How To Enjoy a Jukebox Musical

The place that I’ve been staying in New Orleans is quite close to the Saenger Theater.  Given how much I enjoyed my trip to the Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta, it seemed appropriate to attend a show here, too.  They were doing a month of “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations”, so that’s what I got tickets to.

I didn’t know anything about the show before I got there, but my assumption was that I was in for a jukebox musical.  The genre has a pretty well established formula, and most of it was on display here: a biopic narrative, a collection of well known songs loosely strung along into said narrative (with occasional narrative contortion to fit in the really well known stuff), and everyone comes out of it looking pretty good.  (This last point is often tricky when dealing with complicated histories involving drug use and domestic violence, but it’s important to the genre.)  “Ain’t Too Proud” delivered on all fronts.

A quick aside about the theater.  The Saenger is a really beautiful theater.  I don’t know anything about its history, but it’s a big, well-appointed space.  The exterior has a massive, classic-looking lighted sign, and the interior feels “opulent” in a classy way without feeling tacky.

The Senger theater

Back on the subject of jukebox musicals, from what I know, one of the biggest intended audiences for them are people who are fans of the music.  It’s one of the reasons you can use such a highly predictable formula to make them.  While I’m somewhat familiar with The Temptations and their music, it’s a pretty surface level familiarity.  So I’m not the usual target audience for something like this.

Even so, I quite enjoyed the show.  This primarily came down to four factors.  First, the performances were excellent, both vocally and cheoreographically.  It’s always enjoyable watching people who are good at something flex their skills.  Second, the staging was great.  Quite minimalist, but creative and quite dynamic with sliding small props (and the occasional actor) on or off-stage in the middle of a scene.  Third, the music was good.  Probably not better than just listening to a good Temptations album, but very enjoyable.  Finally, and probably most importantly, I was seated next to a woman who was the kind of Temptations fan the show was made for.  She knew every song, and was so excited as each one began to play that I couldn’t help but get sucked into that energy.

So: the best way to enjoy a jukebox musical if you aren’t a super fan yourself is to go with someone who is.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *