It seems that more and more music acts want to capitalize on the growing "jukebox musical" craze, in which all the songs are drawn from popular artists' existing repertoires. ABBA (Mamma Mia!), Billy Joel (Movin' Out), Queen (We Will Rock You), Madness (Our House)...the list goes on. But did you know that jukebox musicals exist for Blondie, Take That, and Earth, Wind, & Fire? There are even two jukebox musicals based on Dresden Dolls songs. (see Wikipedia: Jukebox Musical)
The latest, and somewhat intriguing, announcement is that Michael Mayer, director of Broadway’s Spring Awakening, has taken on Green Day's 2004 concept album American Idiot and will debut the musical in September. Characters from the album like Jesus of Suburbia, St. Jimmy, and Whatshername will likely be major players in the musical.
In an interview with the New York Times, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong explained, “It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s what I love about it. It’s not the most linear story in the world. When people see it, it’s going to be my wildest dream.”
And, if American Idiot director Mayer's hunch is right, that wild dream might eventually come to Broadway. We'll just have to wait and see.
Apparently, California's Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which will premiere the American Idiot musical, is also presenting a show based on Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album.
Overall, I think jukebox musicals are an exciting way to bring lovers of popular music into the realm of theatre and to present these often treasured songs in a new light. At the same time, though, I am torn, thinking that bringing existing music into the plot of a musical can come off as contrived, unoriginal, and less meaningful. When you see a musical, the songs become attached to a scene or moment in the performance. The words become more literal as they are linked to a specific event in the story, rather than being left open for interpretation to the listener. One song has the same meaning for many listeners, rather than many meanings to many listeners. And doesn't that diminished meaning actually in turn diminish the artistic value of the song to begin with?
On the other hand, what may have once been just a "good song" could be presented in a way that it suggests an important meaning, or at least, shows another perspective on the song that one may not have thought of. I guess that's kind of the same thing that really great music videos can do for a song. And I guess this will always be why I can't make up my mind how I feel about spinning music into musicals.