have seen usually the musicals that have had their book written first or alongside the music as opposed to having starting with the music and using this to create and shape a story have been far superior. Often in ‘jukebox’ musicals the plots and characters can be vague, quite sketchy or lack meaning because they have to make links to the songs.
We have so many good composers, directors and producers who are producing new material. Venues such as The Other Palace, smaller off-West End theatres and Ed Fringe have shown us that the talent is there but they are not getting the chance to be showcased and developed in larger theatres. It seems a shame that audiences are often missing out. Not to mention the fact that often in the West End shows can run for years (take Thriller for example) which on one hand is good because fans get to see it lots of times and it allows more visitors to see the show but also does ‘clog’ up theatres meaning there often are only a few theatres available to showcase new shows or allow transfers from Broadway.
Should it be a case of bums on seats, appealing to mass markets (which obviously all theatres need) or should it be about developing original musicals with new music that people will have not already heard. What are people’s thoughts? Are you a big ‘jukebox’ musical fan? Would you prefer more original shows in the West End? Please comment below. I’ll be really interested as to your thoughts.