Why I love jukebox musicals: a top 5 list
Everybody loves a good jukebox musical... right?
From Green Day's American Idiot to Hugh Jackman's — uh, I mean, Peter Allen's Boy from Oz, musicals made up of pre-existing songs have drawn both positive and negative attention especially in the past decade. As Hollywood looks to books (The Hunger Games) and television (Veronica Mars) for content, perhaps the theatre has begun to turn toward pop culture for creative material. A jukebox musical arrives on the scene already half-written, with familiar tunes that practically guarantee spontaneous sing-alongs with the actors.
But I don't think this makes a jukebox musical any less of an achievement, and certainly not any less entertaining. One of the best shows I've seen was the first national touring production of Jersey Boys in Denver, Colorado. It was heartfelt, funny and clever, but to me the best part of the show wasn't the story or even the songs — it was looking into the audience, seeing people sway in their seats and realizing that we all knew these songs. We'd connected to them before this production, back when they were little more than radio sound waves filling our cars as we drove to work or school, or mere track lists on our vinyl records and MP3 players.
The familiar songs of Jersey Boys stirred memories in me that were undoubtedly different from those of the woman across the aisle, but as we listened and watched together, these same songs joined us as one audience.
Now, as Center Theatre Group welcomes to the Ahmanson Theatre We Will Rock You, a musical that ran for a record-breaking 12 years at London's Dominion Theatre before lowering the curtain for good this past May, I invite you to check out my top five favorite jukebox musicals below!
5. PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL
There's very little that doesn't inspire me and my friends to throw impromptu dance parties, but I can't say I've ever actually danced in the aisles of a theatre until last year when my roommate and I saw Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Pantages Theatre. This outrageous musical tells the story of three friends on a road trip of a lifetime through the Australian outback. A wild tale about friendship and being true to yourself, Priscilla includes the smash hits "It's Raining Men," "Finally" and "I Will Survive" (to which we could not help but break it down. I can't speak for my roommate, but I regret nothing).
4. ROCK OF AGE
I'll admit that I was initially bribed into seeing this rock musical by my parents (who are all about 1980's rock-n'-roll), but I ended up enjoying myself more than I could have ever predicted. This five-time Tony-nominated show features dozens of major hits from the '80s, including "We're Not Gonna Take It," "The Final Countdown" and "Can't Fight This Feeling." Rock of Ages tells the story of city-boy Drew who meets small-town girl Sherrie in L.A.'s Sunset Strip in 1987 and dream of making it big. How can you not love a show based on the Journey hit "Don't Stop Believing"? It's not possible, I tell you.
3. GREEN DAY'S AMERICAN IDIOT
I saw American Idiot when it came to Center Theatre Group in 2012, and I was blown away by the powerhouse lead Van Hughes as Johnny. American Idiot is the story of three boyhood friends who search for meaning in a post 9-11 world, and is based on the music of Green Day and Billie Joe Armstrong. Deservedly nominated for two Tony Awards, this musical delivers a crazy night of punk rock, complete with chest-thumping bass lines and choreography that will leave your head spinning and heart pounding. And possibly, neck aching. Because headbanging, obviously.
2. _MAMMA MIA_!
Mamma Mia! has been called one of the most successful musicals ever, and I have to agree — this show still doesn't disappoint after 15 years. Inspired by such ABBA songs as "Dancing Queen," "The Winner Takes It All" and "Take a Chance on Me," _Mamma Mia_! is the story of a daughter's journey to discover the identity of her father. A worldwide hit as well as a much-loved, star-studded film, there is never a dull moment in Mamma Mia! (I should know; my high school friends were obsessed with it).
1. JERSEY BOYS
It's obvious that I adore this show, although whether that's because of my love for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, or because of the show itself, there's no telling. The 2006 Tony Award winner for best musical, Jersey Boys tells the tale of the four blue-collar kids who would later become Rock and Roll Hall of Famers as the singers of "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and more. It's a rags-to-riches tale with a twist, giving audiences a captivating glimpse into the growth of the music industry.
Do you have a favorite that I didn't mention? Let us know what you love about jukebox musicals below, and visit CTG's website to reserve tickets for We Will Rock You, running from July 15-August 24.