Tuesday, September 19, 2023

40 Years of Broadway: 1993 - 2003: Top Flops, Revivals and New Shows

40 Years of Broadway: 1993 - 2003:
Top Flops, Revivals and New Shows

When you see my list of my Top 10 favorite Broadway shows from August 20, 1993 - August 19, 2003, you'll probably be more surprised at what is on it, than what isn't. Some thirty 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. There are flops, blockbusters and award winners on that list. (The flops on my Top 10 list don't appear on my Flops list.) Truth is, each list below could have been double in size, and I still would have that more I could have added. It was tough - and getting tougher with each decade.

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: 1993 - 2003
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!)

A Class Act
A musical about one of the writers of my favorite shows, A Chorus Line, using his trunk songs to tell his story? You bet your life I had to see it! And I am so glad I did. Edward Kleban was an interesting man, crippled with anxiety and gifted with a unique way of looking at life. The score was sublime, and the cast was crazy good - including Lonny Price, Randy Graff, Jeff Blumenkranz and Sara Ramirez. So glad I didn't miss this one.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold
I saw this brilliant dance musical multiple times, no small feat, considering its lamentably short run. I was thrilled when it was nominated for the Best Musical Tony Award. Graciela Daniele's direction and choreography were exquisite and challenging. Thrilling.

Steel Pier 
To this day, I cannot understand why this terrific show was such a flop. It was stylish, splashy, romantic, and the dancing was spectacular. Boasting an all-star cast including Karen Ziemba, Daniel McDonald, Joel Blum, Debra Monk, and all of the greatest Broadway dancers of the time, the show also marked the debut of one Kristin Chenoweth, who stole the show with her soaring soprano voice and a cellophane dress!

The Wild Party
Another show I am so grateful to have seen. I loved the sheer theatricality of the whole thing - the stylistic presentation, the complicated characters and their relationships, the gripping score by Michael John LaChiusa. And the cast - Mandy Patinkin, Toni Collette, Eartha Kitt, Marc Kudish, Norm Lewis, Tonya Pinkins, to name a few - was perfection. My only regret is that I didn't see it again.

Triumph of Love
What a charming, silly, and remarkably smart little show! It was probably too clever for its own good, which, of course, made me love it instantly. The seven member cast today reads like who's who - every one of them is by any measure what we'd call a Broadway star. 

Top Revivals: 1993 - 2003
Thanks to the 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, revivals were no longer carbon copies of their original productions. Audiences were demanding new looks at old favorites, and creative teams and producers were more than happy to oblige.


Here was a radical redo of an original classic. Sam Mendes and his creative team used environmental theater elements to draw in the audience. The book and score, slightly adjusted, and the direction leaned heavily in the show's sexual and darkest historical themes. Always entertaining, captivating and challenging, the evening was thrilling and thought-provoking. The final image and accompanying low rumble was literally hair-raising, and something I'll never forget.

What could I possibly add to the discourse about this production? Over a quarter of a century later, it is still running and recently passed its 10,500th performance. It does prove what I've always said. If a show is really good, it will be as good on a bare stage and minimal spectacle. This one is about the words, music and performance and nothing else.

Damn Yankees
When I saw this, I was only marginally familiar with its score, so I went into it with a virtually blank slate. I was thoroughly enchanted by the whole thing. A soothing confection of an America long gone (if it ever really existed), and a fun supernatural twist, I was smitten from the first notes of the overture to the exit music. This is a show that I'd love to see revived today.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
Yet another golden age show that I knew almost nothing about, I was absolutely enthralled. The satire,  thick, the score, a metropolitan/Broadway sound, the performances uniformly superb, the show felt new and fresh, as if it were brand new. Matthew Broderick was impishly charming, but the four female supporting characters, played by Megan Mullally, Victoria Clark, Luba Mason and Lillias White, practically stole the show!

The King and I
I've seen this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic more times than I can count - including 3 revivals starring Yul Brenner, and while I always appreciated it, I never really loved it until I saw this revival. It was lavish and regal, stunning to watch, and featured Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips as the title pair, whose chemistry and sexual tension was thick in the air of the Neil Simon Theatre. Magnificent.

10 Top New Shows: 1993 - 2003
As I predicted with the last decade, getting this list down to just ten productions was a real challenge. 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.

Beauty and the Beast
The first Disney on Broadway production, the company brought their A game to the Palace Theatre. I love the movie it is based on, and I went into it sure that it would be a disappointment in comparison. This was no theme park show. No, Disney brought its special magic in all the best theatrical ways. It was better than the film, and is still my favorite of all their Broadway shows to date.

A huge Bob Fosse fan, I took to this like a duck to water. It was breathtaking. Of all the things I remember about this show (and there are many), it was the wonderful silence throughout. Completely unaccompanied or with minimal underscoring, there were several numbers where a stage full of dancers made virtually no noise when they moved.

The Full Monty
I love the British film upon which this musical is based, yet I still went into the show skeptical. They changed the location, and it featured a largely unknown composer, David Yazbek. But it had me in its thrall from its odd but catchy overture right through to its bare-it-all finale. Sure the final strip was titillating, but the heart and humor of the show was the real takeaway. 

Maybe because I'm from Baltimore this show is special to me. But that's not really the main reason. It is simply because it is one of the greatest Broadway musicals of the 21st century. Practically perfect, it is hilarious, big and splashy, tuneful and dance-y, and has important themes in its brilliant book. Hopelessly old-fashioned and fiercely contemporary, it is on my all-time favorite list far beyond the 93-03 decade.

Mamma Mia!
Just what we needed in the aftermath of 9/11, this joyous confection worked in all the ways similar catalog/jukebox musicals don't. The songs, largely unchanged, added to the characters and plot and were cleverly used. The staging and choreography was always interesting and full of fun surprises. It guaranteed an escape and an endorphin rush. I miss it.

(1996): I saw this for the first time early in previews before it became the historic Broadway sensation it was. I knew, even then, that Broadway would be changed forever because of this show. All these years later, it is still a landmark production, albeit a dated period piece now. That in no way diminishes its impact or importance, of course.


The Scarlet Pimpernel
Probably my favorite Wildhorn score, this show famously went through three iterations before finally closing three years later. I loved version 1.0 and saw it four times. The lavish production, the sweeping score and clever lyrics, and outstanding performances by Douglas Sills, Christine Andreas and Terrence Mann took me away to another time and place, a trip I thoroughly enjoyed each time. Funny, romantic and adventurous, it was a delightful romp.

Side Show
Creepy, thought-provoking, and profoundly human, this show was completely captivating. With much left to the imagination (the subsequent revival was much more literal), and other aspects of the show cleverly, theatrically addressed, the musical demanded a lot from the audience. The stunning score and top-notch cast made this another of my all-time favorites.

Sunset Boulevard
I tend to have a love-hate relationship with Lloyd Webber shows, and this epic spectacle is firmly in the "love" category. The score, the massive sets, the cast of thousands all made for an enthralling evening at the Minskoff. I've seen it many, many times on Broadway, on tour and regionally. It gets me every single time. It is apropos, I think, that this most Hollywood of movies turned into a stage musical is one show I point to when I say that I prefer live theater over film.


With one of the great Broadway scores, Titanic was both epic and intimate. The set was enormous, and when it started to sink, it was thrilling to see. But for all of its size, it was largely unadorned, which forced you to give your full attention to the people. Smartly, the show makes the victims, survivors and capitalist villains the emotional center of the piece - less about the spectacle and more about the loss of life. Brilliant.

Bonus: Favorite Play: 1993 - 2003

Love! Valour! Compassion!
Terrence McNally at the height of his powers, this raucous, sometimes sexy comedy was also a poignant drama, capturing the gay experience with all of its bravery, insecurity and heart fully exposed. Friendships, relationships, thoughtfulness, and betrayal - all of it on display with a raw honesty. As a gay man myself, I can say I left the theater a different person than when I arrived.

Contest Question #6:
Of all the shows listed above, how many feature real-life people as characters?

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