Thursday, September 22, 2005

Jukebox musicals' secrets

From Matt Windman of AM New York on the Broadway flop Lennon (based mostly on his post-Beatles career): "The show's failure, along with the similarly troubled fates of "Good Vibrations" and "All Shook Up," has left many in the industry wondering whether the jukebox musical (one based on a pre-existing famous catalog of songs) can spawn any more hits to accompany "Mamma Mia." "Jersey Boys," based on the songs of the Four Seasons, will open this fall, and a number of other musicals are in development based on the songs of Bob Marley, Johnny Cash, AC/DC, and Earth, Wind, and Fire."

Other than poor scripts, isn't it obvious that another problem is that there's a glut of these things. It's assumed that since the boomer audience still invests in music (via CD purchases) and turn more and more to satellite radio since the regular FM band isn't servicing them, that they also want to see their favorite songs recreated on Broadway. Part of the equation is right- these folks do care about music and will invest in it. In the case where their icons aren't around to perform it themselves (Lennon, Presley, Cash, Marley), the shows' producers figure that don't have much to compete with and they're right to the extent that they provide something actually worth paying for and seeing. Wonder why there isn't a Rolling Stones musical yet? It's not just because the band is still touring, it's also because producers might figure that something like a play would be too cheesy for their fans I'll bet. Also, since AC/DC uses more props in their arena shows than a musical could in a smaller theatre, how's that gonna fare against the real thing?

Yet another factor may be that certain artists and repertoires lend themselves better to the possibility of a stage show. Larger than live characters like Presley, Lennon, Cash and Marley are no-brainers at least at the planning stage in this regard. EW&F sounds like a great idea on paper (or a screen) but though Maurice White was the guiding light, you can be sure that the show won't focus on him. Ditto Angus.

Tommy is an interesting case study too. Since it was already a story in and of itself (a professed rock opera), it wasn't going to be too long before it hit the screen and eventually (though a long time), the stage too. That it did take so long to make it there is noteworthy. The idea of the rock opera had become a fixture in the 70's but actually making it an actual theatrical presentation wasn't on the radar of Broadway or other theatre cities quite yet. Also, Movin' Out was another hit that had its success pinned on songs rather than an artist's image- some of Billy Joel's songs are painted in broad theatrical strokes that lend itself well to the stage (and note that this was much more successful than Twyla Twarp's early 80's collaboration with David Byrne, The Catherine Wheel, which had original songs and a much more avant type of agenda). As for a recent John Denver musical, you couldn't pay me to go and review it but admittedly, there is a readily available fan base for this sort of thing.

When I was a kid, I was a Beatles nut so I was thrilled as hell to see Beatlemania (wish I could remember if it was the production with Marshall Crenshaw as Lennon). The Beatles were gone for years by then and not many people held out hope of them getting together again so it was a brilliant idea. That's not easily duplicated because most acts don't have enough readily recognizable songs to convince people to pay the price of a box set for a night of theatre. Also, you have to assume that the artist is well known enough to have a steady stream of fans who would want to come out to see something like this. Figure that includes not just mostly stadium acts but more particularly artists who've been around for a while and build up a large, sustained audience that crosses over age groups (which brings us back to why they fill up stadiums in the first place).

With these criteria, note also what's missing. Other than Cash, where are the country acts? Nashville has had theatrical presentations about Hank and Patsy but why not NYC? Marley is the only reggae act so far, which is a shame because artists like Peter Tosh, Burning Spear or Linton Kwesi Johnson would lend themselves nicely to this (but yes, they don't have enough following for it). Divas? Surely a Tina Turner play is going to be in the works and Cher too probably lends herself to that well. Rap? Good god- so many acts would EASILY lend themselves to this. There's obviously going to be ones for Biggie and Tupac but you could just as easily imagine Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy there too someday.

Some of these sound enticing and might be worth your money while others won't. Sure, the price of a play is pretty high now but how much more expensive is it than a ticket to your favorite arena show?


Blogger Perfect Sound Forever said...

News about the upcoming Cash musical from Billboard

11:28 AM  

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