Wednesday, August 30, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: 1983 - 1993: Top Flops, Revivals and New Shows

40 Years of Broadway: 1983 - 1993:
Top Flops, Revivals and New Shows

When you see my list of my Top 10 favorite Broadway shows from August 20, 1983 - August 19, 1993, you'll probably be more surprised at what isn't on it, than what is. Some forty years later, my tastes have changed, and some shows I appreciate more now than I did then, and vice versa. The result is that what made my list are those shows that (for me) have really stood the test of time.

This time around, these lists include only those shows I actually saw on Broadway, and are arranged in New York Times Theater Directory order. (Trying to rank them would require constant editing!) All things considered, I was lucky enough to see most of the biggest shows of the time.

Top 5 Flops: 1983 - 1993
For the record, for these articles I consider unexpectedly short run shows and/or critically panned &/or failed to gain an audience as "flops." (Sometimes all three at once!)

I was utterly intrigued by the set, gigantic, complicated, and the first to be completely automated by computer. The story was dark and controversial, the characters flawed and complex, and the score played even better live and in context than the cast recording. Plus, the chance to see Ben Vereen perform live was a dream come true. But it was discovering the talents of Leilani Jones that was the real treat.

Shogun: The Musical
I loved this production. It was epic and beautiful, challenging and moving. It had everything: a shipwreck, an earthquake that included the stage breaking up, fire, and a blizzard with warriors on horseback. Add swarthy Brits, geisha girls and ninjas (with full-on combat sequences), and a hugely orchestrated, sweeping score, and what could go wrong? Did the song about, um, marital aids take it over the top for the blue hairs who loved the movie? Still a standard-bearer for lavish production values for me.

Here's a show I saw during its pre-Broadway run in Baltimore, and later on Broadway. It was the first show I saw as both a work in progress and in its final form. I have to say, I was pretty disappointed in the finished version. What was once a biting satire with dark humor and ironic songs became a mainstream, cheery musical, like so many before and since. Still, hearing those same, basically unchanged songs in a new context was as fascinating as it was jarring.

Starlight Express
Race time! Talk about epic! The pictures of it all do not do it justice - you really had to be there to believe it. The score was fun, the story was full of childlike wonder, and the visuals - set, lights and costumes - were truly jaw-dropping. It ran just short of two years and lost a gazillion dollars. (If you saw the touring version, you still have no idea just how incredible the Broadway production was.) Freight is great!

The Goodbye Girl
This was supposed to be the musical of the season. Hamlisch and Simon! Peters and Short! Looking back on it, there was no way it could have lived up to the hype and expectation. Regardless, I loved it - saw it twice, even. I was swept up in the romance of sworn enemies falling for each other - still one of my favorite tropes. Bernadette and Martin had palpable chemistry, and perfect comic timing.

Top Revivals: 1983 - 1993
This was a time that revivals were reproductions of the originals. As a new-to-Broadway fan, it was nice to see shows from other times as they were originally done. And then, in 1992, the revival of Guys and Dolls changed that completely and forever. (To this day, I am kicking myself for missing that!) 

Anything Goes
Seeing this brilliant revival pretty much ruined the recent revival. It was that good. Sleek and sexy, smart and stylish, Cole Porter's classic felt like a brand new of-the-day show. The queen of brassy, Patti LuPone, was sublime, and my leading man hero, Howard McGillin, was swoony! One of my all-time favorite revivals.

I won't bore you with the details of the one that started it all for me again. But I will say I am ready for a brand new revival of this one. It is the only one on this list that hasn't been revived again.

She Loves Me
People often refer to this as one of Broadway's perfect musicals, and of course, I had to see it. And it really is. (Howard McGillin was terrific here, too.) Enough said.

Sweet Charity
I have worshiped at the altar of Bob Fosse all of my theater-going years, and this amazing reproduction by the legend himself proved to me why my adoration was not misplaced. And to see a personal hero of mine, Debbie Allen, conquer Broadway was a true gift. And then to see the Fosse dancer legend, Ann Reinking do it... sigh.

10 Top New Shows: 1983 - 1993
I struggled to pare down this list to just ten - I can only imagine how difficult it will be in later decades! All of these shows represent a gamut of things I love about live theater - from traditional to cutting edge, from minimal to spectacle, all of them exemplifying exactly why there is really nothing better than live theatre.

A Chorus Line
The original production was still going strong when I saw it for the first time. That time, and every time I saw it again, I was in complete awe of the sheer talent of these dancers. It always strikes me just how much I relate to these characters even though I'm not a dancer. 
Seeing openly gay characters was still somewhat unique in the mainstream, and I really felt a private camaraderie with each of them. I guess that's the beauty of the show, how universal it is, and why it remains a beloved, regular part of the American theater landscape. 

Many younger theater-goers today have no idea just what game-changer this show was. There was simply nothing else like it, from its subject matter to the spectacle to the marketing. It was everywhere; people who never thought about Broadway knew about it. Wearing a show t-shirt was a badge of honor and status. But beyond that, it was amazing to see the cats, hear the gorgeous score and orchestrations, and be wowed for over two hours.

City of Angels
This is one of those "perfect storm" shows where everything comes together perfectly. A completely original book, a jazzy score, and a clever conceit brilliantly brought to life. And the talent! The cast was a who's who of Broadway talent, and the debut of one Rachel York. This is one of several on this list I wish they'd revive.

Grand Hotel
Like watching the movie upon which it was based, once it started, it didn't stop until the final bows. Music constantly playing, the stories intertwined and played out like we were spying on each of the guests. Its concept and staging were simply brilliant. Another one for the revival list.

Into the Woods
Over these past decades, one writer has lit the spark in me, Stephen Sondheim. One of two brand new musicals of his I got to see, it seems unbelievable that I saw it before it became the classic that it is today. I remember the absolute delight and shock of hearing Bernadette Peters do a rap song like it was yesterday!

Jerome Robbins' Broadway
The tagline was "The Musical of Musicals," so naturally I had to see it. What kind of musical theater student would I be if I missed what was essentially a living museum of iconic numbers from iconic shows. Painstakingly recreated by the master himself, Jerome Robbins, it was truly breathtaking.

Kiss of the Spider Woman
How does one prepare for a musical about a foreign prison and the physical and mental abuse suffered by its prisoners? You go in with an open mind and hope for the best. And it really is one of the very best. I love a show with big dance numbers, challenging themes and unexpected charms. Another show deserving of a first-rate revival.

La Cage aux Folles
I don't think people understand just what a daring thing this show was. Parade was not the only show to have protesters; picketers circled the sidewalk outside the Palace Theatre, shouting slurs at anyone who dared to go in. It felt like a personal triumph just to have a ticket. We laughed, we cried, we felt seen.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Regular readers are probably sick of hearing me talk about this show, so I'll just say that I loved it. 

The Will Rogers Follies
This is one of my comfort food shows. It just oozes warmth, much like the guy in the title. I could watch the opening on a never-ending loop, so amazing it is. The company made dancing on stairs look easy, and Keith Carradine was utterly charming.

Bonus: Favorite Play: 1983 - 1993

Lost In Yonkers 
Easily Neil Simon's best play, which is really saying something. It was a beautiful experience, full of his trademark humor, but also full of dramatic heart. Irene Worth, Mercedes Ruehl and Kevin Spacey each gave remarkable performances. A well-deserved Pulitzer Prize, if there ever was one.

Contest Question #3:
Name the two composers who had shows in both the favorite flops and favorite shows above.

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