×

After ‘Motown,’ Two Broadway Musicals Sing Familiar Songs

Two catalog musicals hope to follow in footsteps of 'Motown'

With musicals “After Midnight” and “A Night with Janis Joplin” now booked for fall runs, Broadway’s singing a familiar song. A whole slew of them, in fact.

Catalog musicals — that is, tuners with scores drawn from the pre-existing work of well-known musicians — are nothing new: They’d been derogatorily labeled jukebox musicals for years before the longrunning success of 2005 outing “Jersey Boys,” the behind-the-music look at the life and songs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, helped shake the knee-jerk disdain that legit purists often felt toward to the genre.

But this next wave of Broadway’s catalog titles is the first since the bow of “Motown,” which opened in the spring and has ridden the titular label’s much-loved songbook to become one of the Main Stem’s bigger sellers, consistently posting sales of more than $1 million per week. Even at this early point in its life, the show is looking like another model for a big-money crowdpleaser on which producers of shows such as “After Midnight” and “A Night With Janis Joplin” can pin their hopes.

Both “A Night with Janis Joplin” and “After Midnight” are admittedly very different musicals from “Motown.” But the B.O. muscle of the latter serves as a clear reminder of the potential upside that keeps Rialto producers trying for a win with a similar formula.

At “After Midnight,” skedded for a bow at the Brooks Atkinson Theater, Broadway theatergoers will recognize swing-era standards including “Stormy Weather,” while at “Night with Janis,” lined up for a berth at the Lyceum, auds will be able to sing along to the hits of the 1960s rocker with the instantly recognizable screech.

“After Midnight,” a revue centered on Duke Ellington’s years at Harlem’s Cotton Club, has already played two well-received Off Broadway stints at City Center under the title “Cotton Club Parade.” For Broadway, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars return to play Ellington’s original arrangements, and the Rialto production’s commercial producers aim to bring additional heat to the project with fashion names Isabel and Ruben Toledo on board as designers.

There’s also the rumored possibility, first reported by the New York Times, that Fantasia Barrino will make her return to Broadway in the show. It’ll be the first time Barrino has had a stint on the Rialto since 2007, when she took over the lead role in “The Color Purple” and rejuvenated that production’s flagging B.O.

“A Night With Janis Joplin,” which will star Mary Bridget Davies in the title role, doesn’t have an established name in the cast to draw attention. But the show, written and directed by Randy Johnson, arrives in Gotham on a wave of good notices earned from the production’s national tour. Besides that, Joplin falls into the same boomer-friendly musical era as the Rascals, the band that proved a notable sales success in a limited Broadway concert stint earlier this year.

As past Broadway flops such as “Lennon” (showcasing John Lennon songs) and “Good Vibrations” (the Beach Boys) illustrate, it takes more than a familiar score to make a hit. But with “After Midnight” and “Janis Joplin,” producers can embark on their latest projects newly encouraged by the stellar sales of “Motown.”

“A Night with Janis Joplin” — produced by Todd Gershwin and Daniel Chilewich, in association with the estate of Janis Joplin and Jeffrey Jampol for JAM Inc. — begins previews at the Lyceum Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 10 opening, while “After Midnight,”  produced by Scott Sanders Prods. and Marsalis in association with Marks-Moore-Turnbull Group, Stephen and Ruth Hendel and Tom Kirdahy, starts perfs Oct. 18 prior to a Nov. 3 opening at the Atkinson.

Popular on Variety

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content