One-off workshop: Writing a jukebox musical

Gail Deal
Thursday, February 1, 2024

Gail Deal outlines a one-off workshop on how to make your own jukebox musical.

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The best way to introduce the students to jukebox musicals is to take them to the theatre to see one, or to show snippets on YouTube in class. Jersey Boys based on the songs of the Four Seasons; We Will Rock You is based on the songs of Queen. There are plenty on in the West End or in theatres around the country. You can show them films of musicals which qualify as jukebox musicals. After watching the show, start a discussion about the ingredients for this particular style of musical.

Approaching the writing of a jukebox musical

Divide the class into groups of between four and seven students for the devised pieces. Ask each group of students to chart their process on a shared PowerPoint. After selecting a stimulus, the group should focus on the style of the piece, which in this case is a jukebox musical. Ask them to first find an image of a jukebox on the internet and a definition, explaining what a jukebox does. This information should be put on a slide and the source written along the bottom.

What is a jukebox?

A jukebox is a coin-operated machine which plays recorded music tracks. Customers select a track often using a letter and a number. Jukeboxes used to be found in bars and pubs and are sometimes hired for parties with the appeal of the guests choosing what to play.


Ask the class if they are familiar with the term ‘jukebox musical’ and give them five minutes to write a definition. They can use their phones or computers to do research. A jukebox musical uses pre-recorded popular songs rather than original compositions. It might follow the lives of the artist/s and show the good times and the bad. It might have an entirely new story and new characters, such as in the case of Mamma Mia. The musical might feature songs by different artists.

The great thing about using this style is that all the songs are already available. The students might choose the songs of one artist and base a story around them in the way that several famous shows have. The performance of the songs is often faithful to the original lyrics although sometimes, some lines are changed to fit in with the plot or themes. & Juliet uses the songs of writer Max Martin, including Britney Spears' Baby One More Time and Katie Perry's Roar.

How do the songs work within the musical?

Ask the students to:

  • Investigate at least three jukebox musicals and list the song titles for each. Add the names of the composer and the lyricist.
  • Write the names of the lead characters.
  • Briefly explain the plot.
  • List the themes.
  • Explain the function of each song within the musical.
  • Comment on the structure of the musical and where the songs are placed.
  • Explain how the songs appeal to the audience's emotions.
  • Record the information and analysis on the shared PowerPoint.

Consider your audience

Jukebox musicals are lucrative as they often have a fan base who will want to the hear the songs played live. The students should discuss their initial ideas for songs and whether they want to use the songs of one artist/writer or several. Ask them to think about how the songs can be used, for example to reveal character; expose emotions; make a comment; add humour; further the narrative; entertain; break up the action; offer opportunities for dance numbers if there are to be choreographed sections.


Students should investigate copyright issues for each song. If they are going to be singing the main vocal, they can buy a backing track on The song can be bought as a vocal track with lead vocal or with just backing singers or as an instrumental. I usually buy all three versions so that students start with the cover version and end up with just the instrumental to back them. There is an option to change the key up or down. There is another option where the track can be customised on a mixing desk. This is a good opportunity for students to investigate the PRS and permission to use songs which others have created.

Original songs

I often ask our students to compose two songs or pieces of music so that not all the songs are pre-recorded. 20 to 30 minutes seems appropriate for the duration of the mini-jukebox musical.

This workshop was written for the devising unit A2 of the Level 3 BTEC National Foundation Diploma in Performing Arts Practice. It can be adapted and used for other musical theatre or devising work.