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Chords & Contracts: The PR Choreography of Jukebox Musicals

Published on February 6, 2024 at 11:34 a.m.
by Kat Weir.

Jukebox musicals are captivating productions that infuse popular songs into their narratives and have become a vibrant fixture in the world of entertainment. From the toe-tapping tunes of “Mamma Mia!” to the reimagined classics in “& Juliet,” these musicals transport audiences through the melodies of yesteryears while intricately navigating the labyrinth of acquiring song rights.

Behind this symphony of melodies lies a tale that not only echoes the pulse of pop culture but also showcases the delicate dance of public relations in acquiring these cherished tunes.

Backstage pass

Photo via Adobe Stock by chrisdorney

Imagine the complex negotiations involved in bringing iconic hits to life on stage. From securing the rights to ABBA’s chart-toppers for “Mamma Mia!” to harnessing the musical genius of Max Martin’s compositions in “& Juliet,” the process is a medley of legal complexity and artistic aspirations.

Negotiations for song rights often involve liaising with music publishers, record labels, estates and the original artists themselves. It’s a harmonization of business acumen, legal finesse and a profound appreciation for the cultural legacy these songs carry.

Timeless tunes

These musicals don’t just exist within the confines of the stage; they resonate deeply within popular culture. “Mamma Mia!” didn’t just celebrate ABBA’s music; it created a cultural phenomenon that fueled a resurgence of interest in the band’s discography, influencing fashion and even tourism to the Greek islands where the musical is set.

Similarly, “& Juliet” weaves the contemporary tunes of Max Martin into the timeless fabric of Shakespeare’s classic, creating a fusion that speaks to both old and new generations, resonating with diverse audiences and sparking conversations about the evolution of storytelling through music.

The PR playwrights

Photo via & Juliet Broadway’s Instagram (@andjulietbway)

At the heart of obtaining music permissions for jukebox musicals lies the artistry of public relations. PR professionals play a pivotal role in these negotiations, acting as liaisons between creators and rights holders. Their task involves painting a vivid picture of how the musicals pay homage to the songs, how they breathe new life into familiar melodies and how they honor the artists’ legacies.

Effective PR strategies build bridges between creators and rights holders, ensuring that the musicals are seen as respectful celebrations rather than mere commercial exploitations. A successful PR strategy involves aligning the vision of the musicals with the artistic intentions of the original creators, crafting narratives that honor the songs’ heritage, and highlighting the joint effort between artists and copyright owners.

In the PR strategies employed for “Mamma Mia!” and “& Juliet,” the focus centered on portraying these jukebox musicals as reverent tributes to the original songs they incorporated. Information gleaned from industry reports and interviews with production teams reveals a concerted effort in crafting narratives that emphasized the celebratory nature of the music.

For “Mamma Mia!,” interviews with band members highlighted the emotional resonance of ABBA’s songs within the storyline, emphasizing a collaborative spirit between the creators and ABBA members. The campaign painted the musical not as a commercial exploitation, but as an authentic homage to the band’s timeless melodies.

Similarly, for “& Juliet,” industry reviews and promotional material showcased PR efforts that spotlighted the innovative fusion of Max Martin’s hits with Shakespearean classics. Interviews with the cast and crew unveiled how the production aimed to honor both Martin’s contemporary influence and Shakespeare’s enduring legacy.

Photo via Adobe Stock by

The narrative was crafted to position the musical as an evolution of storytelling, celebrating the collaboration between eras rather than juxtaposing the two.

These strategies aligned the visions of the musicals with the intentions of the original creators, painting them as respectful celebrations instead of mere adaptations.

Curtain call

Jukebox musicals harmonize the nostalgia of beloved songs with the allure of live performances, creating an immersive experience that transcends generations. Acquiring song rights for these productions involves a delicate balance between business negotiations and artistic integrity, all set to the backdrop of ever-evolving pop culture.

In this melodious dance of gaining access to music rights, public relations acts as the conductor, orchestrating harmonies between creators and license owners, and ensuring that these productions resonate authentically with audiences. These musicals not only entertain but also serve as a testament to the enduring power of music in shaping our cultural tapestry.

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