"Real" Music on Broadway

Posted in: Musicals
on March 2, 2016

Ask someone what a show tune is. Chances are, they jumped to a classic - a song from The Sound of Music, Annie, maybe Wicked if they’re contemporary - but very few people will jump to Queen’s “We Will Rock You” or Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Little do they know, they’re dead wrong. Jukebox musicals and rock/pop musicals have been taking the scene by storm ever since the debut of American Idiot, the Green Day musical, in 2009.

Jukebox musicals are full-length musicals that feature pre-existing music from artists besides theatrical composers. Examples include Across the Universe, which features music by the Beatles, Moving Out, the Billy Joel musical, or even Rock of Ages, a musical featuring many artists from the classic rock era such as Bon Jovi, Europe, and Styx.

The first jukebox musical was The Night that Made America Famous, featuring music from a man I’ve never heard of, Harry Chapin. Now, though, there are dozens of jukebox musicals. Chances are, if a band was big enough, it had a jukebox musical. Some even have two, such as ABBA, whose music is in both the famous Mamma Mia as well as Abbacadabra.

Jukebox musicals aren’t the only musicals that feature the kinds of music you’d hear on the radio. Although musicals have been including modern music in them as long as musicals have been culturally relevant (i.e. always), one of the most interesting cases of it being used is in Duncan Sheik’s Spring Awakening, the revival of which recently left Broadway. The original Spring Awakening, was a German play by Frank Wedekind. It’s a play about 15-year-old German kids in the late 19th century dealing with sex, sexuality, abuse, school pressures, and suicide. The play itself is summed up in the title of a song from the 2006 Broadway adaptation, “Totally F*cked.” Spring Awakening features many rock/pop songs, and even includes the style visually into the show, with actors pulling microphones out of their jackets and even playing electric guitars on-stage in the most recent revival.

If pop or rock isn’t your thing, there’s still a musical for you. If hip-hop is more your speed, there’s Hamilton, a musical about the founder of the American treasury, Alexander Hamilton (I know how it sounds, but trust me, it’s good). Country music hasn’t been ignored either. The Civil War by Frank Wildhorn is a musical revue chronicling both sides of America during the Civil War.

Musicals will always remain current with the times, even if the usual assumption of a musical is more along the lines of King and I or Mary Poppins. I hold the firm belief that there’s a musical for everyone, and that all you have to do is look.