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Broadway musicals: The new jukebox heroes

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While revues like "Smokey Joe's Cafe" were precursors to the genre, the jukebox musical largely exploded into existence in 1999 with that blast of sugary pop, "Mamma Mia!" inspired by the songs of Swedish supergroup ABBA.

An artistic high point arrived in 2002 with "Movin' Out," visionary choreographer Twyla Tharp's genre-hopping dance show in which she took the tunes of Billy Joel to fashion a tale of five friends coming of age during the Vietnam War era.

The genre's commercial apex came with the "Behind the Music"-style biographical show "Jersey Boys," about the roller-coaster comebacks of 1960s pop supergroup, The Four Seasons. That megahit swept the Tony Awards in 2006, including Best Musical, and has become a box office behemoth.

Still, to most theater observers, the jukebox musical had long since passed its sell-by date. In fact, critics reacted with contempt at the parade of cookie-cutter musicals. Yet theater producers just can't resist the advantages of marketing a show about a famous pop or rock artist with a wheel-barrel full of instantly familiar songs.

The low point for the jukebox musical arrived the same year that "Jersey Boys" clocked in on Broadway. Audiences were treated to a trio of bland songbook stinkers, several with absurd plots – "Good Vibrations" (the music of the Beach Boys), "All Shook Up" (Elvis), and "Lennon" (a trite hagiography of the Beatles). Toss in the Johnny Cash musical "Ring of Fire" and Twyla Tharp's Bob Dylan bomb, "The Times They Are A-Changin'," both in 2006, and you have a quintet of jukebox clunkers that made a mockery out of some of the most indelible pop music of the 20th century.

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