Though jukebox musicals are not a new concept within theatre, the popularity of such continues to grow. But how is this impacting the West End, and Broadway? Are jukebox musicals merely an easy ‘Money Money Money’ maker? Many will ‘Say No To This’ opinion, and argue that jukebox musicals have invited those who ordinarily would not visit the theatre to take a seat. But does this shift signal the diminu-end-o of traditional musicals?

Jukebox musicals have been performed since 1728. They seek to utilise popularised music and apply it to musical theatre to, either, celebrate and dramatise a musician’s life or apply the music to an entirely separate plot. In recent years, theatregoers can expect music from ABBA in Mamma Mia! The Musical to Tina Turner in Tina Turner: The Musical.

Regardless of one’s love for theatre, there is an undeniable difference between jukebox and original musicals. Through the history of theatre, musicals with original scores are created to enhance plot and convey characters’ thoughts through an innovative medium. In relation to the aforementioned Tina Turner: The Musical, using her own music makes sense to the plot. However, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, which uses various popular artists’ songs, evokes less authenticity and relatability to a traditional musical. This is not to say the latter is a flop but rather emulates a concert style performance and eradicates the individuality that stems from original scores and themes. 

To categorise jukebox musicals with original musicals is arguably insulting to both genres due to their widely different takes on theatre. One cannot deny the impact of original musicals, such as Hamilton and Cabaret that were, essentially, built from nothing and thus incomparable to already established and popularised songs that people know the words to. 

Arguably, the original singer’s perspective cannot merely be passed onto a different character such as the case in & Juliet, in which Juliet sings Domino by Jessie J. It is important to highlight that the disconnection stems from the songs used rather than the musical adaptation of a Shakespearean play. Continually, the reused music can be — and is — celebrated separately without its relocation into theatre and jukebox musicals are relatively unnecessary within the sphere of theatre. In jukebox musicals, as in & Juliet, the popular music does not provide an additional message to the plot other than acting as a selling point for non-theatre goers to enjoy Shakespeare in a simplified way. One could argue that, had an original score been created for a Romeo and Juliet adaptation, this largely would have been a more credible musical. Jukebox musicals therefore beg the question, are they merely facilitating a space for people who hate traditional musical theatre? 

One could argue that jukebox musicals act as a celebratory tribute to late musical artists that deserve to be honoured within theatre. While this is largely true and would encourage younger generations to appreciate a variety of musicians throughout history, it is worth acknowledging the increase in biopics already exploring artists in nuanced details that theatre is unable to do. 

Nonetheless, musical theatre is witnessing an increase in immersive experiences, such as Mamma Mia! The Party which invites audience members to dance and interact with the story and dine at ‘Nikos Taverna’. Not only does this experience incorporate all aspects of a jukebox musical, it establishes itself as an original take upon theatre and commits to breaking the limitations of traditional musicals that do not, ordinarily, encourage audience participation. 

However, due to COVID-19, many actors and theatre companies were unable to perform under lockdown restrictions and theatres are still dealing with the impact of such. Therefore jukebox musicals have been encouraging all types of music lovers to engage in theatre and support the arts industry.

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