29 September 2016

Are jukebox musicals dying out?

Following yesterdays announcement of the closure of Jersey Boys in the West End, I had a thought process which resulted in the following question: "Are jukebox musicals dying out?"

Wikipedia describes a 'jukebox musical' as "a stage or film musical that uses previously released popular songs as its musical score". Simple enough, right? This has been the formula for countless West End musicals over the past decade - the first ones that come to mind being smash-hits like Sunny Afternoon and Jersey Boys, but that's where I hit a wall: I need a further definition of 'jukebox musical' before I do any more categorising. You see, there are shows like the aforementioned which are biographical or autobiographical, for example - taking the music from, say, a particular band, and using it to tell the band's story, but there are also shows which are at the opposite end of the spectrum - they tell a fictional story, but it's set to the music of a particular artist or era. Mamma Mia and Priscilla spring to mind on this occasion. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to refer to both of these 'types' of show as jukebox musicals, because I'm talking about both and it makes sense to follow Wikipedia's definition! (in this circumstance - obviously it's not all that greta to live by Wikipedia!)

Currently running in the West End are 6 'jukebox musicals': Motown, Beautiful, Jersey Boys, The Bodyguard, Mamma Mia, and Sunny Afternoon. Of these, 3 have set closing dates (Sunny Afternoon 29th October, Jersey Boys 26th March, The Bodyguard 7th January), which made me wonder whether there just simply isn't the demand for that sort of show anymore. I'm no expert, but I can definitely recognise that this type of show brings in a somewhat different demographic than other West End theatre perhaps does - that's right, I'm talking about the middle-ages mums' night out. This will either be something that you are entirely unaware of, or know exactly what I'm on about... So I'll explain. I can't speak for all mums (and this certainly doesn't apply to my own) but the main thing that that demographic seems to see is jukebox musicals - you know how this kind of thing works - no kids around so it's onto the red wine and bopping along to Frankie Valli and his buddies. (I know how you work, mums... I've cracked your system!). It was my awareness of this type of audience that made me hesitant to book to see Sunny Afternoon alone a few weeks ago - so maybe, just maybe, this is what's driving audiences away from show like this, either onto the more clichéd, long running shows like Wicked and Les Misérables, or onto lesser known (or even off-West End) plays and musicals.

So is the jukebox musical dying out? The answer is maybe. Given that 50% of all jukebox musicals running in the West End have got imminent closing dates, I do feel inclined to say that the era of cringe-worthy mid-2000s shows might be drawing to somewhat of a conclusion. My personal opinion is that there were too many shows with a similar audience demographic on, so there was just a little bit more competition for who they're selling tickets to.

It's a question that I'd love to hear everyones' opinions on, so as always feel free to drop me a tweet  (@ohmymusicals) and let me know what you think!

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