I am one of those people who refuse to get TikTok but will end up watching the exact same content when it inevitably makes its way onto Instagram reels. So, scrolling one day, I happened upon a reel captioned Jukebox Musicals: in which user @lewbearbrown wears a Musical-Theatre-Medieval-peasant costume, standing against a gaudy village backdrop; the opening of a pop song plays as he exclaims ‘The giant’s going to destroy the village, what are we gonna do? I know…’ and then Poker Face by Lada Gaga begins, because of course. Jukebox musicals really do be like that.
The reason behind the oftentimes nonsensical plot lines and more than tenuous links between story and song that characterise jukebox musicals appears to be simply that the music is not only the priority, but it is the soul, the core, and the purpose behind the whole show. This makes sense I suppose, seeing as jukebox musicals are mostly catering to a fanbase, but it does not make for brilliant theatre. Sometimes a specific song must make it to the stage no matter what – I mean can you imagine Mamma Mia! without Dancing Queen – so that the dialogue must then suffer to make room for the big hit. Thus, the writing solely becomes a way in which to introduce the next song and would thus be nothing without its track list.
This may seem too sceptical, but it actually appears the be how the writing process works : you take the discography of a beloved artist, preferably one which spans a variety of genres, narratives, and themes; hand-pick a track list, making sure to include the big hits and some lesser known fan favourites; and then write a story that can, as seamlessly as possible, take us from one song to the next.
I actually felt very inspired and thought I could come up with a jukebox musical myself, all I needed was to decide on an artist… An artist with a large discography, a large fanbase, and a large variety of sounds and themes. Someone popular and fun (after all, I can’t see something like a Slint jukebox musical working too well) … It seemed obvious. Taylor Swift.
Here is just a brief plot summary I came up with. The featured songs are noted in brackets (Song Title; character(s) performing), I hope you enjoy.
Reputation: A Taylor Swift Jukebox Musical
We are introduced to Alison, a fifteen-year-old aspiring pop star. She is competing in an ‘American Idol’-esque singing competition (Fifteen; Alison and ensemble).
Alison arrives at the competition accompanied by her older sister, Betty. We meet her boyfriend, Josh, and best friend Katy. Katy and Betty are very supportive, helping Alison with her makeup, but Josh has other plans… Just before she goes on stage, Josh breaks up with her. Alison is heartbroken, but the show must go on. She steps on stage and gives a heartrending performance (Mean; Alison). She makes it to the live performance stage of the competition which will take place in New York. Her spirits slightly lifted, she goes to share the news with Katy, but finds Katy kissing Josh. Betrayed and full of anger she confronts them (Bad Blood; Alison and ensemble). That night, Alison considers her blooming career and withering relationships (White Horse; Alison).
Alison and Betty arrive in New York (Welcome to New York; ensemble, Alison, and Betty). Meanwhile, Katy expresses the overwhelming guilt that has overcome her since Alison left. She reveals how she and Josh were dating for years and how he cheated on her and subsequently left her for Alison. Now she has had enough of his scheming (We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together; Katy). She then leaves for New York, hoping for a second chance.
Alison is introduced to Chloe, her mentor, as well as Tilly, Milly, and Lilly, three other contestants. Chloe teaches Alison how to exude more confidence and this transitions into Alison’s first live performance (Bejeweled; Chloe and Alison). Impressed, Tilly, Milly, and Lilly invite Alison to their afterparty. Alison accepts despite dinner plans with Betty. She fails to apologise and simply lets Betty know of her change of plans on her way out. Betty is left alone, disappointed.
At the party, Alison meets Jude, a former contestant. They hit it off well, and he expresses his admiration for her (Gorgeous; Jude). The following day, she tells Tilly, Milly, and Lilly all about Jude. They tell her not to get attached and that love is a ‘game’ (Blank Space; Tilly, Milly, Lilly, and Alison). Alison doesn’t agree with them and has a lovely date with Jude. Perhaps she is falling in love… (Our Song; Alison and Jude). Arriving back at the hotel room after her date, she goes straight to bed, ignoring Betty who was waiting up for her. Betty reflects on the change in her sister, and while happy for her success, she misses the bond they once had (dorothea; Betty). She writes a letter to Alison saying that she is going back home. Sorrowful but resolved, she leaves.
Alison finds the letter and upon reading it is hit by the realisation that she has been taking Betty for granted (Anti-Hero; Alison and ensemble). She leaves to go look for Betty, but as she is looking for her sister, she is found by her friend. Katy apologises (this is me trying; Katy). Alison can’t fully forgive her yet but wants to be friends again. Alison then explains to Katy how Betty has left and how being famous is not as amazing as she thought it would be (The Lucky One; Alison and Katy). She almost quits the competition, but Katy says that Betty would want her to continue competing. Alison agrees, and they head to the final.
At the venue, Tilly, Milly, and Lilly are getting ready to perform and upon seeing Alison make snide comments about Betty and Jude. The trio go on stage and perform (Look What You Made Me Do; Tilly, Milly and Lilly) and receive a standing ovation. Katy joins Chloe in helping Alison get ready and Jude comes to give his support, but as she is about to change, Alison notices that her outfit is missing. Just then Tilly, Milly and Lilly walk in and mention how they “accidentally” ripped her outfit and so it had to be thrown away. Alison is distraught. Katy, Chloe, and Jude feel helpless as none of them can sew, but then Betty walks in, and she has a plan. They manage to piece together a beautiful, shiny dress. Alison apologises to Betty who forgives her and goes on stage for her final performance (Bejeweled (reprise); Alison). She does amazingly but comes in second place and the winner is… Tilly, Milly, and Lilly! Alison congratulates them but they just make fun of her for losing, and that is when Alison has had enough (You Need to Calm Down; Alison, Katy, Betty, Chloe, Jude, and ensemble). They decide to have their own afterparty, but Alison invites the trio, saying that no one should ever be forgotten. Jude asks Alison to be his girlfriend (Love Story; Alison and Jude). Even though she did not win, Alison is confident in her future career as a singer. Everyone is happy and celebratory (Long Live; all cast and ensemble). The show ends… with an encore (Shake It Off; all cast and ensemble).
I apologise if your favourite song didn’t make the cut (I just couldn’t figure out how to fit All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) into it – I wanted to write a cohesive story after all).
Featured Image: Chaz McGregor on Unsplash