The Post-Flop Era of Broadway

'Don't you understand, Mama? Everything's not a sin!'
-Actual line from this piece of crap. <3
So, in 1988, the infamous musicalised version of Stephen King's Carrie opened to hisses and boos and disastrous reviews. After almost a week, it closed to a huge financial loss and an infamous history that would bury it in the eyes of serious commercial theatre forever...

Until the fanboys attacked, that is.

To people who might read this blog for the dubious nerd and film content, it is true; theatre has its fanboys as well. I suppose that this is the theatrical equivalent of Serenity getting made because the lunatics took over the asylum. Except not really at all.

The Carrie revival, which now has a refurbished score and book, opened a couple of weeks ago at the Lucille Lortel theatre in New York to indifferent reviews from the critics and rapturous feedback from the people who went to see this show. I believe that the run has already sold out, and there's already talk of a transfer to Broadway.

Admittedly, I have an unwarranted liking of Carrie, but I think that there are some things that have their bootlegged place on my music player and not on a commercial stage. Carrie has great moments, but a few great moments do not warrant a full-fledged, albeit minimalist, revival on or off-Broadway. But if it puts bums in seats and gets money for other, more artistically viable projects, then I have no problem with this misbegotten show being trotted out again.

However, when a venture like this is successful, there are going to be copycats. And so someone has decided to refurbish the second-biggest flop on Broadway, Side Show, a very sensitive and not exploitative at all show about conjoined twins in showbiz. It will be tried out at the prestigious La Jolla Playhouse before possibly transferring to Broadway in 2014.

No. God no.

I can't really emphasise the intellectual laziness that has hit Broadway and surrounding area lately. I mean, it was bad enough when good original musicals were practically extinct on the Great White Way, but at least then people offered handsome revivals of good shows in the meantime. And there's nothing wrong with that -- I don't think that Broadway has been a place for intellectually stimulating shows since Sondheim's Passion won a whole bunch of awards and then flopped in 1994.

It's when stupid shows with stupid premises and anodyne scores are revived because of a very loud but small group of people who missed seeing their pet flop the first time around that things get silly. Reviving a notorious flop which is known to be mediocre just for shits and giggles isn't an artistic risk, it's dumb.

Nostalgia isn't enough of a reason to revisit drek. There are perfectly legitimate low-key concerts and stagings of these shows that would suffice just as well as a 15-million dollar show on Broadway for all my nostalgic needs. There's great program that does concerts of musicals which are too unsubstantial for a full-fledged outing on Broadway. It's called Encores! and it typically does three or four presentations a year, attracting top-notch talent from the stage and screen. I strongly encourage everyone to get a look at what they do and support them in any way they can. Encores! is very successful in what it does -- its 1996 presentation of the then little-known show Chicago directly resulted in a Broadway revival that continues to run today and a superb movie which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

The difference between what Encores! does and what producers are doing with shows like Carrie or Side Show is one of creative integrity. Encores! acknowledges that most of the shows which are presented in its programs are flawed, and in some cases irreparably so. It's not their mandate to eventually produce every single show that they present on Broadway. That would be impossible. Chicago was a perfect storm of fantastic direction and choreography from Ann Reinking, an awesome starting cast, and a change in American culture that made the public more receptive to the show's themes. Chicago still remained a flawed piece, but became a very topical one. Apart from Chicago, I don't think any of the shows presented by Encores! have transferred to Broadway.

What creatives do when they revive Carrie over a good show is claim that Carrie is in fact, brilliant, or that, like Chicago, it was made before its time. I know a lot of people would like to think the latter about Carrie, and I suppose the musical might have more relevance in a post-Columbine era. But even if Carrie gets topical, it will never be brilliant, no matter how much money, talent, and new music is thrown at it. It's an ill-conceived show, with a book that's all over the place in terms of tone and music from the people who wrote Fame. Yes, Fame. That eighties piece of shit. Nothing short of a very involved and complete overhaul can change what's fundamentally wrong with Carrie. Dramaturgs are not alchemists.

I won't even go into what's wrong with Side Show. I don't have the energy.

The other thing that troubles me about recent events is the motivation on the producers' parts. Honestly, it's sad that some ageing white man in New York would rather sink his investments into a known flop over a new venture. The only motivation I can think of, apart from the dubious nostalgia factor, could be that a flop being revived counts as a newsmaker, and therefore the curiosity generated will result in tickets being bought. This might work the first couple of times; there are plenty of people who buy tickets to see a trainwreck and go home gratified that they still know what bad theatre is. But the novelty does wear off, and cynical bastards are not the most faithful customers.

So this is the post-flop era of Broadway. No show in the history of theatre has failed badly enough to ruin its chances at a revival. No show is bad enough to rake in the money from people who are sick of watching the original on grainy bootlegs on Youtube.

I guess I should start printing t-shirts for the new Lestat revival...


What investors and producers should be doing is finding new shows to develop. To avoid the possibilities of these new shows being crappy, they need to do what producers used to do; try these shows out of town for a good long time rather than dumping half-baked ideas onto the Great White Way. They need to stop pandering to their ageing and overly complacent demographic and try to entice those idiots as well as a new audience with shows that are grown-up, interesting, and artistically genuine.

Instead they're attempting to relive memorable events of Broadway history, both good and bad.

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