Musical have been a popular choice for theatre goers for over a century. Musical performers need to be able to sing, dance and act well if they wish to draw their audience into their story or stage show. The score also needs to be entertaining and contain prominent leitmotifs which help to develop the characters. One of the reasons why musicals continue to maintain a strong following is that there are a number of different types of story and genre of music represented. So let’s take a brief look into some of the different types of musical that are performed on stage or film.
A book musical is defined as performance where musical numbers and dances are fully integrated into a proper narrative with defined dramatic goals. A book musical is normally made up of three major elements; music, lyrics and script (book). In the majority of cases, the script or story is created first, and then the score (music and lyrics) is created afterwards as a way of developing the characters and furthering the narrative.
A jukebox musical is a musical whilst is created using pre-existing songs. These songs are put together to create a story. The songs may all be by the same artist or group, but a jukebox musical can also be created by blending music by different artists. The songs can be sung in their original state; however the lyrics or the music can be adapted slightly to make them fit in better with the story.
Examples of other famous Jukebox musicals include; We Will Rock You (featuring the songs of Queen) and Mamma Mia (featuring songs by Abba). Although Jukebox musicals can portray a completely original story, they can also be used in a documentary style. In these cases, they may help to portray the stories of the original artists; for example Jersey Boys.
A revue is a type of musical theatre which combines singing, dancing, music and sketches. The contents of a revue are normally linked together by a common theme. Although a revue can have a storyline, this is usually weak and is normally considered to be secondary to the content of individual pieces and performances within the revue. Revues are a popular form of entertainment amongst student drama societies, because they allow members to have the chance to showcase an array of different talents.
The society may decide on a loose theme and ask members to contribute to the show using their own interpretation of that theme. Revues may also be staged by particular composers or performers to showcase their own work. Examples of this include; Side by Side (Music and Lyrics of Stephen Sondheim), and Tom Foolery (the works of Tom Lehrer).
A concept musical is a musical where a theme, metaphor or concept is just as important as the overarching plot and the featured songs. The concept musical became particularly popular during the 1960’s when directors and playwrights sought to throw traditional theatrical structures out in favour of experimentation and freedom of expression. Directors and playwrights will often use their concept to make some sort of social commentary. Some critics argue that it is harder for concept musicals to find commercial success, because the concept or theme may not always be clear-cut. This means that the content is often more divisive than that of traditional musicals.
Examples of concept musicals include; Allegro, Cabaret and Avenue Q.
Rock Musical / Rock Opera
Rock musicals or rock operas are productions which use more modern styles of music to tell a story. Although the music is usually original for the production, it may be influenced by or written by famous rock musicians. Tommy by The Who is a prominent example of a rock musical which was created by rock musicians. Spring Awakening is an example of a modern rock musical which has been created to tell a pre-existing story. The rock music themes have been cleverly used in this musical to help to portray the emotional angst which is being experienced by the main characters in the piece. The use of rock-style tunes also helps to make an 18th Century story seem more relatable to modern day audiences.