The jukebox musical is a genre of theatre that uses previously released pop or rock songs in a form of compilation, or uses the back catalogue of a particular band or artist. The narrative of the show is therefore not formed around the creators of the music, as it would be in a biographical musical, but is instead used to form an original plot, which is unrelated to the artist. The genre has increased in popularity over the years, due to the success of West End shows such as Mamma Mia!, which uses of the songs of Swedish pop group phenomenon ABBA.
Written by British playwright, Catherine Johnson and composed by former ABBA band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia! is set on the Greek island of Kalokairi and centres around a bride named Sophie. Over the course of the narrative, Sophie finds her mother’s diary and discovers that it may help her discover the identity of her father, be it Sam, Harry or Bill. Sophie’s dream is to have her father walk her down the aisle at her traditional Greek wedding. She consequently invites all three estranged men to the upcoming wedding, as she believes that she will know her father as soon as she meets him. Moreover, she does so without her mother’s knowledge. As a result of this, when her mother finds out about the return of these ghosts from the past, she panics and turns to her friends and former band, the Dynamos, to help her through the ordeal and reconnect with her former flames.
The use of ABBA songs within the musical provides moments of exposition within the humorous script. For example, one of the early numbers ‘Honey, Honey’ is used to explore Donna’s diary. The song allows the audience to know the tone of the musical. It is a comedy that aspires to entertain, rather than a heartbreaking musical filled with soul-crushing ballads.
For this reason, the musical does not take its self too seriously. This is in part due to the use of the ABBA music, which was similarly light-hearted and breezy. With it’s upbeat tempo and fast paced lyrics, the music’s main aim was always to be joyous and fun. This translates perfectly onto the stage and allows for the characters of Donna, Tanya and Rosie to be full of life and provide comedy to what is usually a largely female dominated audience.
The fact that the music is familiar is an added bonus. It allows (and indeed encourages) the audience to sing and dance along with big numbers such as ‘Voulez-Vous’ and ‘Super Trooper’. This musical is one that you will be unable to stay sat down for. Instead, you will find yourself becoming your very own ‘Dancing Queen’!