Music and Lyrics By: Marc Blitzstein
Book By: Joseph Stein
Distributed by: Masterworks Broadway
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Based on the 1924 Sean O’Casey play called Juno and the Paycock, the musical called Juno hit Broadway in March, 1959. The musical received mixed reviews, closing after only nineteen performances. Many believed that this lack of success may have been due to the tragic moments in the story. At the time, musicals were mainly upbeat and the events in the story may have been considered too dark for a Broadway musical. In March 2002, Masterworks Broadway made the Original Cast Recording of Juno available on CD and in April 2011, it was made available for digital download.
The story revolves around an Irish family living in Dublin, Ireland in 1921 just as the IRA’s battles with Britain for independence begin winding down. Juno (Shirley Booth) is the long-suffering wife of a drunken, strutting peacock named “Captain” Jack Boyle (Melvyn Douglas) and hard put-upon mother. Juno’s son, Johnny (Tommy Rall) was a former IRA fighter until he lost his hand. He harbors a secret that threatens to tear the family apart. His sister, Mary (Monte Amundsen), longs for love and a family of her own, but is unwilling to settle, knowing exactly what she is looking for.
As the story moves forward, the family learns that they are about to come into money. They begin spending it before it arrives, only to discover that the money has never materialized and now the debtors have come knocking. Mary has ditched one suitor for the man of her dreams only to lose him as well. And the secret that Johnny has been harboring comes to light bringing about his death. In the midst of all of this tragedy, Juno realizes she is meant for a better life and decides to leave her husband.
While the musical has some levity to it and seems to end on a hopeful note, Juno is fraught with misery for the characters. Perhaps we could accept the anticipation of money that never really materializes - the luck of the Irish. The lost love may also be acceptable in this sort of musical, but compounding this with the execution of a treasured son makes this musical too dark to stomach for most.
Despite the darkness of the musical, I believe that, had the songs been more enjoyable, Juno would have fared better on Broadway. However, the soundtrack I listened to just didn’t grab me. For one thing, I found the accents on many of the actors to be horrible. For another, the songs just weren’t all that special. In fact, the only one I really enjoyed was a contest of sorts between Juno and her husband called Old Sayin’s. In this song, Jack justifies his lazy behavior with old folk sayings while Juno berates him for it with her invented ones. The result is quite comical.
Other than that, I was actually bored with this soundtrack and couldn’t wait for it to end. For the money, the Original Cast Recording of Juno just isn’t worth it. Save your ten dollars for something more enjoyable.