A complete guide to West End jukebox musicals
From all the different types of jukebox musicals, to all the pop hits currently playing in London, here’s your guide to the chart-topping West End musicals.
Question: Where can you see ABBA, Tina Turner, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and the Temptations in the same place? Answer: London's West End, thanks to jukebox musicals.
Jukebox musicals are a popular type of West End show. They incorporate beloved chart hits and add a musical theatre flair into rarely-played decades-old songs. By introducing newer, perhaps younger, audiences to a recording artist, they continue to bring music history to life. So whether you're enjoying a trip down memory lane, listening to your favourite artists once more, or learning about a pop star, there's something for everyone to enjoy.
If you want to introduce people that don’t often see West End shows, then jukebox musicals are a great place to start. They’re ideal for audiences dipping their toes into musical theatre, as they blend well-liked songs with incredible stories. Discover more about their history and all the different types you can see in London now.
What is a jukebox musical?
A jukebox musical is a type of show that relies on pre-existing discography for its score instead of original material. Occasionally, they may have original songs — either a new song by the artist to use in the show or a new composition added to enhance the story.
Jukebox musicals typically fall into two broad categories. Some revolve around a recording artist or a band and use their songs to tell their story. For example, Tina - The Tina Turner Musical celebrates Tina Turner's career through "Proud Mary" and "Nutbush City Limits." Others use popular songs to inform an original narrative, like Mamma Mia! including ABBA songs and We Will Rock You blending Queen songs into a futuristic storyline.
Some shows focus on one singer or band’s story, like Jersey Boys. But jukebox musicals don’t have to just focus on one artist. Other shows, such as Moulin Rouge! The Musical incorporate songs by dozens of artists into one show.
When did jukebox musicals become popular?
John Gay’s 1728 opera, The Beggar’s Opera, is said to be the original jukebox musical. The satirical show capitalised on pre-existing operas and lyrics to inform its storytelling. However, it wouldn’t hold up to a “jukebox musical” by today’s standards — the songs were original and didn’t exist before the show opened.
The 1962 musical, Do Re Mi, took the "jukebox" theme to new heights: the musical followed Hubie Cram as he moved into the jukebox-selling business. Perhaps coincidentally, Broadway artists often cover the song “Make Someone Happy”: Audra McDonald, Barbra Streisand, and Kelli O’Hara, to name a few.
While this type of musical gained popularity through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Mamma Mia! led the resurgence of the musical type into the millennium. Every year, new jukebox musicals open worldwide, with recent shows using songs from all music types: Madness, Green Day, Whitney Houston, Take That, Alanis Morrisette, and Michael Jackson, to name a few.
What are the different types of jukebox musicals?
As we’ve explained, there isn’t a cookie-cutter form for jukebox musicals. Each show enhances the original story, or the lives of recording artists, in unique ways. We’ve broken down the main types below:
Autobiographical: A jukebox musical that tells the life and career of a famous musician or group, using songs they've recorded to propel the storytelling forward. There are two main ways to set a piece in an autobiographical storyline: put the music in the artist’s world or allow the song to reflect society.
Non-autobiographical: A jukebox musical with a score comprised of songs by famous musicians. However, the plot will be an original story.
Musical film: Not all musicals start on stage. Some films incorporate jukebox musical storytelling into their narrative. For example, the 1977 film Saturday Night Fever uses songs by the BeeGees and prominent disco artists to tell Tony Manero's story. Often, a musical movie will also find its way to the stage: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Moulin Rouge! The Musical two notable cases.
Get tickets to jukebox musicals in London
There are plenty of popular jukebox musicals you can see now in London. See how different music eras come alive on stage, and enjoy an uptempo West End show today.
How can anyone resist this? The sunny ABBA musical brings the Europop feels to the West End. It's a non-autobiographical show, as it uses hits like "Dancing Queen" and "Slipping Through My Fingers" to tell of Sophie's desire to find her father before she walks down the aisle. It's a musical theatre marriage made in heaven.
Book Mamma Mia! tickets on London Theatre.
Baz Luhrmann's 2001 musical film is now a West End spectacular. Hear over 70 pop songs in this Parisian romantic whirlwind, all carefully selected to bring the Moulin Rouge cabaret magic to life. Join American writer Christian and club singer Satine as they do whatever it takes to hold on to their freedom, beauty, truth, and love. Be like a Bohemian and head to the Piccadilly Theatre now.
Book Moulin Rouge! The Musical tickets on London Theatre.
She's simply the best. No, she is. In this autobiographical musical, discover how Tina Turner smashed barriers and changed the industry to become the Queen of Rock and Roll. There's no need to be a private dancer; rock out with the Tina fans at the Aldwych Theatre.
Book Tina - The Tina Turner Musical tickets on London Theatre.
Oh, what a night you'll have with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Travel to 1960s America with the singing sensation and discover how their sound changed the world. You'll be clicking your fingers and tapping your feet at all their greatest hits, like "Working My Way Back To You," "Sherry," and "Big Girls Don't Cry."
Book Jersey Boys tickets on London Theatre.
Forget going out out. It's all about stepping into a pub — in the theatre. An all-male collective sing feel-good songs that will raise your spirit: Adele to Avicii, Sia to Guns 'n' Roses. Soak up the musical endorphins and discover the power of community.
Book The Choir of Man tickets on London Theatre.
How did five men walk the Detroit streets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? In this Motown megamix, join the Temptations' "Classic Five" in a story of brotherhood and loyalty. It's not all Temptations songs, though. As well as "Get Ready" and "My Girl," you'll hear the Isley Brothers' "Shout" and The Supremes' "Baby Love."
Book Ain't Too Proud tickets on London Theatre.
Rock out at the London Coliseum at the Queen jukebox musical. Over 20 chart-topping Queen songs interweave into a cutting-edge story where Bohemians wish to break free from Globalsoft Corporation. Be a champion West End theatregoer at this iconic show.
Book We Will Rock You tickets on London Theatre.
George and Ira Gershwin created plenty of hit shows. They're the musical brains behind An American in Paris and Porgy and Bess. Some of their songs come to life in Crazy For You, a sparkling love letter to showbusiness. Charlie Stemp plays Bobby, a theatre producer who makes his dreams a reality. Find your rhythm in this toe-tapping delight.
Book Crazy For You tickets on London Theatre.
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