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'Jukebox Musicals' Put Pop on Broadway

Producers of <i>Jersey Boys</i> are reaching out to a non-traditional Broadway audience by running ads on oldies radio stations in New Jersey.
Producers of Jersey Boys are reaching out to a non-traditional Broadway audience by running ads on oldies radio stations in New Jersey.

What do the songs of ABBA, Billy Joel, the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and John Lennon have in common? They've all been the basis of a new category of Broadway entertainment: the jukebox musical, which takes popular song catalogs and places them in a dramatic context.

The trend began with 2001's Mamma Mia!, which centered around the songs of '70s disco group Abba. Other shows -- Lennon, All Shook Up and Good Vibrations -- tried to replicate the Mamma Mia! phenomenon but failed. One jukebox-musical success is the Billy Joel-based Movin' Out, directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp.

Though the jukebox musical formula has not been foolproof for producers, attempts to create another big hit continue. Jersey Boys, a nearly $8 million show centered on the songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, recently opened on Broadway. Other jukebox musicals are in the offing: A show based on the songs of Johnny Cash is opening on Broadway in February, and Tharp is working on a Bob Dylan show.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Lunden is a freelance arts reporter and producer whose stories have been heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition, as well as on other public radio programs.

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