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Student Blog: Can We Stop Treating Jukebox Musicals With Disdain?


Just because jukebox musicals don't seem to be as original as other shows doesn't mean we should be counting them out.

Ah, yes. The jukebox musical. When most "theatre people" hear that term, the following reaction is normally one of some scorn or even disgust. It's too often that jukebox musicals aren't thought of as "real" theatre or "quality" theatre because the music isn't original, and in some cases, the story is meant to fit the music as opposed to vice versa. However, after over a year without live theatre, it has become highly obvious that all works of theatre are worth equal appreciation, regardless of story, music, or any aspect. So as live theatre makes its return in a newer world, with more opportunities for new works, let's not forget the jukebox musical.

In the past, the jukebox musicals that have graced the stages of Broadway, the West End, and tours have often been seen as mere "crowd pleasers" or "money grabs." For instance, we have bio-musicals such as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, On Your Feet!, or The Cher Show. These three shows seem to be just an attempt to draw in audience members from those singers' target audiences, but they actually carry much more weight for both the creative teams and the audiences alike in that they shed new light on these singers' stories. While they all are based on true events, these musicals are still stories that can therefore be interpreted in numerous different ways depending on the members of the creative team and audience. In The Cher Show, Sonny is written as an annoying pipsqueak, and this gives the audience reason to view him as unlikable in a whiny-rat kind of way, as opposed to seeing him as unlikable in a conniving-villain kind of way. A different example of one of these bio-musicals would be the Gloria Estefan bio-musical, On Your Feet! This musical is more than just the Estefans' story, it's an example of much-needed onstage Latinx representation. Either way, all of these shows have plenty of value beneath the title.

As for jukebox musicals with an original storyline, such as Mamma Mia!, American Idiot, or Jagged Little Pill, these are just as original as most new musicals with original scores, as most of those are based on novels, movies, etc. Almost every musical has some sort of basis, and these jukebox musicals just so happen to be based on the music of a mainstream artist. Overall, as new works of theatre come about in the public eye, let's not be so quick to see jukebox musicals as "less than" or worthy of disdain. Theatre is theatre, and where there's any form of it, it's important to remember that it came about from creative and original thinking.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Meredith Muirhead