The Soundtrack of Their Lives: Broadway Musicals Cater to Baby Boomers

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26 Aug 2013

Valisia LeKae and Brandon Victor Dixon
Valisia LeKae and Brandon Victor Dixon
Photo by Joan Marcus

A generation of theatregoers relive the music of their era with Jersey Boys, Motown, Let It Be, A Night With Janis Joplin and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Doug Morris, chairman and CEO of Sony Music Entertainment and a producer of the Broadway hit Motown The Musical, likes to visit the show — which tells the story of Berry Gordy, the founder of the iconic Detroit music label — during Wednesday matinees.

"I like to stand in the back and watch the audience," said Morris. "It's like a living, moving creature." The theatregoers often sing along with the familiar songs by The Supremes, The Temptations and other Motown acts. "There's a tremendous rhythm to the whole show. The music has been popular for a long time, and it's used so often. They're all familiar with it. I think it's probably the soundtrack of their lives."

Motown The Musical is just one of several Broadway shows on the boards right now whose core audience are baby boomers, that commercially sought-after group of Americans who were born between 1945 and 1964 and who constitute one of the biggest consumer demographics in America. The shows are often tied to a particular pop artist that Boomers grew up with. Among them are the long-running hit Jersey Boys, the Beatles tribute show Let It Be (which recently announced it would close Sept. 1) and the soon-to-arrive A Night With Janis Jopin and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

"Absolutely," said Rick Elice, the co-librettist of Jersey Boys, when asked if baby boomers are a big part of the musical's audience. "We never thought particularly about demographics when we were writing it and when Des McAnuff was staging it. We were just trying to tell a good story. I suppose we knew that the fans of the music would be the people most likely to see it."

That boomers would be part of the show's bread and butter became clear to Elice during the initial La Jolla Playhouse staging in 2004. "The people who came were squarely in the pocket of baby boomers, people who were 10-25 [years old] when these [Four Seasons] records came out. And now they were squarely in the pocket of people who go to the theatre, which is to say 45-55."


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