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BWW Blog: The Battle of the Jukebox Musicals


For the first time in the 74 year history of the Tony Awards, only jukebox musicals are nominated for Best Musical. 

BWW Blog: The Battle of the Jukebox Musicals

The jukebox musical phenomenon has exploded in the 21st Century. From Mamma Mia to Rock of Ages, generations of theatregoers have seen their favorite songs take the stage to tell unique narratives. Jukebox musicals, however, do not usually fare well at the Tony Awards when it comes to the highest honor: Best Musical. The last jukebox musical to win the Tony Award for Best Musical was Jersey Boys in 2005. Before this historic win, the only other jukebox musicals that won Best Musical are highly debated over whether they should even be considered jukebox musicals. These shows include Crazy For You (1992), 42nd Street (1982), and Ain't Misbehavin' (1978). Nevertheless, for the first time in the 74 year history of the Tony Awards, only jukebox musicals are nominated for Best Musical.

This year's nominees for the Tony Award for Best Musical are Jagged Little Pill, Moulin Rouge!, and Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. Jagged Little Pill sets the music of Canadian singer Alanis Morissette to an original story diving into the struggles of what seems to be an ordinary family. This musical addresses many dilemmas of modern society including drug abuse, rape, party culture, racial injustice, the LGBTQ+ experience, and more. Moulin Rouge! is based on the Baz Luhrmann film of the love story between Christian and Satine, a modern day Orpheus and Eurydice. The musical is a visual and musical extravaganza with popular songs from the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Sia, Adele, and more. Lastly, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical tells the story of Rock legend Tina Turner's rise to fame. The show is packed with her iconic songs that people of all ages are bound to recognize.

The question that arises from the nomination of these shows is what does the American Theatre Wing value in a jukebox musical? Whichever musical of all the phenomenal nominees that wins the coveted award will change the blueprint of jukebox musicals for years to come. Producers desire to work on projects that will have a long run, hit recoupment, and then make profit. According to Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC & Company, tourists make up 70 percent of Broadway ticket buyers as of 2015. Tourists are more likely to attend a production with rave reviews and the best awards. This is basic consumer psychology. A nomination alone for the Best Musical award attracts larger audiences. Winning the award increases the amount of ticket buyers even more. Thus, producers will likely invest in jukebox musicals with similar qualities to that of this year's winner.

If Tina: The Tina Turner Musical wins, producers will continue looking to take on projects that tell the story of iconic musicians with their own music. The industry saw an increase in these types of jukebox musicals after Jersey Boys won Best Musical with shows such as Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and the upcoming MJ: The Musical on Michael Jackson. It only makes sense that this trend will persist if Tina brings home the award. In contrast, if either Jagged Little Pill or Moulin Rouge! win, producers will seek out original stories set to popular music. This would include shows similar to Rock of Ages or the upcoming Once Upon A One More Time with the music of Britney Spears.

However, if Moulin Rouge! is the winner, theatricality and world building will be valued over simplicity and originality. The set, costumes, and choreography of this musical is unlike any other Broadway musical and can only be compared to the style of a Vegas show. These qualities truly make audiences feel they are in another world with the characters. Audiences escape from reality. At the same time, the story is adapted from a film and does not change much to reflect today's world. On the other hand, Jagged Little Pill thrives on the simplicity of its set and costumes and instead focuses on crafting a compelling, original narrative through music, dance, and song. The story of Jagged Little Pill is undoubtedly more thought provoking and relevant to modern society than that of Moulin Rouge!, yet the American Theatre Wing may demonstrate they prefer theatricality and experience over simplicity and originality.

Certainly other Tony Award categories will inform producers of the values of the American Theatre Wing, yet Best Musical will have the most profound effect on ticket buyers once Broadway reopens. All of this year's nominees are deserving of the highest honor in the American theatre industry. They have brought a plethora of our favorite songs into the theatre world for us to see in a new light. All the nominees have already made history by filling the category with jukebox musicals, but only one will set the precedent for the future of this genre.

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