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Types of Musical Theatre: From Book Musicals to Jukebox Musicals

May 10, 2022
Types of Musical Theatre: From Book Musicals to Jukebox Musicals
We all love musicals here but how much do you know about the different types of musical theatre your child could be performing? We’ve put together the main types of shows you might come across, so you’ll be a total theatre pro when it comes to knowing your jukebox from your book musical.  

What are jukebox musicals?

Jukebox musicals feature existing songs and use them to tell the story. They can use music by one specific artist or songwriter, for example Jersey Boys features songs by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, Mamma Mia features songs by ABBA and We Will Rock You features songs by Queen. Alternatively, they can feature songs by a mix of artists, like Rock of Ages. The creators of jukebox musicals will either use the songs to help shape the story or they will find songs that fit the story they’re telling, for example Moulin Rouge is loosely based on an opera and the songs were chosen to fit the pre-existing narrative. 

What are book musicals?

A book musical is a show where the songs are used to tell that specific narrative. They are fully integrated with the story itself. Book musicals are likely what comes to mind when you think of a ‘traditional’ musical. The name comes from the literal ‘book’ (usually called the ‘libretto’ in opera) that features the script, lyrics and anything else needed to link the score and story that the show is trying to tell. 

What are revue musicals?

Revue musicals play out more as a series of mini performances, for example songs, dances or sketches that link together thematically rather than telling a full narrative. These tend to be older musicals from the days of Vaudeville and music hall, but there are some modern examples including Songs for a New World. Some musicals don’t quite fall into the revue musical category but do seem inspired by the format, such as the West End musicals, Cats and Six

What are concept musicals?

Concept musicals are shows in which the overall theme or message is more important than the story itself. The purpose of the show is not so much to tell the story but more to leave the audience with food for thought. Examples include A Chorus Line and Chicago

What are contemporary musicals? 

Contemporary musicals are newer shows from recent years. Some divide up the periods of musical theatre’s evolution with contemporary musicals starting in the year 2000; but this is only a rough guide. Unlike older musicals, some contemporary musicals tend to place more emphasis on rock and pop scores.

What is a ‘legit’ musical?

Whilst all types of singing styles are perfectly valid, the term ‘legit musical theatre’ has come to refer to musicals and songs that require a more traditional and classically trained vocal style to perform. This is to separate this style from the pop or rock style of singing that is required for many contemporary musicals. However, this name is not an official one as ‘legit’ is short for ‘legitimate’ and all vocal styles are legitimate for theatre with so many different styles and genres of shows out there. No one vocal style is better or truly more ‘legit’ than another. 

What are sung-through musicals?

Sung-through musicals are exactly what they sound like. They are shows that are completely sung-through with no spoken dialogue. This follows the style of performance we traditionally see in opera, however, a sung-through musical can feature music of any genre. There aren’t many examples of true sung-through musicals but some titles include Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Les Miserables and Hamilton
Now you know a little bit more about the different types of musicals, you’ll be able to work out what shows fall into which category as you see, or perform them.