In April 2018 Tina: the Tina Turner Musical opened at the Aldwych Theatre about Tina Turner. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd Tina is a musical biography incorporating her Ike and Tina Turner Revue era songs and the songs that made her 1980s comeback such a success. The rock musical genre seems to know what audiences want.
The rock musical is often dismissed as a ‘jukebox musical’ but in the 1970s shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar and Tommy proved there was a market for original songs in musical setting (though Tommy is more of Rock Opera). Audiences want a good story and if they can’t get that they want songs they know and love.
The turning point came in 2002 with Queen musical We Will Rock You, written by Ben Elton and panned by critics it was a smash hit with audiences becoming the 10th longest running musical when it closed at the Dominion in 2014. Tottenham Court Road hasn’t been the same without Freddie Mercury looming over it.
A string of rock jukebox musicals was to follow; American Idiot, Spring Awakening, Rock of Ages, The Toxic Avenger to name a few. In 2018 Knights of the Rose, a new musical will debut at the Arts Theatre. The blurb makes it sound like a rocky Game of Thrones but with songs by Bon Jovi, Bonnie Tyler, Meatloaf and No Doubt; this show has the potential to attract the audiences that have made shows like Rocky Horror, Bat Out of Hell and We Will Rock You gain huge successes in London and across the world.
Does the rock musical have a future? Of course, it does. Audiences value a good tune over a good plotline. Musicals are easier to market than plays and there is no shortage of actors willing to show their vocal range and acting chops. Whilst the reliance on already successful tunes may dishearten new composers the rock audience needs to trust any new work and a familiarity with the songs will lead to new audiences, who may grow to love books with original compositions.