Jukebox musicals are a longheld tradition in musical theatre, but the modern bio-musical (telling an artist’s life story through their catalog of music) really started to pick up steam with the Tony-winning hit Jersey Boys in 2005. There are plenty of bio-musicals still running on Broadway and around the globe, and more preparing to hit the stage.
Is your favorite artist on this list?
The artist at the center: Carole King
The singer-songwriter transformed the sound of the ’60s and ’70s by penning hits for artists like Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, and James Taylor. Her own songs include “It’s Too Late” and “So Far Away.”
Where and when you can see it: Broadway’s Stephen Sondheim Theatre in an open-ended run; around the U.S. on tour through June 2019.
Further Reading/Watching: While Writer is King’s (underrated) debut album, it is Tapestry (her second album) that defined her career. The diamond-certified album is a great place to start listening to the legend’s songs. No. 1 hits like “It’s Too Late” and “I Feel The Earth Move” come from this record. The movie Grace of My Heart, reportedly modeled after King’s career, chronicles the life of a musician during the 1960s. You can check out her biography from American Masters here.
The artist at the center: Cher
One of the most iconic names in showbiz, Cher got her start as a duo with her partner Sonny Bono. After they parted ways, she stayed in the spotlight by releasing albums, hosting the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and acting in films and on Broadway. She won an Oscar in 1988 for her performance in Moonstruck and is the only artist to have a No. 1 single in every decade since the ‘60s.
Where and when you can see it: Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre in an open-ended run
Further Reading/Watching: Go way back to the beginning by watching clips of her variety show with then-husband Sonny Bono, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, on YouTube. From there, listen to one hit from each decade: “I Got You Babe,” “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves,” “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Believe,” “Song For the Lonely,” and “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” To listen to more, you can buy her most recent compilation of hits Gold or listen to the This Is Cher playlist on Spotify. You can also watch her Oscar-winning performance in Moonstruck on Amazon Prime.
Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations
The artist at the center: The Temptations
The famed Motown group formed in Detroit consisted of founding members Otis Williams, Elbrdige "Al" Bryant, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams. Thanks to their cohesive look, tight choreography, and hits like “Just My Imagination” and “My Girl,” the quintet cemented their status as one of the most successful groups of all time and continue to tour to this day.
Where and when you can see it: Ain’t Too Proud begins previews February 28 at Broadway’s Imperial Theatre, with an opening date set for March 21, in an open-ended run
Further Reading/Watching: To start listening to the quintet’s soulful tunes, look up the The Definitive Collection: The Temptations album on Spotify or iTunes. For bookworms, group founder Otis Williams wrote a self-titled group autobiography The Temptations that was turned into a TV miniseries (which you can watch on Amazon Prime).
Tina: The Musical
The artist at the center: Tina Turner
Often called “The Queen of Rock n Roll,” Tina Turner first came to prominence with her then-husband, Ike Turner. Together, the two recorded songs including “Proud Mary” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” After a contentious divorce, Turner found solo super stardom with hits like “(Simply) The Best,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” and “Private Dancer.” She has won eight Grammys, with three honorary Awards, and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She is the only female artist to earn Grammy nominations in pop, rock, and R&B. Rolling Stone lists her as 17th in their “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.”
Where and when you can see it: London’s West End at the Aldwych Theatre; on Broadway at a theatre to be announced in Fall 2019.
Further Reading/Watching: The live album Tina! is a great one-stop shop for her hit singles. Private Dancer from the ’80s is iconic, too, and worth a listen. Once you’ve heard her music, read her autobiography I, Tina, or watch the 1993 film What’s Love Got to Do With It? starring Angela Bassett.
The artist at the center: Judy Garland
Star of classic films The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St. Louis, and A Star is Born (to name only a few), Judy Garland is a name the world will never forget. Contracted (or trapped, depending who you ask) by MGM at the beginning of her career and often ridiculed by producers for not being pretty enough, she delighted audiences in films, live concerts, and television for decades. Her influence cannot be overstated.
Where and when you can see it: Currently in development for Broadway after an out-of-town tryout from Goodspeed Musicals
Further Reading/Watching: If you haven’t listened to Judy much, stop what you’re doing, open up Spotify and play the Grammy-winning Judy at Carnegie Hall. Much of her work is available on the streaming service. To watch her biography, stream Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows on YouTube. If you prefer to hit the books, consider Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland by Gerald Clarke or her daughter Lorna Luft’s memoir Me and My Shadows. Luft also recently released a new book about A Star Is Born—produced by her father, Sid Luft and starring her mother.
The artist at the center: Josephine Baker
Rising to fame during the 1920s Jazz Age, Josephine Baker sang and danced on stages around the world, including Paris’ famed Folies Bergère where she debuted the iconic banana costume. She was the first African-American to have a leading role in film (Siren of the Tropics). Later in life, she became a figure in the Civil Rights Movement and was buried with military honors for her assistance to France during World War II.
Where and when you can see it: After a world premiere at Florida’s Asolo Rep, the musical is still Broadway-bound but no plans have been announced.
Further Reading/Watching: Get familiar with Baker’s distinctive voice and style by listening to 50 Super Hits on Spotify. Then, watch the 1991 biopic The Josephine Baker Story (HBO), which won Lynn Whitfield an Emmy Award for her performance. Finish up by reading Sherry Jones’ biography Josephine Baker’s Last Dance released in 2018.
The artist at the center: Donna Summer
Born in Boston, this disco queen rose to prominence during the boogie fever of the 1960s and ‘70s, and there she remained for decades. Her biggest hits include "Last Dance," "MacArthur Park," "Heaven Knows," "Hot Stuff," and "Bad Girls."
Where and when you can see it: A U.S. tour launching September 30, 2019
Further Reading/Watching: The best place to start with Donna’s music is her iconic compilation album On the Radio: Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2. Once you’ve gotten a feel for her sound, read about her life in her own words in Ordinary Girl.
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough
The artist at the center: Michael Jackson
One of the most iconic signers of all time, Michael Jackson grew up singing in The Jackson 5 with his older brothers. After gaining massive popularity, Jackson started a solo career that would lead to him create the best selling album of all time: Thriller. The undisputed "King of Pop" hits the stage in a show that examines a specific chapter of his life.
Where and when you can see it: On Broadway in Summer 2020 at a theatre to be announced
Further Watching: If you haven’t seen Jackson’s performance as the Scarecrow in The Wiz, it’s a great place to watch the first collision of the King of Pop and musical theatre. His documentary Michael Jackson's This is It showcases Michael's artistry as he prepared for the concert series that never came to be due to his untimely death. Of course, the best place to witness Jackson in action are any of his music videos. Take a look here for a list of the Top 20.
The artist at the center: Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
The quartet got their start in the doo-wop of the early 1960s with their hits like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and moved into pop hits like "Oh What a Night," "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You." Recognized for their blue collar Jersey roots, the band became one of the biggest bands to ever perform on the airwaves.
Where/When you can see it: An open-ended run Off-Broadway at New World Stages; currently on a U.S. tour through July 2019; on second national U.K. tour through March 2019.
Further Watching: The band’s collection of work can be found on the album The Very Best of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Once you have several “Oh, I didn’t realize that was them!” moments, you’ll be ready to watch their story unfold on screen in Jersey Boys, directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie is available on Netflix, and for rent through various streaming services.
The artist at the center: Gloria Estefan
Gloria Estefan, one of the most prominent Latin-American artists to ever hit the stage, got her start thanks to Emilio Estefan and his band the Miami Sound Machine. Eventually, Estefan would go on to a record-breaking solo career with hits like "Conga," "Rhythm is Going to Get You," and "Turn the Beat Around."
Where and When you can see it: Currently on U.S. tour through April 2019
Further Watching/Reading: Explore Gloria’s transition from local Spanish-language singer to global superstar by listening to The Essential Gloria Estefan. Once you’ve heard all the hits, take a break and watch her performance in Music of the Heart. After that, whip up some of her recipes from her and her husband’s cookbook, Estefan Kitchen—also the name of their Miami restaurant.