There was incredible excitement around some blogs and message boards yesterday because there was a private industry workshop reading of the legendary 1988 failure Carrie. It’s the show so well known for its failure that it even inspired the title of a book on the subject of failed musicals (the essential Not Since Carrie by Ken Mandelbaum). Fans of flops shows have reveled in the bootleg audio and video recordings, marveling at what is good – there are some good moments, especially for Betty Buckley – and howling at some of the campiest material this side of Whoop-Up. (This is the show that featured “Out for Blood” with the lyric “It’s a simple little gig, You help me kill a pig”). The buzz that the show was being revisited was intense – almost as though the show were a cult hit, rather than cult flop.
As I looked around various sites this afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that there are several high profile flops other than Carrie that are being given another look this season. Glory Days, the only musical in over twenty years to close on opening night, is getting a cast album (no matter the quality, I feel every show should get a recording. It’s a piece of history). However, on top of the album there will be a reunion concert later this month at the Signature Theatre in VA where the piece originated before its misguided transfer to Broadway in May 2008.
Last season’s early failure, A Tale of Two Cities, also refuses to quit. The show is the long-runner of the ones I mention here, clocking in at a whopping 60 performances. The show has already been resuscitated in concert form in England, where producers preserved it. The concert will air on PBS Thanksgiving Day, with plans for a DVD and “International Cast Recording.”
It was also announced that Enter Laughing: The Musical last season’s off-Broadway revival of the failed musical So Long, 174th Street is poised to return to Broadway. Based on the book by Carl Reiner and its subsequent play by Joseph Stein, the show ran for 16 performances at the Harkness Theatre (a hitless Broadway house on 62nd and Broadway razed in 1977). The musical was a surprise success for the York Theatre Company last season, garnering some strong reviews and enough audience buzz to warrant a several extensions and a return engagement. The star of that production, Josh Grisetti, who was poised to make his Broadway debut this week in the ill-fated revival of Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, is being sought after by the producer to reprise his Theatre World Award winning performance.
This April, to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday, Encores! is giving us the better known Anyone Can Whistle, which packed it in after 9 performances in 1964. The score offers some gems even if it can’t get past Arthur Laurents’ silly libretto. It’s due to Sondheim’s later success that the show is given its attention, but perhaps works best as an album or a concert. There have been revisions made to the script by Laurents, but nothing appears to have come from those regional productions. It’s not unusual for Encores! to present failed musicals: Allegro, Out of this World, St. Louis Woman, Tenderloin, House of Flowers, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 70 Girls 70 and Juno were all critical and/or financial flops in their original productions. If nothing else, the show should be praised for bringing Angela Lansbury to Broadway – Jerry Herman happened to see the show during its brief run, and the rest is history.
You know me, I love my flops and I love the opportunities to see them. However, it’s unusual that so many failures are being given such high profile treatment. Usually, it was left to Musicals in Mufti to revisit a show like Henry Sweet Henry or Carmelina, often bringing in the creators or similar scholars to help fix the shows. Perhaps next season, Encores! will finally give me Darling of the Day with David Hyde Pierce and Victoria Clark, or the Bernstein estate will be nice enough to let me resuscitate 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I’d also enjoy seeing Donnybrook, A Time for Singing, Dear World, Prettybelle, Lolita My Love…
Here’s my question to you: what failed musical would you like to see revived/workshopped/recorded?