The Best Jazz Musicals to See This Year

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking for a great jazz musical to see this year? Check out our list of the best ones to catch in 2019!

“The Wiz”

“The Wiz” is a classic musical that tells the story of Dorothy, a young girl who is transported to the Land of Oz. Along the way, she meets some memorable characters, including the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. The Wiz is a fun and exciting musical that will have you tapping your toes to the great music.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'”

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” is a 1978 musical revue celebrating the music of Thomas “Fats” Waller. The revue opened on Broadway on May 9, 1978, and closed on August 26, 1982, after 1,604 performances. It was conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and directed by Maltby and Murray Horwitz.

The original cast included Nell Carter, Ken Page, Andre DeShields, Armelia McQueen, Charlaine Woodard, and Reuben Green. The show won five Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Author (Musical), Best Lead Actress in a Musical (Carter), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (DeShields), and Best Lighting Design.

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” is one of the most highly anticipated jazz musicals of the year. The play tells the story of Billie Holiday’s life, with a focus on her final performance at a small Philadelphia club in 1959. The cast includes Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday, and the music is arranged by Wynton Marsalis.

“Jelly’s Last Jam”

This year, there are several great jazz musicals opening on Broadway. One of the most highly anticipated is “Jelly’s Last Jam.” The musical tells the story of Jelly Roll Morton, one of the pioneers of jazz music. The show features some of Morton’s most famous songs, as well as new songs written for the production. If you’re a fan of jazz music, or just want to see a great musical, “Jelly’s Last Jam” is a must-see.

“Sophisticated Ladies”

“Sophisticated Ladies” is a musical with a book by Donald McKayle, music by Duke Ellington, and lyrics by Phillip Lehman. It is based on Ellington’s life and music. The musical premiered on Broadway in 1981 and was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning two. It has been revived several times, most recently on Broadway in 2010.

“Black and Blue”

The list of great jazz musicals is long, but “Black and Blue” is one of the best. The story of a singer who tries to make it in the city, “Black and Blue” has some of the best singing and dancing you’ll ever see. The music is top-notch, and the cast is amazing. You’ll want to see this one more than once.

“The Cotton Club”

“The Cotton Club” is a 1984 American musical film set in the Cotton Club nightclub in Harlem, New York City during the 1920s. The story follows the club’s owner, Dutch Schultz, and his house bandleader, Duke Ellington.

The film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starred Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, and Lonette McKee. The supporting cast included Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Nicolas Cage, and Fred Gwynne.

The movie was released to mixed reviews but was a box office success. It has since been considered a cult classic by many fans of jazz music.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe”

The Broadway musical “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” celebrates the songs of composer Jerry Leiber and lyricist Mike Stoller. The show features such pop standards as “Hound Dog,” “On Broadway,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Stand By Me.” The musical originally opened on Broadway in 1995 and was revived in 2012. It is currently scheduled to play at New York’s Stage 42 theater from March 8 through April 28, 2019.

“Play On!”

Jazz and Broadway have had a long, complicated relationship. The Great White Way has been both an incubator and graveyard for the music, with many of its biggest names achieving only posthumous recognition. Even so, the music has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, with productions like “The Band’s Visit,” “Mean Girls” and “Come From Away” incorporating jazz into their soundtracks.

Here are some of the best jazz musicals to see this year:

“Play On!” is a new musical about the birth of jazz. The show follows Jelly Roll Morton as he tries to create a new sound in New Orleans. “Play On!” features a score by Wynton Marsalis and is directed by Liesl Tommy. It will premiere at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia on February 11.

“Ain’t Misbehavin'” is a revue that celebrates the life and work of Fats Waller. The show features some of Waller’s most popular songs, including “Honeysuckle Rose,” “The Joint Is Jumpin'” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” “Ain’t Misbehavin'” will be revived at the New Victory Theater in New York City from March 14-29.

“Smokey Joe’s Cafe” is a musical revue that celebrates the work of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The show features such hits as “Hound Dog,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown” and more. “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” will be revived at Stage 42 in New York City from May 5-June 29.

“The Life”

“The Life” is a musical set in the African-American underground world of sex and drugs in Manhattan’s Times Square district in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The show centers on the character of Holly, a former prostitute who is trying to make a new life for herself as a nightclub singer. Holly is drawn back into the world of her former profession by her friends Queen and Diamond, two other prostitutes who are trying to find their way out of the life. “The Life” is a gritty, realistic portrayal of life in the inner city, and it features some of the best jazz music of any musical ever written.

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