A complete guide to the 7 types of musicals in musical theatre
No two West End shows are identical to one another. Whether you’re a regular theatregoer or you’ve only been to the theatre once or twice, you’ll want to read our complete guide to the types of musicals you may expect to see in the West End and book your tickets to an all-singing, all-dancing piece of theatre that’s sure to be an unforgettable night of live entertainment.
Types of musicals
A book musical is a common type of West End show, with an originally written script, music and lyrics. Also described as a ‘musical play’ for the genre’s ability to tell a story through song, the key to a successful book musical comes in two parts:
Book – A book is the script of a musical, made up of dialogue between characters as well as stage directions for how lines should be delivered.
Music and Lyrics – Integral to each other, the music and lyrics form the score of a book musical. Most scenes in a musical will feature songs or musical accompaniment, with the music developing a character’s storyline or offering audiences a chance to find out more about a specific character. Often, dialogue can be spoken over the top of musical accompaniment to form a song, especially in sung-through book musicals such as Les Miserables.
Want to see an original book musical? Head to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see The Book of Mormon, with a book, music and lyrics written by the creators behind South Park. Follow two elders on their mission to Uganda as they spread the word of Jesus Christ with unthinkable consequences.
A jukebox musical is a stage show that uses the songs of a recording artist, band or style of music to form the basis for a production. With many chart-topping musicians’ tracks in a jukebox musical including Michael Jackson and Green Day, this type of show has offered audiences the chance to appreciate their favourite artists in a new light.
There are two main types of jukebox musical which are often staged in the West End:
Autobiographical – This type of musical will chart the life and career of a specific performer, interweaving the artist’s songs into a specially-created narrative for the musical. Examples include Tina – The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre, with audiences able to learn more about the American performer through her greatest hits including “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits”.
Non-autobiographical: Mamma Mia is a non-autobiographical jukebox musical, featuring the greatest hits of ABBA with a storyline that isn’t related to the Swedish band. Although a musician’s discography can be used to create a narrative, the themes and plot are not related to the song’s original intentions.
Want to read about different jukebox musicals which have been performed in the West End? You’ll want to check out our greatest hits!
A musical revue combines song, dance, music and other forms of entertainment into a show that’s often lively, celebratory and gets the audience up on their feet! A musical revue may not feature a detailed storyline with original characters in the same manner as a book or jukebox musical, but the show will still link from one scene to the next to provide a story that audiences can follow.
The history of the West End has not been forgiving to revues; The Intimate Revue in 1930 reached the conclusion of the first half before the show was to be cancelled mid-performance and not be repeated. Read even more about revues and the history of the West End with us.
Although there are fewer revues currently playing in the West End, Thriller Live has stood the test of time in the West End, enjoying 10 years at the Lyric Theatre in 2019. Commemorating the musical career of Michael Jackson, hear the King of Pop’s biggest songs including “Billie Jean”, “Black or White” and “Smooth Criminal” performed by a cast of vocalists and dancers. Guiding audiences through his legendary career, the presence of Michael Jackson can definitely be felt at this musical revue.
Often created to present certain themes, rather than focus on certain characters or a storyline, a concept musical can be a powerful way to present a message. A concept musical can be based upon a pre-existing story, such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat offering a musical re-telling of the story in the Book of Genesis or the final few days in Jesus’ life as told in Jesus Christ Superstar.
A concept album can also be recorded prior to this type of musical being staged in the West End. For example, the upcoming production of Joseph at the London Palladium marks the fiftieth anniversary since the release of the concept album, however it was four years after the album before the musical made its way to the West End.
The two musicals used here as examples both feature music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with all his future productions listed here.
As the name suggests, a rock musical is a piece of musical theatre with a soundtrack that lend itself to commercial rock music. In recent years, rock musicals have frequently been performed in the West End, with examples including the jukebox rock show Rock of Ages featuring 1970s glam rock tracks made famous by Journey, Bon Jovi and Foreigner, newer shows such as Heathers as well as revivals of 20th-century musicals.
Bat Out of Hell managed to combine jukebox and rock musicals, featuring the songs of Meatloaf with an original story set in the alternative world of Obsidian, playing at the Dominion Theatre last year.
Adapted from the silver screen to the stage, a film musical will bring the story of a cinematic blockbuster to the theatre. Film-based stage adaptations regularly draw large theatregoers to the West End, as audiences look forward to seeing some of their favourite films come to life, with this type of show potentially featuring original music and lyrics to enhance the storyline.
Examples of film musicals currently in the West End include 9 to 5 at the Savoy Theatre, as the film which saw Dolly Parton rise to superstardom is adapted into a musical. Others include Waitress, originally a film by Adrienne Shelly given the musical treatment with songs by Grammy Award-nominated artist Sara Bareilles.
Animated films aren’t left behind either. Head to the West End and you can see The Lion King brought to life as these film musicals are sure to transport you to another world.
Golden Age musical
Some of the earliest musicals to be written are said to hail from the ‘Golden Age’ of musical theatre. Writers including Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim were leading figures in creating original book musicals that brought a new age of musical classics including Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate and Guys and Dolls.
Want to listen to even more songs from the golden age? Read our complete guide of Stephen Sondheim musicals.