Keep calm and put another dime in the jukebox! - Anonymous
That's how we know about jukeboxes. Some of you may have seen a box containing wax or paper cylinders, that could play your selected song, once you put a coin into it. You'd be surprised to know that there was a time when the novelty of musical entertainment was constituted by jukebox musicals. Jukeboxes predate the radio. But once radio broadcasting became mainstream, it also became more popular. You did not have to put a coin into a box anymore to listen to music. You could do that for free with a one-time investment into a radio box.
According to popular definitions of jukeboxes, these things presumably got their name from the American South, from the Gulla-Geechee language spoken by the Creole people, who would go to juke joints to drink, dance and generally get rowdy.
Jukeboxes were very popular at one time and you could see one installed in every bar or pub or café, even in India. They were particularly famous in the USA and you could find a jukebox in every malt shop and restaurant, places that were thronged by children after school.
You would find five or six records from famous artists like Elvis Presley or Indipop in one single jukebox. The idea of jukebox musicals germinated from this box of random song groupings. It wasn't such a big deal to compile a single record or collection of songs from one artist into a choreographed stage show with or without a storyline. And you would have a jukebox musical in the form of musical.
What are Jukebox Musicals?
Musicals in India arrived a lot late than the West. You might be surprised to know that jukebox musicals did not exist before mid-20th century. There are two reasons for this-
- There was no recording system to put artists on records.
- An artist would have to have enough records to put into the slots of jukeboxes.
You can imaging the result of trying to weave a single artist's work into a musical, especially in India. Most of the attempts resulted in revue musicals and did not even remotely resemble the Broadway productions as we know them. It is noteworthy to mention here that Elvis Presley was a lone exception to this. The 1977 production, Elvis, that detailed his life and career, hit record ticket sales, with thousand of grieving fans lining up to catch this tribute to the legend. He had, after all, died at the young age of 44, in the same year.
Beatlemania was another popular jukebox musical inspired by the popularity of The Beatles. This Broadway production, which ran from 1977 to 1979, was remarkable for nothing if not its technical aspects. Beatlemania was also a revue musical in some sense, even though it broke barriers for its innovative use of technology.
Jukebox Musicals Become Popular
ABBA is a name that is famous across all demographics, old and young alike. And to understand what are jukebox musicals, one can't not mention them. As famous as the song itself, the chartbuster Mamma Mia!, was also adapted to the stage into a Broadway musical, which became one of the most sensational musicals of all time.
As well-loved as this engaging show is, it was not the group’s first time adapting their music and lyrics to suit musical theatre; Abbacadabra was. If you are asking yourself, "How on earth have I never heard of it?" , there's a very good reason for that. The musical was actually made as a television program for children and the songs were modified to suit the audience.
Disney Studios became an established production house in this genre of American film musicals. Musicals in India, however, had a lot of catching up to do. It was a completely alien concept. It still is and that's why it has not gained too much traction here. Book musicals, on the other hand, are a relatively familiar concept. You will find so many literary classics adapted to the stage or even films. And they were all runaway hits, both in theatre and the silver screen.
Jukebox Musicals Over the Years
If you were born in the 90's, then here are some jukebox musicals that were trending throughout that decade. These titles became famous almost overnight and marked the coming of age for jukebox musicals in India and across the world. Mind you, none of these were actually produced in India originally, but many attempts were made to reproduce them. Take a look-
- Saturday Night Fever: the stage production based on the popular 70's hit film.
- Disco Inferno: inspired by Dante's work, this musical comprised of songs from the disco era.
- Forever Plaid: the famous male vocal harmony groups of the 50's.
- The Marvelous Wonderettes: the famous female vocal harmony groups of the 50's and 60's
- Boogie Nights: the British competition to American jukebox musicals.
Super Trooper, lights are gonna find you - ABBA
You guessed it. Make way for Mamma Mia! A show that obliterated any record set by Rodgers and Hammerstein, outperforming both The Sound of Music and The King and I, legendary shows by those ‘song and dance’ producers. It surpassed Beauty and the Beast for the number of shows played. On any given day, it won't be hard to find tickets to the show and you will always find a theatre company or venue, Broadway or not, staging this production.
The show is immensely popular because of its fun element and you can easily relate to the storyline, especially if you were born during the disco era. And of course, if you are a single parent, you would almost think like it's your story being performed on stage. And, of course, anyone who likes to be a part of the show: for its encore, the cast invites the audience to stand and sing with them!
The Phantom of the Opera made book musicals famous. In the same line, Mamma Mia! made jukebox musicals a big thing. This musical genre was not even known to many before Mamma Mia happened. It made the genre appealing and relatable for most audiences. And most importantly, it opened the floodgates of theatre to the greater public and made them hungry for musical entertainment.
This decade was quickly followed by the age of popular music such as Rock of Ages or On the Record. And people have since debated on the classification of musicals into revue musicals, or jukebox musicals, and even rock musicals. Book musicals such as My Fair Lady had a certain kind of gravitas that set them apart from all other types of musical genres.
And you can say, that with changing times, and changing tastes of audiences, musicals too have evolved and diversified.
For the Love of Jukebox Musicals
Jukebox musicals were soon overshadowed by portable radios, MP3 players, and other gadgets that pretty much obliterated the need for jukeboxes. There was a short resurgence in the middle with the coming of compact discs and their compatibility with jukeboxes. But that didn't last long. Especially with the coming of the digital era and the Internet.
The golden age of jukeboxes is all but gone!
If you look at recent jukebox musicals like The Cher Show, it hardly ran for a little above a year. Although not an original Broadway show, it still went on to win many Tony awards. Or Moulin Rogue. That one gained more popularity when it was adapted into a Hollywood movie rather than on the stage. You can still catch it on any of the OTT platforms, if you missed it the first time.
The truth is people's choices when it comes to sources and means of entertainment, have all changed and are being constantly replaced by new choices almost every year. So, you can still be a diehard fan of Indian jukebox musicals, but may not have access to the stellar performances that Broadway musicals offer. You can, however, resort to the power of the Internet, and catch these popular shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
What are concept musicals?