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The different types of musicals in musical theatre

A complete guide to the different types of musicals in musical theatre

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Even if musicals share themes, topics or characters, no two West End shows are the same. But, each musical falls into a larger bracket, from jukebox musicals, rock musicals and shows with an original storyline. 

If you're a musical theatre novice or you're a keen theatregoer, read our complete guide to every type of West End musical in London. Rest assured, whichever musical you see, you're guaranteed to enjoy an all-singing, all-dancing piece of theatre that's sure to be an unforgettable night of live entertainment.

Where can I see musicals? 

If you're wanting to see a West End musical, then you can book tickets on LondonTheatre.co.uk. Check out our guide to the top musicals currently running in London as well as shows opening soon. Musical tickets in London are available on LondonTheatre.co.uk.

What is a book musical?

A book musical is a musical that includes an originally written story, music and lyrics. Sometimes, a book musical, be called a "musical play", as book musicals often tell stories through songs. The key to a successful book musical comes in two parts:

Book - A book is the script, made up of dialogue between characters as well as stage directions for how lines should be delivered.

Music and Lyrics - Collectively, the music and lyrics form the score of a book musical. Most scenes in a musical will feature songs or musical accompaniment, with music developing a character's storyline or offering audiences a chance to find out more about a specific character. Occasionally, dialogue can be spoken over the top of musical accompaniment to form a song, especially in sung-through book musicals.

What is a jukebox musical?

A jukebox musical is a stage show that uses the songs of a recording artist, band or style of music to form the basis for a production. With many chart-topping musicians' tracks in a jukebox musical, this type of show has offered audiences the chance to appreciate their favourite artists in a new light. Check out British popstars that have either sung in or written West End musicals.

There are two main types of jukebox musical which are often staged in the West End:

Autobiographical - This type of musical will chart the life and career of a specific performer, interweaving the artist's songs into a specially-created narrative for the musical. Examples include Tina - The Tina Turner Musical and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Non-autobiographical - This type of musical uses songs from a solo performer or group to create an original story. One example is Mamma Mia!, using ABBA's greatest hits to tell a story on a Greek island. Although a musician's discography can be used to create a narrative, the themes and plot may not be related to the song's original intentions.

What is a musical revue?

A musical revue combines song, dance, music and other forms of entertainment into a show that's often a lively, celebratory affair, and gets the audience up on their feet. A musical revue may not feature a detailed storyline with original characters in the same manner as a book or jukebox musical, but the show will still link from one scene to the next to provide a story that audiences can follow.

The history of the West End has not been forgiving to revues; The Intimate Revue in 1930 reached the conclusion of the first half before the show was to be cancelled mid-performance and not be repeated. Read even more about revues and the history of the West End with us.

What is a concept musical?

A concept musical is a powerful way to present a message. Rather than focusing on characters, a concept musical will focus on themes. Concept musicals can be based upon a pre-existing story, such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat offering a musical re-telling of the story in the Book of Genesis or the final few days in Jesus' life as told in Jesus Christ Superstar.

What is a film musical?

A film musical brings the magic of the silver screen to the stage. Film-based stage adaptations regularly draw large theatregoers to the West End, as audiences look forward to seeing some of their favourite cinematic blockbusters brought to life. In most cases, film musicals incorporate songs from the film with original music written for the stage production. Check out film musicals and other theatre-related shows you can watch right now.

What is a Golden Age musical?

Golden Age musicals are productions which premiered in the 1940s and 1950s. Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim were leading figures in Golden Age musicals, including Oklahoma!, Kiss Me Kate and Guys and Dolls.

What is a rock musical? 

A rock musical is a type of musical theatre with a soundtrack that lends itself to commercial rock music. In recent years, rock musicals have frequently been performed in the West End, with examples including the jukebox rock show Rock of Ages featuring 1970s glam rock tracks made famous by Journey, Bon Jovi and Foreigner. Rock has also had an influence in newer musicals, including Heathers and Spring Awakening.

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