#TBT: Because That’s Where the Money (and Value) Is

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Jim in April of 2010. But it’s still extremely relevant. Today, musical artists, TV shows and movies — from the So You Think You Can Dance Live Tour to Game of Thrones — continue to bring their product to the theatrical stage. And we’ve got some of those shows listed on Goldstar.

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: Because That’s Where the Money (and Value) Is.

You’ve probably heard of, or even seen, American Idiot, the musical based on the music of Green Day. It’s not an entirely original concept. After all, there was We Will Rock You based on the music of Queen, Mamma Mia from Abba,  Movin’ Out with Billy Joel’s music as the centerpiece, A Ride With Bob from Asleep at the Wheel, and, of course, Jersey Boys.

As Michael Mayer, the show’s director, says of its debut in Berkeley last year, “[American Idiot] worked for theater people who ended up digging the music, and for Green Day fans who fell in love with theater’s power to tell a great story.” And so far, it seems to be working on Broadway, as it was the No. 1 grossing show in its first week.

So what’s the deal here? What does this mean, if anything, about the world we live in, at least as far as the entertainment market goes?

On the one hand, it’s the repackaging of the familiar, akin to making musicals of well-known movies. This reduces the risk of a flop on any given show, but over time tends to slow the development of original intellectual property. And without new intellectual property, the culture falls into a weird state where the twilight of the Baby Boomer era lives on forever. Ugh.

But I suspect there’s something better at work here. Where Movin’ On, Jersey Boys and We Will Rock You are really about looking back at past glories, Green Day’s show seems to be more about today. Since it’s about contemporary young adults (yes, I know Billy Joe and the crew ain’t exactly spring chickens), it’s more or less a story about the present, not a nostalgic stroll down memory lane dolled up with a story.

Also, it can’t be a Boomer nostalgia piece because Green Day is a post-Boomer band. If the typical Broadway crowd goes to see this show, they won’t know the songs by heart. It will be new material to them, and that’s a good thing.

So why is Green Day doing this? I think they realize that a stage show of this kind has a lot of potential for them, commercial and otherwise. As a medium that does a better job telling a story than music does, musical theater gives them a chance to express something new about their own music and worldview.

It’s also what you could think of as a ‘super-premium’ version of experiencing Green Day. There are a lot of ways to get into a band: You can watch them for free on YouTube or hear them on the radio (a radio is a device that captures waves traveling through the magnetic spectrum created by the Earth. These waves can be translated into sounds and played through a device. Just FYI); you can steal their recordings or buy their recordings; you can buy a ticket to a concert; and perhaps at the top of that pyramid, you can go see their musical.

I put the musical at the top of the pyramid mostly because of scarcity and price. Few bands command the prices that a Broadway show commands, although Green Day might.

I say “perhaps at the top…” because many people would see a live performance in an intimate venue as being a far deeper experience of Green Day than a musical, particularly since Green Day is actually performing.

But still, there’s no question, the musical is at very least another super-premium form of engagement for fans as well as a fan-creation device.

Finally, it’s just another example of artists, acts, promoters, performers, organizations, troupes and entrepreneurs in the entertainment world moving more of their “product mix” into live entertainment because, as notorious criminal Willie Sutton once said when asking why he robbed banks, that’s where the money is.

And the money is there because that’s where people’s hearts are. They’ll listen on MP3. They’ll stay home and watch a broadcast.

But if they had their choice and all other things were equal, they’d be there live.

Green Day gets it.

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