Does Gen X even know what a jukebox is? Do they remember the table top models where the pages turned as you put the money in for your favorite Motown song, defying your mother by going to that pizza joint with a “hood” in tight black jeans, white t-shirt one sleeve rolled up over a pack of Marlboros, ducktail combed into place after a ride in a ‘57 Chevy convertible? Cruising into the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia (which was really in the hood) in the mid-60s, to listen to such acts as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, The Intruders, the Delfonics, the Mad Lads, Jerry Butler, Billy Stewart, Pattie LaBelle & the Bluebells, The Manhattans, Earth, Wind & Fire, The O'Jays, The Jackson Five, The Stylistics, Dee Dee Sharp, Chubby Checker, Martha & the Vandellas, and The Temptations.
Today, The Temptations have been turned into yet another jukebox musical, Ain’t Too Proud—The Life and Times of the Temptations. Producers keep reaching for the brass ring of Jersey Boys (Tony and Olivier winning story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons), whose director Des McAnuff is also at the helm of Ain’t Too Proud, and Jersey Boys lighting designer Howell Binkley on the design team, along with set designer Robert Brill, costume designer Paul Tazewell (who also worked with Binkley on Hamilton), sound designer Steve Canyon Kennedy (who also did Jersey Boys), and projection designer Peter Nigrini. Great reviews, great music, may it live a long life…and I ain’t too proud to beg the press agent for a seat when I get back to New York City.
Next up in the jukebox lineup is Tina: The Musical, rolling onto Broadway in November from London, with a creative team including Mark Thompson, set and costume designer; Bruno Poet, lighting designer; Nevin Steinberg, sound designer; and Jeff Sugg, projection designer.
The jukebox catalog is rich: Mamma Mia brought us ABBA, Beautiful celebrates Carole King, and We Will Rock You dances to Queen while entire musical genres come to life in such medleys as Motown and Rock Of Ages. And they are all Rock And Roll Hall Of Famers, as are Turner and Valli.
For some audiences, the jukebox musicals are the discovery of music from the past; for some of us, they are a nostalgic walk down memory lane, doing a line dance down the aisle of the Uptown into musical history.