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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.

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