The Karaoke or Duke Box musical, as it is known by some, tends to divide opinions. Some people believe that it doesn’t count as a musical or a piece of theatre in its own right because the very essence of the piece – the music – comes from a previous source and is not organically linked to the new piece. Others fully embrace the fact that music which has popularity and a following in its own right can become a source of inspiration to something new. Obviously the commercial benefits are undeniable. Some of these duke box musicals are becoming definite contenders for the longest running musicals in the West End.
In fact, using some of the more dated or perhaps ‘classic’ tunes can even extend their popularity as music in their own right. Mind you, some of the lyric changes which have been put into place to make the songs work in the musical narrative might cause a divide between those who are the original fans and those who have only found the songs through the musical.
Mamma Mia! has probably gained some of the greatest popularity of all the Duke Box musicals through the big budget, A-list cast feature based on the stage musical starring the great Meryl Streep. This hit, using the songs of ‘ABBA’ tells the story of a girl’s quest to find her real father so that he can walk her down the aisle at her upcoming nuptials. The difficulty comes in the fact that her mother apparently slept with three men within weeks of each other who could all be contenders. The musical is definitely not trying to take itself too seriously and the memorable tunes will have you dancing in the aisles and humming all the way home.
We Will Rock You is somewhat less reliant on plot in order to make itself a viable West End hit. It focuses on two rebels desperate to recapture the joy of live music in a completely digital dictatorship of the future. However, this is not really important once you get into the spirit of the thing. Incredible voices, loud costumes and fantastic choreography really sell this musical. It feels more like a gig than a West End show and the cast really do the music of ‘Queen’ justice – including a particularly memorable moment where the guitarist from the band comes onto the stage and does one of Brian May’s famous solos while the cast bow down, literally, at his feet.
Jersey Boys is slightly different in that it uses the music of ‘Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ to tell the story of the creation and rise to international success of ‘Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’. In this way it doesn’t appear to shoehorn the tracks into a loose narrative but instead seems to give each of these memorable tracks a backstory and just a little extra flavour. Again, the cast truly honour these tracks and are able to showcase themselves too.
The Theatre is usually an incredibly expensive night out but TicketTree have discounted tickets for all the shows above as well as many more West End hits. You’re certain to find one to suit you and really, nothing beats a live show.