February 6, 2024
"Music is the soundtrack of your life." Dick Clark

If you’re in the theatre, you already likely know of the beloved play, I Am A Camera, by playwright Jon Van Druten adapted from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. Any theatre fan wins the trivia question that it was the inspiration for the musical Cabaret. Well, if I were to write the story of my life, I might have to call it, I Am A Jukebox.  

From a young age, I was enthralled by the magic of music. Whether it was watching Dick Clark's American Bandstand or immersing myself in the melodies from Fred and Ginger movies, music became the heartbeat of my existence. As I grew older, my passion for music only intensified. 

My collection of recorded tracks swelled into the thousands, and I became an avid student of everything musical - from the songwriters and performers to the engineers and studios responsible for creating the sounds that moved me so intensely. As I pursued my career in theatre, that same love of music inspired me to create the kind of productions that could transport audiences to another world.

"Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It's transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It's uplifting, it's encouraging, it's strengthening." Aretha Franklin

The Playlist In My Mind

To say that my collection (and taste) is diverse and eclectic would be an understatement. A typical daily playlist might include:

  • 50 Dominican Nuns singing The Italian Street Song from Naughty Marietta
  • Darlene Gillespie, the former Mouseketeer singing a rare Harold Arlen song, Can I Leave of Wearing My Shoes from House of Flowers 
  • Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road
  • Tony Bennett's recording of just about anything
  • The original cast recording of Merrily We Roll Along
  • Lulu singing To Sir With Love
  • Hank Williams singing Your Cheatin' Heart
  • Something by The Shangri-Las or The Ronettes
  • The Name of The Game from Mamma Mia
  • Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now
  • Bohemian Rhapsody
  • The Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin'
  • Aretha Franklin singing Freeway of Love
  • And The Overture from Gypsy

So, is it any wonder I found my calling in crafting musical tapestries

It’s All About The Music

As a young theatre professional, I quickly discovered that music could be the key to unlocking the true potential of a production. When I was directing a show, I could always hear an accompanying soundtrack - matching the mood and tone of the performance to the rhythms and melodies that would evoke the desired emotional response from an audience. And when I was writing a script, I often turned to music for inspiration - drawing on the themes and motifs of a song to create a complex, multi-layered story that could keep audiences engaged from start to finish.

But it wasn't just the creative side of things where music played a role in my theatre career. As a professional, I came to understand music's power in marketing and promotion. The right soundtrack could make or break a show - drawing in audiences and creating buzz long before the curtain ever rose. As my career evolved, I learned new and vital things about the business of licensing and the legalities of incorporating music into theatrical productions. This amalgamation of skills and experience has served me well.

The Power of The Jukebox 

Music truly has a unique power, and that's part of the recent success of so many jukebox musicals. They blend the nostalgia of the songs we grew up listening to with the thrill of live performance, creating an irresistible quilt of emotions that speak directly to an audience's heart. 

The emotional resonance can be profound.  In a theatre, it becomes a communal experience that undeniably connects people on a deep level as they are transported back to cherished moments in their lives.  And that’s the key element in the success of a jukebox musical. It’s an opportunity to offer your audience an incredible journey, with music that not only entertains but also touches the core of their souls. Jukebox musicals make people feel good.


What’s Ahead For I Am A Jukebox

This year, I am prioritizing the sharing of insights, reflections, and wisdom acquired from a lifetime dedicated to the art of crafting stage shows from diverse song collections. My aim is to impart the rich tapestry of knowledge that I've woven together through years of experience in the theater.

Music IS the soundtrack of our lives, and for me, it has been the driving force behind my inspiration and passion for theatre. From my early obsession with Dick Clark's American Bandstand to my professional success as a director and writer, music has been the common thread that has tied it all together. 

With the right soundtrack and a commitment to excellence, anything is possible.

Coming up:

From Concept To Curtain Call: How To Create An Unforgettable Jukebox Musical Experience

About the Author

James A. Rocco (CEO, Thirty Saints Productions) stands at the forefront of live theater and television, boasting an impressive repertoire of over 200 productions as an award-winning director and producer. His extraordinary collaborations have left an indelible mark on stages across the globe, garnering acclaim from both audiences and critics. James's fervor for storytelling and his relentless pursuit of perfection have solidified his reputation as a masterful and in-demand creative force in the performing arts.

At the helm of Thirty Saints Productions as the company's forward-thinking CEO, James has cultivated a vibrant hub for the licensing of the most sought-after jukebox musicals and revues. His strategic focus on crafting productions that resonate deeply with audiences ensures their widespread appeal and accessibility, allowing theatrical groups of any caliber to experience success.