Broadway Poll: Best and Worst Jukebox Musical?

Fifteen jukebox musicals were featured in last night’s odd concert at Merkin Hall, “Jukebox: The Musical,” part of the Kaufman Music Center’s Broadway Close Up series.

The concert featured a single song from each of these fifteen musicals, attributed in the program to those musicals (see playlist at bottom), even though none of the songs were written for the musicals listed; they were popular songs long before they were included in those shows. (That’s the definition of a jukebox musical.) The songs certainly had no connection with one another, so writer and host Sean Hartley forged (forced) a connection, placing them in a new story about…I’m not sure….one of the characters made jukeboxes.  So “Jukebox: The Musical” repurposed songs that had been repurposed previously.

The jukebox, a term apparently coined in the 1940s for a coin-operated device that played a hit song of the customer’s choosing, had its heyday in the 1950s, popular in diners and bars. But the jukebox musical, a term apparently coined in the 1980s, is thriving,  popular on Broadway, where four are currently running, all of them among the fifteen included in the Broadway Close Up concert.

If “musical theater purists” still deride jukebox musicals as “a Frankenstein’s Monster of stitched parts,” the worst of them “mercenary and opportunistic entertainment,” according to The Jukebox Musical: An Interpretive History, (Routledge, 2022), authors Kevin Byrne and Emily Fuchs argue: “After several decades of financial and critical success, no reviewer or theatergoer can dismiss them outright.”

 What do you think? Which of the fifteen below do you consider the best of the genre; which the worst?

Playlist from Jukebox: The Musical

“I Go to Rio” from The Boy From Oz (2003)
“Momma Mia” from Momma Mia! (1999)
“Dawn (Go Away)” from Jersey Boys (2005)
“Don’t Stop Believin'” from Rock of Ages (2006)
“Too Late, Baby” from Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (2013)
“What’s Love Got To Do With It?” from Tina (2018)
“You Learn” from Jagged Little Pill (2018)
“If I Could Turn Back Time” from The Cher Show (2018)
“I Kissed A Girl” from & Juliet (2023)
“Oops…I Did It Again” from Once Upon a One More Time (2023)
“Margaritaville” from Escape to Margaritaville (2018)
“Come What May” from Moulin Rouge (2018)
“Don’t Be Cruel” from All Shook Up (2004)
“Beat It” from MJ the Musical (2022)
“Sweet Caroline” from A Beautiful Noise (2022)

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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