Huey Lewis & The News were back in the…ermm…news a few months ago with the announcement it would be the latest subject of a “jukebox musical,” a stage production that uses the band’s songs to tie together some kind of story. Billy Joel, Elvis Presley and a number of others have all had shows created using the best-known hits – as well as a few deep cuts where thematically relevant – to present something new and enjoyable to the theater-going audience. There’s even one featuring the music of The Go-Gos in a test run now.
This week, of course, sees the release of Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again, the sequel to 2008’s original that was based on one of the earliest such musicals as well as one of the biggest successes in the genre. Musicals come in and out of fashion every few years in Hollywood, with any breakout hit immediately positioned as being the one that will fully revitalize the format. That never comes to pass, though.
Surprisingly, there have only been a few other straight adaptations of the “jukebox musical” theatrical format to movie screens. Rock of Ages used the hair metal and hard rock music of the 80s in a story of making it in the hard-knock music industry, while Jersey Boys used the music of The Four Seasons to chronicle that band’s rise to the top.
Still, why weren’t there more in the wake of Mamma Mia’s success? Where are the adaptations of Movin’ Out (Billy Joel), The Cher Show (Cher), Soul Sister (Tina Turner), Holler If Ya Hear Me (Tupac) and others?
As Kaitlyn Tiffany at The Verge pointed out last year in the wake of La La Land’s success, movie musicals are not nearly as much of a shaky proposition as they’re often made out to be. Rock of Ages flopped hard and Jersey Boys didn’t light the box office on fire, but that’s a very limited data set we’re pulling from for examples. And musicals are all the rage on TV, with “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” coming back for one more season and networks competing for who can stage the most lavish live production of an old show.
The strongest case for producing more musicals, including those based on the songs of a single artist or group, is in the sales of recent movie soundtracks. Albums tied to Black Panther, The Greatest Showman and a few others have become bestsellers in the last year, offering the corporations that own movie studios an additional source of revenue. These companies are always looking for ways to monetize IP they manage and many of these acts have moved into the “repackage the greatest hits every four or five years” part of their careers, so it’s a win-win.
Take a look at this list of jukebox musicals – some of which I don’t agree should be counted in the category – and leave a comment with which ones you want to see turned into movies.