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Bio-Musicals: a new mainstay of London's West End

The ‘bio-musical’ genre featuring music superstars, seems to be dominating the West End. Carole King’s story in Beautiful relies not so much on knowledge of her or her story but knowledge of her music with songs such "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", "Up on the Roof" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman". There is, of course, the story of a strong woman who comes through the adversity of her failing marriage to achieve her dream and prove she can make it on her own. It has been a smash hit and it is a theme that will dominate the West End over the next 18 months.

Judy! Is the story of Judy Garland at three stages in her life; child actress, recently divorced single mother to Liza and her final CBS years. I saw the production when it was called Through the Mill at the Southwark Playhouse and it is a wonderful show. It is very much a play with music, including an onstage live band who also play some of Judy’s best-known songs as well as playing key characters in Judy's life. Judy’s story is much sadder than King’s. King’s adversity involved a toxic relationship with her husband and co-writer. King is still alive and still performing. Judy is about a toxic relationship with not only her lovers and her family but also herself. It is a sad story but presented so beautifully you will forget just how tragic Garland’s beginning, middle and end truly were.

Coming soon to London we have Tina, which I am very much looking forward to as someone who loves the biopic ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’. Expect great drama as well as Tina’s fantastic array of music. There is also a planned Dusty Springfield biopic, which is not to be confused with 2015’s Charing Cross Theatre production. Directed by Maria Friedman, it will arrive in the West End in 2018. Casting is yet to be announced for either.

Not all ‘bio-musicals’ are terribly sad. Thriller and Mamma Mia, using the music of Michael Jackson and Abba respectively, provide feel good shows from artists who had dramatic personal lives. Motown also uses Berry Gordy’s life story as a showcase for the many songs Motown were involved in. 

The success of ‘bio-musicals’ isn’t just about the songs but a sense of journey, whether it is going through The Beatles output in Let It Be, which often returns to London, or stories about underappreciated artists like Carole King and their lives.

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