Acting in Plays, Singing/Pop Music Musicals?


QUESTION: I was wondering if there are certain people in particular that think up stories to tell along side an individual or group's music? Like Ma Ma Mia! based around Abba music, Moving out based on Billy Joel music, and I think there was another based on The Beattles. Who comes up with those types of musicals?

ANSWER: Hi, James –

Thank you for an interesting question.

You are referring to "Juke Box" musicals, i.e., shows with Pop songs by one or more Pop artists—always recording artists—which were never intended for the Broadway stage.

The goal of the author or team of authors of the "Book", i.e., the script, is to come up with a storyline that incorporates a certain number of songs by that Pop artist (or group) which will support the contrived plot and juice-up our perceptions of the characters.

As with every original musical—such as GREASE—all the numbers in a juke box musical must show-off the talents of whoever is performing whatever role and, thus, move the audience to respond with thunderous applause and motivate them to purchase the Original soundtrack at the concession stand out in the lobby. Recordings by the original Pop artists, i.e, Billy Joel or John Lennon, will not be found out there. The producers are only interested in selling their own product.

Shows are always about collaboration. AVENUE Q, for example, started off with two friends who had a few rough ideas about lyrics and melodies and then agreed to start spending their free time together to come up with something really solid and put it down in on paper. Their next step was to find a librettist—the person who would develop a plot line and create dialogue and stage directions for the characters who would be singing the various numbers. The end result was a pot of gold. AVENUE Q will be making money for this trio of writers for a long time to come.

Once you start researching the histories of the shows you are interested in and the biographies of the people who created them, you will start to notice that how these people find each other often follows the notion of "six degrees of separation". In other words, somebody knows somebody who knows somebody who may be the person you're looking for or perhaps knows somebody else who can help get you who and what you need.

I am a vocal coach to working singers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm also an entertainment critic for – and Classical music reviewer for – Let me know when you're ready to come to San Francisco for some vocal coaching.

Check out my web site:

See my interview with popular TV host, David Perry, on "Ten Percent":

Below are links to my articles and youtubes on the San Francisco Bay Area entertainment and cultural scene:

A Profile of Choreographer John Neumeier and his "Nijinsky"

The Silent Film Festival, Winter 2013 – Saturday at the Castro Theatre

Final Performance of SF Ballet's Program I – Sunday matinee at 2 PM, 2/3

Peggy Cummins Honored at San Francisco's Noir City Film Festival

"Christmas Holiday" – at the Deanna Durbin Festival, Stanford Theatre, 12/21-23

In Conversation with Peter Gallagher – Coming to the Venetian Room

Melody Moore steps into Tosca — Opening Night at San Francisco Opera

Patricia Racette – A Definitive 'Tosca' at San Francisco Opera

'Moby-Dick' opens at San Francisco Opera: A Conversation with Composer Jake Heggie

Vasily Petrenko, BRIT Male Artist of the Year, Conducts SF Symphony, 10/5–6

Marco Vratogna Is Sensational as Rigoletto at San Francisco Opera

A conversation with Joshua Bell, featured guest artist at opening of SF Symphony, 9/19

San Francisco Opera Opens 90th Season With Verdi's 'Rigoletto'

Jazz vocalist Nicole Henry makes San Francisco debut

Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford duke it out at The Castro Theatre's 90th Anniversary

San Francisco, starring Jeanette MacDonald, to be featured at the Castro Theatre's 90th Anniversary

The Wizard of Oz Meets the San Francisco Symphony

The "It" Girl, Clara Bow, A Featured Star at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, July 12–15

Jun Kaneko's 'Magic Flute' Is Stunningly Visual

Samuel Ramey is Leo the Great in San Francisco Opera's 'Attila'

'Victor Herbert, Collected Songs' – A Great CD

Tom Judson Is Making It Big In San Francisco

A Chat with Dominique Labelle, featured this week in PBO's 'Alexander's Feast'

A Look at Gennadi Nedvigin, Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet

Organist Christopher Houlihan Makes A Powerful Debut at Davies Symphony Hall

RICHARD WINSOR – An Interview With the Star of 'Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake in 3D'

EDDIE MULLER – On the Slow Death of 35mm – An Interview with the "Czar of Noir"

DEANNA DURBIN – The Leading Lady of NOIR CITY, Wednesday at The Castro Theatre

THOMAS JANE – An interview with the star of HBO's "Hung" and 3D Thriller "Dark Country"

KRISTIN CLAYTON– A Conversation with "The Diva" of Teatro ZinZanni

DIANE BAKER – Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK

CAMERON CARPENTER – An Interview with Seán Martinfield

AT LAST! – ANN HAMPTON CALLAWAY – An Interview with Seán Martinfield

MARNIE BRECKENRIDGE – An Interview with “La Princesse” of Philip Glass’ Orphée

A Conversation with Elza van den Heever

CUBAN BALLET – An Interview with Octavio Roca

A Look At "Giselle" with Ballerina Lorena Feijóo

ZUILL BAILEY – A Conversation

Best regards,
Sean Martinfield

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Ok. I asked because I was thinking it might have been overdue that someone wrote a play based around Peter Gabriel's music. I think there is something that connects most of his songs, and they are very deep and relateable during life's hardest times. Know anyone I could pitch the idea to? lol. Perhaps even start writing a story?

Hi, James –

Thank you for the follow-through question. This is not my area of expertise on this website. But, I can offer you a few things to consider.

For all you know, there may be somebody out there right now authoring such a project. Given the interest in this variety of musical show, it's very possible that the name of Peter Gabriel has crossed somebody's mind.

During a film's screen credits, I sometimes notice the phrases – "Based on a story by" or "Based on an idea by". Try writing the "idea" yourself.

Call the project SLEDGEHAMMER and come up with a synopsis. Keep in mind that none of these shows intend to convey—or have time to tell—the entire life story, only a really interesting chapter of it. And then you pack it with related material  from the Songlist. Simple.

What if this were a writing assignment in a class you needed in order to graduate? Due at the end of the semester or repeat the class. I'd bet you would turn in a persuasive storyline, even one that might need a little work. And pass.

Just be careful who you pass your ideas along to.

Best regards,
Sean Martinfield

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Sean Martinfield


I am a professional vocal coach in San Francisco. I have published over 3300 responses related to vocal training - particularly as it relates to Musical Theatre, Pop/Standard, and Opera. I have 30 years of experience as a personal trainer to working singers and actors in the San Francisco Bay Area. I sang professionally for 20 years and know what it means to live the life of a musician. I can determine your voice category, i.e., Tenor, Baritone, Bass, Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Alto Belter, etc., and how to broaden and strengthen your range. Need an audition song for a Broadway Musical? I can assist you with your song selections and help you build an audition portfolio that demonstrates your vocal category and meets the requirements specified in the audition notice. I have created a vocal methodology, "The Belter`s Method". It will enable those in Cabaret and Musical Theatre to practice more efficiently because it focuses on the vocal demands of professional performers and will keep you performance-ready. If what you want is a better voice and more control over your career moves and choices, contact me at: I am also a music and cultural critic for and I interview internationally recognized musicians, singers, dancers, and recording artists -- particularly those who are now appearing or scheduled to perform in San Francisco.


As a vocal coach, I work primarily with singers and actors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. My students range from absolute beginners to working professionals, from kids to senior citizens. The vast majority of my clients come to me through recommendation. I know how to identify any singer's vocal category, i.e., soprano, tenor, alto, baritone, etc. I know how to muscle-up every singer's vocal range and to expand it beyond conventional definitions. I have developed a vocal methodology for those who want to know how to belt, THE BELTER'S METHOD. There are a number of major components to my work as a vocal coach. The first is to identify the client's vocal category and to strengthen and maximize the vocal range accordingly. Then it's about teaching a reliable vocal workout that will enable the client to gain better control of their musicianship. That includes scale work to expand the vocal range and to improve placement, breath control, and diction. Then we work on material for the audition portfolio, the immediate job or assignment, a recording session, etc. My task to is to better equip singers and actors who are hoping to or relying upon their performance skills and vocal endurance to maintain a career in the Performing Arts. My clients regularly appear in cabarets and musical productions throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Some have worked in New York and gone on National Tours. For more information, Contact me at:


San Francisco State University – BA in Theatre Arts; graduate work in Theatre, Philosophy, and Comparative Reiligion. Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley – Graduate work in Ethics

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