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Jukebox Hits and Misses

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It seems like producers have been trying to get a musical based on the music of the Monkees on stage for a few years now. After the collapse of Daydream Believer in 2008 (the show was pulled 9 weeks before its official opening night and UK tour, with rumours it was due to low ticket sales) a new musical called Monkee Business will have its world premiere at the Manchester Opera House as part of the Manchester Gets It First campaign.
I have to say that I’m not terribly excited about this show, as the Monkee’s were a little before my time so with the exception of a few songs - my Monkees trivia stretches to knowing that the character of Marsha Brady from The Brady Bunch had a crush on Davy Jones. It is however great to see Manchester score another world premiere, will this hit the heights of Ghost which opened here last year? Of course not but I’m sure producers are hoping that a little of that magic can rub off on them.

Of course Monkee Business is a comedy musical with the music made up of the bands greatest hits, a jukebox musical. Now I know some love jukebox musicals and some hate them but it would appear that they are not going anywhere for awhile. With the Spice Girls Musical, the Kylie musical and stage version of The Bodyguard using songs from Whitney’s back catalogue it would seem that producers are scrambling to attach their names to them. Of course everyone thinks poroducing a musical with a catchy already established score of pop songs that people can sing along too is an easy way to make money, but the Jukebox landscape is scattered with shows that never quite made it. However for every disaster there is always a Mamma Mia! or a Jersey Boys.
Let’s take a look and some of the hits and misses when it comes to the audience dividing Jukebox Musical.
HIT – Mamma Mia!
Opening in London in 1999, Mamma Mia has to be one of the biggest success stories for a jukebox musical, still running today (though reportedly about to move theatres) in London and on Broadway, the musical based on the songs of ABBA has had people up and dancing around the globe. Grossing over 2 BILLION dollars since it opened, this is one Jukebox musical that every producer wished they had jumped on back in the beginning.
FLOP – Good Vibrations
Taking the sun soaked music of The Beach Boys and putting them in to a musical was never a bad idea. Trying to put nearly 40 of them in to a show and to have very little storyline was a bad idea. The musical opened on Broadway  in 2005 and lasted only 94 performances and received scathing reviews. The young cast did all they could to bring the show about a bunch of college kids going to California for the first time to life, but sadly all the dancing, bikinis, boys in swim trunks and catchy music could not breath air in to this clunker.
HIT – Jersey Boys
The show that seemed to come out of nowhere with a not a lot of hype about it is still running today on Broadway  after opening in 2005, the show has also out lasted all predictions by still running in London as well. A fantastic musical about the rise to fame of the Four Seasons. A little different from other jukebox musicals because the story itself is about the group whose music the show uses. Winner of a Tony Award for best new musical, Jersey Boys is a true jukebox hit.
FLOP – Desperately Seeking Susan – The Musical
Based on a movie and a jukebox musical the critics had their knives ready before it even took to the stage. Using the music of Blondie to bring the great Madonna film of the 80s to life, Desperately Seeking Susan opened at the Novello Theatre in London in 2007 and closed 4 weeks later, opening to negative reviews (though it did get a few good ones) the musical struggled to find an audience. The sad thing is, it was far better than most jukebox musicals.
HIT – We Will Rock You
The music of Queen comes to life in the show with the absurd storyline that audiences seem to love because they have been flocking to see the show since it opened in 2002 at The Dominion Theatre, London. The show was panned by the critics when it opened but nothing has been able to stop it. Unlike Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia! however it has never found the huge success internationally, especially in America, that they have. The show played a less than successful run in Vegas and has never gone to Broadway. Here however, audiences still flock to the show.
FLOP – Daddy Cool
Featuring the music of Boney M and a story set on the streets of West London, the Romeo and Juliet inspired urban musical opened in 2006 and limped along before closing 6 months later. Panned by the critics and getting more attention for its backstage drama, the show tried to launch a UK tour but it was cancelled due to low ticket sales. Not a terrible show, just not a very good one and one I’m sure we won’t be seeing again in the UK.
HIT – Return to the Forbidden Planet
Opening in 1989 and winning the Olivier Award for Best Musical (beating Miss Saigon, I’m still not sure how that happened), the show based on Shakespeare's The Tempest and the 1950s science fiction film Forbidden Planet became and instant hit and still tours today. An off Broadway production played for around 250 performances to mixed reviews but here in the UK the show was a big hit. I personally still don’t get why
FLOP – Lennon
Based on the music and life of Lennon, the musical which played on Broadway for 42 previews and 49 performances was a disaster from the off. A troubled Out of Town try out, cancelling another than limping on to Broadway in 2005. The show was killed by the critics and box office was low. Lennon was a flop that everyone saw coming before it arrived on Broadway. Since the shows closure it has never been seen again.
So as you see, for every hit (Priscilla, Buddy, Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Rock of Ages) comes a flop (Hot Feet, Ring of Fire, The Times They Are A Changin, Can’t Smile Without You)
So how much business will the Monkees do?
Till next time!
- Craig Hepworth


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