A Britney Spears Musical Is Broadway-Bound. Could It Actually Be Good?
Once Upon a One More Time is about fairy-tale princesses discovering feminism to an all-Britney soundtrack.
This October, Chicago audiences will be the first in the world to experience Once Upon a One More Time, a new musical showcasing the music of Britney Spears. The show fills the gap in the James M. Nederlander Theatre calendar left by the Michael Jackson musical Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough, which cancelled its Chicago run and will make its world premiere on Broadway. The two shows represent different approaches to the so-called jukebox musical — a profitable venture that, for better or worse, is here to stay.
This week, we weigh the Britney musical's prospects of success. If I said I want to watch it now, would you hold it against me?
What is a jukebox musical?
"Jukebox musical" is a catch-all term for stage shows built around popular music, but it really describes three different types of shows:
1. The True Jukebox Musical: This is a show that uses songs from a variety of artists in order to tell a story. The songs can be curated around a specific genre or era (as in Rock of Ages), or they can be all over the map (as in Priscilla Queen of the Desert). Either way, they exist in the same machine, like songs in a jukebox.
2. The Bio-Musical: This is a show that uses the song catalogue of a particular band or artist to tell their life story. Prominent examples include Jersey Boys, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and The Cher Show.
3. The Devised Plot Jukebox Musical: This is a show that uses the songs of one artist to tell a brand new story, completely unrelated to the life of that artist. While less common than the bio-musical, this is actually the model of the most successful jukebox musical ever to run on Broadway: Mamma Mia!
There's an Atlantic divide when it comes to jukebox musicals: While West End audiences have been happy to embrace the devised plot model with shows like We Will Rock You and The Bodyguard, Broadway producers have tended to steer clear of them in favor of bio-musicals. This may have to do with the back-to-back flops of two devised plot musicals in 2005: the Beach Boys musical Good Vibrations, and the Elvis musical All Shook Up. Since then, most new Broadway jukebox musicals have taken the bio-musical form.
That may be changing: Last year saw the Broadway runs of both the Jimmy Buffett musical Escape to Margaritaville and the Go-Go's musical Head Over Heels, neither of which offered biographies of the musicians. Conor McPherson's ghostly Girl From the North Country (built around the music of Bob Dylan) played an acclaimed run off-Broadway, while the Alanis Morissette musical Jagged Little Pill played Cambridge, Massachusetts, with an eye toward a Broadway berth this fall. All of this signals a renewed confidence on the part of American producers in the devised plot model — and the replacement in Chicago of a Michael Jackson bio-musical with a devised show using the songs of Britney Spears seems to offer further confirmation.
What kind of jukebox musical will Once Upon a One More Time be?
Once Upon a One More Time tells the story of a book club made up entirely of fairy-tale princesses. When a rogue fairy godmother drops a copy of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique onto their laps, it sets them on a path to questioning the patriarchal tall tales that governs their existence — myths best smashed to the music of Britney Spears. This show falls firmly in the devised plot category.
Is this a good choice for Britney Spears?
Synthesizing second-wave feminism with the music of Britney Spears has the potential to be campy good fun, and perhaps even subtly subversive. One can easily imagine a toxic masculinity dream ballet using the song "Toxic," or a showstopping takedown of the concept of female hysteria set to "(You Drive Me) Crazy." The creative soil is rich.
The devised plot model also avoids becoming a self-serving stage memoir (as so many bio-musicals are). Honestly, the idea of a 37-year-old having a conclusive biography on Broadway is a depressing thought for everyone, especially for an artist who has just begun (having her fun).
But is Britney Spears a good choice for Broadway?
Maybe! While so many jukebox musicals have capitalized on music beloved by baby boomers with expendable income, the well of viable acts is starting to run dry. (Beyond "Margaritaville," how many Jimmy Buffett songs can you name off the top of your head?) This helps explain the appearance of jukebox musicals geared toward musical acts of the '80s (like the Go-Go's) and '90s (like Alanis Morissette). Britney Spears broke through to national attention in 1999 with "...Baby One More Time," so her inclusion on the Broadway stage represents an audacious leap into the 21st century for the jukebox musical. Still, her millennial fans are aging and starting to have a little bit of wealth of their own. Whether they choose to spend that money on Broadway tickets is yet to be seen.
As with every show on Broadway, the play's the thing, and that will be written by Jon Hartmere (Bare). A great stage show can lead to strong word of mouth, which can lead to big lines at the box office. This is where the right creative team will be essential: The director of Once Upon a One More Time will be by Kristin Hanggi, who also helmed the wildly successful five-year run of Rock of Ages. If campy fun is the vision, she's the one to make it a reality. Husband-and-wife team Keone and Mari Madrid have signed on to choreograph, and if the below video is any indication, this will result in an invasion of street dance onto the Broadway stage — perfect for a Britney musical. I don't know where Amy is, but if u seek Britney, her spirit (if not her person) will be in the Nederlander Theatre on October 29.