Broadway's back and it's spinning the hits.
Although jukebox musicals have been a pillar of the New York theater scene for years, popular music is infiltrating the Great White Way like never before. Top 40 staples from Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Adele highlight the Tony-winning best musical “Moulin Rouge!,” and new shows featuring the songs of Neil Diamond ("A Beautiful Noise") and Britney Spears ("Once Upon a One More Time") are eyeing Broadway runs. Life stories of The Temptations (“Ain’t Too Proud”) and Michael Jackson (“MJ”) each mine the artists' respective catalogs, while "Waitress" has catchy original tunes from pop singer Sara Bareilles.
Here are four more shows that should be on every music fan's radar as Broadway reopens this fall.
'Jagged Little Pill'
Performances resume Oct. 21 at New York's Broadhurst Theatre (235 W. 44th St.).
Diablo Cody remembers the first time she heard "Jagged Little Pill."
The Oscar-winning "Juno" screenwriter was 16 when Morissette released her seminal 1995 album, which won five Grammy Awards including album of the year.
"I was a suburban Catholic girl who had been waiting to connect with someone like Alanis Morissette, and I just remember cranking those songs all summer," Cody said in 2019, talking to USA TODAY months before Broadway was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So she naturally leaped at the chance to write a musical inspired by the album, incorporating such hits as "Hand in My Pocket," "Ironic" and, of course, "You Oughta Know." The story centers on an upper-middle-class family that puts on a perfect façade but secretly grapples with issues such as addiction and sexual assault.
"They're topics you don't frequently see dealt with in musicals," Cody says. But such is the nature of Morissette's music, which has always been "incredibly candid and bold. We live in a culture now where artists are a lot more confessional, but that was not the case (when "Jagged" was released), which is why people were so shocked and electrified by 'You Oughta Know.' She was singing about stuff in that song that was so personal, and she was really exposing herself."
"Jagged" has recently been embroiled in controversy over depictions of a character's gender identity, as well as accusations by two former cast members of mistreatment and discrimination behind the scenes. A day before last month's Tony Awards, where the musical won prizes for best book (Cody) and best featured actress (Lauren Patten), the show's producers announced they were launching an investigation into the allegations. Actor's Equity Association is also conducting an independent review of the workplace environment of the show.
'David Byrne's American Utopia'
Now playing at New York's St. James Theatre (246 W. 44th St.).
Can a 100-minute concert completely restore your faith in humanity?
It can come pretty darn close, as a return trip to "American Utopia" reaffirmed for us. The joyous event pulls from Byrne's 2018 "American Utopia" solo album, as well as his extensive catalog as frontman of the Talking Heads, with classics such as "This Must Be the Place," "Once in a Lifetime" and "Burning Down the House."
Byrne, still spry at 69, is joined onstage by 11 musicians from around the world, all of whom are barefoot and dressed in slouchy gray suits. Unlike a typical rock concert, all the musicians dance with Byrne throughout the roughly 20-song set, playing instruments as they jump, spin and stride across the bare, starkly lit stage.
"All the stuff you see at a rock 'n' roll show – drum platforms, video screens, cords – he wanted to erase," choreographer Annie-B Parson says. "What's left is an empty space, where everyone's instruments are held onto their bodies with either straps or harnesses, and it's wireless."
Despite its high-concept staging and title, "American Utopia" follows no specific narrative. Instead, there are interludes in which Bryne addresses the audience directly, with fresh references to the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement that pack an emotional wallop.
It's about "how he connects to being a citizen in this particular moment, so you want people to walk away feeling inspired," Parson says. "But we also want people to walk away with a sense of, 'Wow, this is a really different way to move and present music.' "
'Tina – The Tina Turner Musical'
Now playing at New York's Lunt-Fontanne Theater (205 W. 46th St.).
For playwright Katori Hall ("The Mountaintop"), Tina Turner is one of the family.
Like the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, "we're from Tennessee, so Tina feels like a sister to us, to the point where my eldest sister is actually named Tina," Hall says. "That's how much my mom loves her."
Hall was able to bring that personal connection to Turner's catalog when she joined the creative team for "Tina," a musical based on the legendary artist's life. The show traces the singer's journey from childhood to her late 40s, when she made a career comeback after weathering a tempestuous relationship with her first husband, Ike Turner.
The musical doesn't shy away from darker chapters of Turner's life involving racism, domestic abuse and a 1968 suicide attempt.
"Tina wanted us to be honest about what she went through," Hall says. "She was like, 'I don't want no Disney version of my life' – and I don't think you could do that even if you tried."
The show won a best actress in a musical Tony for Adrienne Warren, who departs the production Oct. 31. It features many of Turner's biggest hits including "Proud Mary," "Private Dancer" and "The Best."
"It turns into a concert for people who are in the audience," Hall says. "People jump out of their seats at the end of the show, because they've been moved by her journey and her spirit in a way that I've never seen before."
'Girl from the North Country'
Now playing at New York's Belasco Theatre (111 W. 44th St.).
"The Times They Are a-Changin'," a critically panned dance musical using Bob Dylan's catalog, closed in 2006 after less than two months on Broadway. But that didn't dissuade Dylan and his team from giving theater another shot, eventually reaching out to Irish dramatist Conor McPherson ("The Seafarer") about potential musical concepts.
"I didn't know much about musicals, and Bob Dylan's music didn't seem to be what I conceived of as Broadway music," says McPherson, who wrote "Girl from the North Country."
"But then I had this idea of a boarding house and a family living there in the 1930s, where these people had nowhere else to go and (exploring) the relationships between them. And I thought, 'If Bob's songs could be put in that context with 1930s instruments, that might be kind of interesting.' "
Set in Dylan's hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, during the Great Depression, "North Country" tackles weighty topics of poverty, racism and mental illness, as well as feelings of hope and heartbreak. Using instruments such as the banjo, harmonica, pump organ and mandolin, Dylan favorites including "Slow Train," "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Forever Young" get blues and gospel makeovers, although most of the score's 19 songs are lesser-known tracks from the late '70s and '80s.
"It was a really interesting period and his songwriting is obviously terrific," McPherson says. "We ended up using a lot of those songs, and (Dylan's team) was happy for us to do it. There were never any weird commercial discussions about using (more popular) songs."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: A music fan's guide to Broadway, from David Byrne to Tina Turner