As I have once stated in a previous blog post, jukebox musicals are not my favorite form of theatrical entertainment.
A jukebox musical is a show that feature a collection of pre-existing pop-songs and toss them into a (typically shallow) storyline. Instead of gambling on new melodies and lyrics, the producers go with name recognition. To be fair, some of the shows have been highly entertaining. However, most of the time, I prefer an original musical, one that creates songs to fit a unique story, rather than squeezing in Top 40 tunes designed to please audiences who don't have the patience to listen to something brand new.
Snobbery aside, I must admit that during the past decades, there have been a handful of Jukebox Musicals that have won me over with their energy and enthusiasm. So, in my not so humble opinion, here are the Best Jukebox Musicals (so far):
10) American Idiot:
If you are a Green Day fan you are probably wondering, why isn't this show at the Number One Spot?! Sorry. If you aren't a huge Green Day fan, but you admire their songs, you'll probably enjoy this musical that examines the restless passions of three young men who experience the burdens of warfare, addiction, and parental responsibility. Its a mesh of various coming-of-age narratives set to rock songs. Green Day's lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong was not only the creative force behind the musical, he also performed in the show (occasionally), playing St. Jimmy, the drug-infused alter ego of the protagonist.
9) Return to the Forbidden Planet:
Blending campy science-fiction, Shakespeare, and rock n' roll oldies like "Great Balls of Fire" and "Wipe Out." This British creation adapted a classic 1950s movie, Forbidden Planet. (Even if you haven't seen the movie, you would probably recognize Robby the Robot.) Loosely based on The Tempest, the plot revolves around a mysterious planet, a stranded scientist, a crew of space explorers who break into song every chance they get. There's a zany contrast between the outer space setting on the late 50s/ early 60s Top 40 hits. Oh, and did I mention the cast members play their own instruments? It's crazy enough to work on stage, and earned Return to the Forbidden Planet a Olivier Award for Best New Musical in 1990, vanquishing Miss Saigon.
8) The Marvelous Wondrettes:
In some ways, this peppy charmer of a musical feels like a female knock-off of Forever Plaid! But give it a chance and you'll realize the quartet that make up The Marvelous Wondrettes hold their own. What makes this show unique is that it Act One takes place on Prom Night in 1958 followed by an Act Two set ten years later at a class reunion. That dynamic keeps the show (and its soundtrack) nicely paced.
In Act One, each girl vies for the prom queen crown, sometimes supporting one another, sometimes teasing, and sometimes swiping a boyfriend. When Act Two arrives, the show transitions from 1950s music to Motown tunes of the 1960s. The girls are now women in their late 20s, and their teenage dreams of a bright future have been tempered with everyday reality.
7) Million Dollar Quartet:
A recreation of the world's greatest jam session. On December 4th, 1956 Carl Perkins' career was soaring from his hit "Blue Suede Shoes." New comer Jerry Lee Lewis is brought in to work on a new song with Perkins. Then, low and behold, super star Elvis Presley and country music legend Johnny Cash stop by the studio for a visit. The songs they sang that epic day became the concept for Million Dollar Quartet, a fun, inventive retelling of their impromptu recording session.
6) Rock of Ages:
Sure, the movie flopped. Some critics said that the audience was forced to sit and watch movie stars sing karaoke. And yes, head-banging glamour rock is an acquired taste (one that I never adopted, even though I am a child of the 80s and big hair bands). Despite all of this, the live musical production of Rock of Ages is worthy of being on this list. Tongue firmly planted in the actors' cheeks, playfulness rules the night in this jukebox musical about young dreamers hoping to make it big on Hollywood's Sunset Strip.
The characters include an ambitious young rock n' roller who must shift to a hip hop boy band image in order to succeed; a star-struck aspiring actress who turns to a life of stripping to make ends meet; a burnt-out rock star whose career is about to do a tailspin; a bar owner who wants to keep Hollywood gritty; and a hysterical narrator/bus boy who constantly breaks the fourth wall to interact with the audience. Throw in a score of catchy power ballads and silly rock songs from MTV's glory days and it's "almost paradise" for 80s fans.