Haven’t We Been Here Before?

I’m not a huge follower of musical theatre, but it’s something I enjoy on occasion. It’s kind of ridiculous, but undeniably escapist and fun. One of the things going on in that eddy of our culture right now that irritates the bejeezus of me is the so-called ‘jukebox musical’. It’s become very profitable for lazy producers to simply string together a couple hours’ worth of hit songs from a well-known artist, from Abba to Queen, connect the dots into some slim semblance of a plot and watch the dough roll in. Sometimes they get so popular they’re turned into routinely awful movies! It’s cynical, cash-grubbing exploitation at its best. Everyone loves good pop music, but fewer and fewer people know how to write it anymore, so they resort to recycling other, better artists’ work. Not even Bob Dylan is safe. But, if there’s any album that is just begging to become the next jukebox musical, it’s Styx’s opus Kilroy Was Here. In fact, that was just the idea Styx had back in the 80’s. They would put out a hit concept album and tour it as if it were a Broadway production. Though they did sell a lot of records and got one megalithic hit single out of it, the tour blew up in their faces and effectively destroyed both any credibility they might still have had and them as a unit. The first problem was that not everyone even wanted to be doing a concept album in the first place. Tommy Shaw, who you see emoting in the video below, was so frustrated at being forced to belt out power ballads while dressed in some kind of post-apocalyptic newsboy outfit that he quit the band soon afterwards, thus depriving Styx of some prime vocal and guitar brilliance (not to mention he was the good looking one). The second problem was that the world just wasn’t ready for an allegorical rock musical about robots and censorship. The band was reportedly boo’ed mercilessly in Texas, and generally made fun of and critically savaged everywhere else. It was just too cheesy and grandiose to fly. However, that’s now reason why it shouldn’t be flying. Broadway loves cheesy, grandiose things. Kilroy has just the combination of earnest balladry, pumping hard rock, synthesizers and robots that would make it a killer musical. The concept could be a little better developed, that’s what writers are for. The songs need no polishing, most of them are pretty great. It might be a good idea to pad out the running time with the addition of a few more popular Styx hits. Cram in Come Sail Away, get that alien abduction in there. Most important, find a cast who can match Tommy Shaw and Dennis De Young’s harmonizing. And, voila! The best jukebox musical ever!