Tuesday, July 16, 2019

300 Shows: Favorite Flops

My celebration of hitting the milestone of seeing 300 different Broadway shows continues today with a look at my favorite sub-genre of show - the flop. Now I don't mean "flop" in the strictest sense: a show unable to recoup its initial investment, though none of these did. Rather, I define "flop" as a show that was not critically well-received, wasn't shown much (if any) awards love, and/or has a short lifespan on the Great White Way. Or maybe they were critically adored and just couldn't find an audience. At any rate, these are all shows most people would define as flops, each one a possible addition to Not Since 'Carrie'. Regardless of the reason for their untimely demise, I loved each of these. They span some 33 years, and they each made an "oh, wow! I sure enjoyed that so much."

Interesting (to me at least) is the fact that this list includes shows by acclaimed writers, directors and performed by favorite actors and actresses. My point is, I guess, that everyone has a flop in them, and it's not the end of the world. And, perhaps even more importantly, just because a show has a short run doesn't mean it isn't good, great even. Every show, hit or miss, has value.

Here are my 20 favorite flops over the last 300 shows I've seen on Broadway:

300 Shows: Favorite Flops

(2016) I was so thrilled by this show.  It is one of maybe 5 that I've ever seen that I would have gone right to the box office and purchased more tickets. Maybe it's because I'm an 80's guy, but it really hit home for me. It was sexy, scary, funny, and weird. Saying this was dark doesn't even begin to cover the tone of this piece. The score... both the original songs and the amazing re-orchestrated/re-charted classic tunes... there are no words. (Other than to say I am so peeved that no Broadway cast recording was made...) And Benjamin Walker was sublime. I love shows that go all they, no holds barred; this show was that and then some. Best, most creative use of projections to date. And Alice Ripley riding a washing machine to make her entrance... you can't unsee that!

(2010) Am I a Benjamin Walker fan? Yep. And as such, I hope he finally gets that hit show (and a Tony, too) he really deserves. Here's a show that was perfectly put together. It knew when to stop, and, more importantly had a point of view and followed through with it. Clever, smart, dark and sexy - remember the tagline about bringing back sexy pants? And it introduced me to three now-favorites: Kristine Nielson, Greg Hildreth and Bryce Pinkham. This show was critically-acclaimed, and that praise got it to Broadway. Apparently, it wasn't mainstream enough for the masses. I, for one, am glad that there are producers who are willing to keep trying with challenging, different musicals.

 (2011) Poor Frank Wildhorn. He just can't catch a break. He gets blamed for the downfall for every show he's attached to. Granted, the music in a musical is key, but that's all he (mostly) contributes to his scores. Where's the blame on the lyricist and book writer? But I digress... I thought this show was by far his best. Well put together, a theatrical telling of a scary story, and a cast to, well, die for. I mean, come on...Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes!!?? And I love the score. Love. It. "How 'Bout a Dance" is one of my favorite songs in the new millennium, and "When I Drive" is one of the best "buddy" songs in years. The inevitability of the final tableau and its accompanying son, "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" gives me chills at just the memory.

 (2015) Okay, I have an obsession with all things Peter Pan, so I'll admit that maybe I was predisposed to liking this show. But I more than liked it. I laughed, I cried. No, I sobbed. An embarrassing amount. While I could have done without the anachronistic Cheers reference, and an unfortunate f-bomb mouthed to the audience, I was otherwise transported. It was fun to see Kelsey Grammer having such a great time, and contrary to popular opinion, I thought Matthew Morrison was terrific. I also bucked popular opinion in my enjoyment and approval of the choreography - especially that nifty dinner party scene featuring the cast on and under the table. But as long as I live, I will never forget that magical effect and devastating death.

(2012) Another show based on a film at the Lunt-Fontanne. Another short run. I will admit that the production went way overboard with the projections as scenery thing. It was was way too much. But there were some great effects, and the chemistry was off the charts between Richard Fleeshman and the great Caissie Levy. And who can forget Tony-nominee Da'Vine Joy Randolph's hilarious turn as Oda Mae? (I wish she'd come back to Broadway!) Also, I really enjoyed the score, especially "Rain/Hold On" and "With You," another great new millennium Broadway song.

(2013) Can someone please explain to me why this show wasn't the smash of the season? It has everything going for it - a surprisingly engrossing story with real stakes, a wide-range of recognizable all-American characters and some terrific music. The biggest surprise was how much movement and variety there was in the staging. Not a small fete, considering the majority of the cast was "attached" to a truck! The cast alone made this worth seeing (rwice in my case). When else will we get Keith Carradine, Keala Settle, Hunter Foster, Jon Rua, and Jay Armstrong Johnson on the stage together again?

(2018) I've written so much about this show over the last year, I won't belabor the point again here. But I will say that we should all be thankful that this show broke down some barriers, brought Rachel York, Alexandra Socha and Jeremy Kushnier back to the Broadway stage, and introduced us to Peppermint and the singular talent that is Bonnie Milligan. Heaven on Earth, indeed!

 (2011) Greek drama and basketball are two of my least favorite things. But smart, clever and riotously funny musicals are one of my favorite things ever. And that's exactly what this show was. We saw it downtown in an actual gym, then again at the Walter Kerr. Both versions had their unique appeals, but the show itself remained largely unchanged in the transfer. Such fun to see Patti Murin, Josh Segarra and Lindsay Nicole Chambers early in their careers was a real treat, not to mention two friends of the blog, Teddy Toye and Alex Wyse. It was ahead of its time, and these days a revival may just be what these perilous times need.

 (1988) It opened the same season as Into the Woods and The Phantom of the Opera, a small 4-person chamber musical made up of two one act musicals. It was wonderful to see Alison Fraser again, and to see the amazing star of TV's Quantum Leap, Scott Bakula. Who knew he could sing like that? It was, you guessed it, very romantic. But it was also funny and charming, and I still enjoy the score.

 (1990) There's song about masturbation (or is it anal sex? both?), a ninja fight, a shipwreck, an earthquake and horses in a snow storm. Who could ask for more in a musical? Was it so bad it was good? Or did I actually love it? Well I saw it twice in D.C and once on Broadway, so maybe a little bit of both.

 (1997) I can't imagine the Broadway scene without Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner. And Alice and Emily together. Joined at the hip. (SWIDT?) This was a show that asked a lot of its audience. It was uncomfortable, in your face, and, at times harsh. But it was brilliant. From the hushed, eerie "Come Look at the Freaks" to the oft laughed at "Tunnel of Love"(undeservedly - listen to it with your earbuds!), and all the power ballads in between, this score by the guys that brought us Dreamgirls is a complete gem. The revival was good, but too literal. Nothing will touch that thrilling moment when Alice and Emily walked toward each other, turned, and became the Hilton Sisters. 

 (1986) Okay, so there are two Marvin Hamlisch shows on this list, so I definitely have a type when it comes to feel-good musicals.  I'll admit that I liked it much more during its pre-Broadway run in Baltimore. There it was much more dark and biting, making the satire really work. It got more of a feel-good make over when it finally made it to the Lunt-Fontanne. Still, the score remains a favorite (PLEASE release the recording!) including such gems as "Typical High School Senior," "Young and American," "Nerves," "Disneyland," (the breakout hit from the show) and the really catchy title song.

 (2014) Chemistry. Chemistry and a gorgeous score. That's what I remember about this beautiful show. Jason Robert Brown has never been better. And neither has Kelli O'Hara nor Steven Pasquale. (Early in their careers Caitlin Kinnunen and Derek Klena, too!) Never saw the movie, never read the book, but I would have seen the musical 10 times if I'd had the chance!

 (1993) The 1993-1994 season was a rare one for me in that any one of the four Tony nominees for Best Musical would have been a fine winner for me. I knew, of course, that Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Who's Tommy were the critical darlings (deservedly so), and Blood Brothers was winning audiences' emotional needs through a gripping story and some amazing casting. The Goodbye Girl suffered, in part, for two reasons: unrealistic expectations and a role for Bernadette Peters unlike what audiences expected. Paula starts off in a bad place and is kind of unlikable. The story is really about her journey to happiness, but Peters' fans apparently wanted perky right out of the gate. I thought she was terrific and so was Martin Short. And as I said above, I'm a Hamlisch fan. This one had me at Neil Simon.

 (2014) Sting has a gift for song, and an amazing gift for lyrics. That was very apparent in the brilliance of his score for this vastly underrated musical. I was transported. Another show that I just can't understand why it wasn't a big hit. It makes me miss Michael Esper.  There was also the debut power of Theater Award winner, Collin Kelly-Sordelet and future Elphaba Rachel Tucker. There was also the delightful pair of act two songs: the haunting "The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance," and the catchy "Show Some Respect."

 (1997) I only saw version 1.0, but I saw it more than once. Why? An alternately hilarious and thrilling adventure story, opulent sets and costumes, and a lush, beautifully orchestrated score.  I know, I know. Frank Wildhorn... But there was also the trio of leads that were totally captivating: Douglas Sills, Christine Andreas and Terrence Mann.

(2010) It is with great sincerity that I say that The Scottsboro Boys is one of the greatest musicals of the 21st century, a claim I think will hold up years from now. Kander and Ebb have a record of their shows being even more successful the second time around. When the inevitable revival happens, and it will, people will say the original was misunderstood and ahead of its time. Mark my words.

One question: will they keep that thrilling moment when you realize who that silent, observing woman is?

 (2015) Re: Kander and Ebb: see above. This show is right up my alley. Dark, daring, highly stylized. Chita Rivera. Yellow shoes. Blind eunuchs in mimeface. The gorgeous dance duo of John Riddle and Michelle Veintimilla, a cast full of Broadway regulars including Jason Danieley and Mary Beth Peil. Then of course, there was the profoundly brave final performance of Roger Rees.

 (2000) This was the year that there were two The Wild Party musicals. I know most people prefer the Andrew Lippa version. I can't even get through that cast recording. But the Michael John LaChiusa score is one I listen to over and over, and each time more and more is revealed. Boozy, dark, funny and thrilling, the score fit the show perfectly. And the cast was perfection. Hell, I even liked Mandy Patinkin (who I generally cannot stand). I am haunted by his growl-y "How'z about a wild party?" And the guest list was amazing - Norm Lewis, Tonya Pinkins and Marc Kudish were real standouts for me. But nothing can beat the one-two punch of Eartha Kitt in what would turn out to be her swan song, and Toni Collette in a dazzling debut. Cheers.

(2016) The old-fashioned, fairy tale vibe of this one hit me just right, and I really loved this show - I left feeling so light and happy. It was beautiful to watch; that tree... am I right? And let's think back to that stunning dance sequence, shall we? The book was smart, and the cast was first-rate. Andrew Keenan-Bolger proved that he can lead a show, and how could you not love the sweet, cuddly pair of Carolee Carmello and Michael Park. And Terrence Mann in full on song-and-dance-man mode? I am so there! I really wish I could have seen this again.


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