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BWW Blog: Are Jukebox Musicals Taking Over Broadway? A Reaction to the 2020 Tony Award Nominations

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The real question is, are jukebox musicals turning Broadway in another direction, or are they giving the theatre world exactly what it wants? 

Right off the bat, I will say that this is going to be the most interesting Tony Awards ever. Only 10 plays, 4 revivals, and 4 new musicals were eligible for nominations, an extremely low number compared to the 34 shows considered last year. Slave Play is making history for its 12 nominations, becoming the most-nominated play in the Tony Awards history. Aaron Tveit also makes Tony history by being the only nominee for Best Actor In A Musical, but will he win by default? Only The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical had original music this season, but was excluded from the Best Original Score category and beat by 5 scores from plays. There are so many things to unpack from this year's Tony nominations, but the nominees for Best Musical is what I am here to talk about today.

What is a Jukebox Musical? By definition, it is "a musical that features hit songs of a popular music group or genre." They are generally written as bio-musicals, telling the story of the artist whose music they are singing. This structure, rather than using an original score, brings new audiences to the theatre who are likely fans of the music and not necessarily the musicals themselves. The real question is, are jukebox musicals turning Broadway in another direction, or are they giving the theatre world exactly what it wants?

Mamma Mia! the movie cracked the code. Grossing a worldwide total of over $615 million in the box office with only a $52 million budget, it was the highest-grossing live-action musical of all time (until Beauty and the Beast came and stole the show in 2017). Mamma Mia! is the story of a bride-to-be trying to find her real father told using the hit songs by the popular 1970's group ABBA. It was adapted to the stage in 1999 on the West End and went to Broadway in 2002, getting nominated for 4 Tony-Awards that year. Since then, we have seen a huge wave of Jukebox musicals come to the stage: The Cher Show, Rock of Ages, Jersey Boy's, Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Beautiful: The Carol King Musical, and the ones I am here to talk about today: Jagged Little Pill, Moulin Rouge, and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical.

These are the three musicals nominated for Best Musical this year. When I first heard the nominations, I wasn't surprised because I knew these were the 3 biggest shows running before the entire coronavirus outbreak. It was only when I took a closer look I realized that they were all Jukebox Musicals. I had tickets to both Moulin Rouge and Jagged Little Pill but sadly, the world flipped upside-down before I could make it to my seat. I personally have no problem with more Jukebox musicals being nominated for Tony's, because to me, Broadway is Broadway, no matter what type of musical is onstage.

Critics will forever say that "Jukebox musicals are a money-grab for Broadway, the formula has already worked before." On the other hand, the audience will say "Jukebox musicals are giving us exactly what we want: a new piece of art using music we already love."

There is no wrong or right answer because theatre is subjective. Broadway is always looking for that new, original musicals to bring to life. However, we have to remember our beautiful profession is rooted in performances that were just acts, no story. We the creators and viewers will always crave shows that are full of singing, dancing, and a good beat.

Click HERE to see the BroadwayWorld Post with all the 2020 Tony Nominations!


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From This Author Student Blogger: Izzy Betz