Being Modern: Jukebox musicals
Sunday 03 July 2011
It's not easy to write comedy, but if you want a really good laugh, have a quick read of the plot synopsis of the West End smash We Will Rock You on Wikipedia. Here's a snippet to get you in the mood: "Galileo insists that he only hears those words in his head. Brit tests Galileo, singing the first few lines of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Galileo responds correctly with the subsequent lines, and Brit realises that he is the Dreamer of the prophecy." Is this, you would be entitled to ask, real life or just fantasy?
Sadly, this is no escape from reality but rather the way things are in the world of the "jukebox musical". Take a popular artist, preferably dead or at least no longer active, embroider their songs with the flimsiest of threads, and watch the resulting production turn to box-office gold. (Or not: see Lennon, 2005.)
At a basic level you can see why the idea appeals: Abba haven't played a live show since 1982. Thank you for the music, Mamma Mia! Logistically, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash are unlikely to be touring together any time soon. Thangyouvermuch, Million Dollar Quartet. (The King has previous with the genre, too. He had been dead only three months when Elvis opened in London's West End in 1977.)
As so many jukebox musicals – from Buddy to Jersey Boys have proved – if the life of the artist is interesting enough, you can dispense with the idea of a plot entirely; the songs themselves are all the cement you need to bind things together.
It's easy to mock such productions as Our House (the music of Madness) or Never Forget (the music of Take That) and the endless stream of cash-ins for which there is a ready audience. And certainly the past 10 years have seen jukebox musicals flourish as never before (about 50 since 1999). But occasionally, out of the rubble, a diamond emerges.
Fela!, the musical based on the life of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, is that diamond. It's about to get another run at London's Sadler's Wells. Go see it if you can. It won't rock you. But it will get you out of your seat.
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
- 5 9/11: Iranian General accuses US of organising September 11 terror attacks
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark, series 1 finale, review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
The Visit: Trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film is terrifying
Apprentice series 11: Claude Littner to replace Nick Hewer as Lord Sugar's aide
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3, review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton - really?
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia
HSBC review into moving headquarters from UK 'underway'