Jukebox musicals coming to a theater near you

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Jukebox musicals coming to a theater near you

Jukebox musicals are all the rage. Popularized by productions such as “Mamma Mia!,” which showcased songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA, they are musicals which feature a set of pre-existing songs by mainstream artists as their scores.

The current trend was started when “Mamma Mia!” opened in 1999. Following the success of that production, others, including “We Will Rock You” based on the songs of rock group Queen; “Movin’ Out,” which featured contemporary dance performances accompanied by the music of Billy Joel; and “Good Vibrations,” with melodies from the Beach Boys, have met with positive feedback.
Although some have criticized the genre for ripping off what already exists rather than creating anew, many accusations were put to rest when “Jersey Boys,” featuring the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, received a Tony Award this year for Best Musical.
This trend holds true for Korean audiences as well. Korean jukebox musicals using hits from the 1970s and 1980s, including “Waikiki Brothers” (2003) and “Dalgona” (2004), are gaining ground in the musical industry. This December’s opening of “Zoo,” featuring songs by the group Zoo (Dongmulwon in Korean) including “On the Street” and “Writing a Letter to the Cloudy Autumn Sky,” kicks off more of these musicals, including “All Shook Up,” which features the music of Elvis Presley and will open early next year. PMC Productions has also announced it will present “March of Youth” with hits from the 1980s and 1990s and “For the Reason of Love,” (a working title) with tunes by singer-songwriter Kim Gwang-suk. Jukebox musicals including songs by Lee Moon-sae, Lee Seung-chul and Sanwoolim are also being planned.
“Jukebox musicals have the advantage of being approachable for the general public as they use songs that are already known,” said Lee Ah-ryeong, a department head at iSTAR media (which produced “Zoo”). Lee Sun-young, a department head at PMC Productions said, “These musicals give one the chance to look back on past hits. They have the capacity to include not only audiences in their 20s and 30s, but also people in their 40s and 50s.”

However, there are still criticisms of the genre, with people saying that there is a limit to the natural flow of the story with these musicals because they have to fit songs and lyrics that are already made. Others say they are just an easy money-making genre which takes advantage of the current retro trend.
In this light, “Mamma Mia!” is viewed by many to have succeeded in creating a perfect story for the songs of ABBA. “The problem is that many musicals are trying to copy the format of ‘Mamma Mia!,’ ” said Won Jong-hyun, a professor at Soonchunhyang University and a music critic. “Instead of trying to make and fit a story into the realms of the songs, the genre needs to reinvent itself and finds its unique nature.”

by Choi Min-woo
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