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The jukebox musical is one of the most popular genres in musical theatre with around 85 new jukebox musicals opening worldwide over the last 20 years. That's a lot of new shows! The genre has, in general, been extremely successful. The first major success was Buddy, which ran for over 5,000 performances in the West End and went on to play Broadway and tour the US 5 times. It paved the way for shows like We Will Rock You, Our House and of course Mamma Mia!. With such a large number of shows being produced it was inevitable that some would not do as well as others - so here are 6 of the biggest jukebox failures of all time...
Lennon - ran for 49 performances
Opening on Broadway in 2005, Lennon told the story of Beatles legend John Lennon through his own music. The show originally had multiple people of different genders, ages and ethnicities playing the role of John Lennon throughout the show but this was eventually whittled down to just one. Although Yoko Ono was heavily involved with the production and storyline, the show had atrocious reviews in previews in San Fransisco and again at its Broadway run. Attendance was so low throughout with one week only playing to 39% capacity! After all of the above, the show only managed 41 days on Broadway and has yet to be seen again.
Viva Forever - ran for 7 months
You wouldn't necessarily consider 7 months to be flop for a show but this production had many problems. The Spice Girls served as the musical inspiration for this ill-fated show. Judy Craymer (producer of Mamma Mia! and Tina the Musical) was behind the expensive project with Jennifer Saunders writing the book. The show made a huge £2 million in pre-opening sales and the Spice Girls reunited to promote the show. All was looking positive until the reviews came in; the show received unanimously horrendous reviews with quotes such as "I wanted this terrible show to end", "I found myself cringing as I watched from the third row" and my personal favourite "Viva Forever! forever? I rather think not". Jennifer Saunders' book was panned by critics and the music was described as not being good or memorable enough to support a show. 7 months later the show closed with a reported loss of huge £5 million.
Hot Feet - ran for 97 performances
The ballet The Red Shoes met Earth, Wind and Fire when this show based on the band's music opened in 2006. It was a modern retelling of the ballet and first premiered in Washington where its run time was 2 hours 45 minutes! The show somehow managed to make its way to Broadway with the book being changed so much that they ran low on time and the show only ended up having 10 previews before opening. It was described as a "nuclear meltdown of a jukebox musical" and from then on, it did melt down. The show failed to fill the huge 1,900 seat Hilton (now Lyric) Theatre which is infamous for its problematic runs such as the early closure of Ragtime and the most famous Broadway flop ever Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. With the average audience every week being around 40% full, it's no wonder the show closed so quickly.
Holler If Ya Hear Me - ran for 38 performances
Tupac Shakur aka 2Pac's music was the basis for this jukebox musical. Following a 5 week long workshop in 2013, the show opened cold on Broadway in June 2014 and closed a month later (a very short run for Broadway). The show didn't receive dreadful reviews but failed to get audiences into the Palace Theatre. One week the show made just $144,000 out of a possible $920,000! A cast recording was made but still to this day remains unreleased. Due to poor ticket sales the show was pulled but there is still a small success story; in 2017, a regional production directed by the show's original directer Kenny Leon (Hairspray Live, A Raisin in the Sun) opened with a revised book and new choreography. One of the few examples of a flop being given a second life!
Ring of Fire - ran for 57 performances
38 songs were crammed into this Johnny Cash based musical. Opening on Broadway in 2006, the show followed 3 couples and the progression of their relationships. It had already had an oddly discreet tryout in Buffalo which was well received, but it failed to grasp that same attention on Broadway. The show received average reviews and performed very averagely at the box office. The production ran at the 1,000 seat Ethel Barrymore Theatre, which many people argued was too large for the intimate show. After closing the month after it opened, the show has had success regionally with a new version opening in 2013.
The Times They Are-a-Changin' - ran for 28 performances
Bob Dylan's music is now being used in the hugely successful Olivier winning Girl from the North Country which had just opened on Broadway before the coronavirus shutdown. However, there was another attempt at a musical with his music just 14 years earlier. The Times They Are-a-Changin' was directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp (she had just produced the hit musical Movin' Out, featuring the music of Billy Joel) and opened on Broadway in 2006, funnily enough the third flop jukebox from this list to open that year! The 'dance musical' was negatively received by all critics and led to the show's extremely short run. Twyla Tharp spent 2.5 years working through and researching this production only for it to be called 'the worst jukebox of the decade thus far' by the New York Times - not really the reaction she was hoping for I imagine!
Jukebox musicals are a risky genre to enter with the amount of new shows every year but some fail and some succeed - we just never know what outcome it's going to be! Leave a comment below of whose music you'd like to see be transformed into a musical!