10 Famous Musicals that Flopped on Broadway


Playbill Groundhog Day Musical

Broadway has truly entered a new golden age. Since the overwhelming success of Hamilton, there has been at least one major hit each year and with increasing numbers of movie musicals, there is the potential to see that continue for years to come. But this success does not happen to all shows. Most fail and are forgotten by the public. In fact, even shows with popularity sometimes do not earn enough to cover their costs before they close. Take a look at 10 famous shows that failed on Broadway.

Rocky Horror Picture Show

This one may be a bit shocking but the Broadway version of Rocky Horror lasted only 45 performances. Just to specify, the Broadway version came before and had the same cast as the film. The stage version had already achieved enough popularity in other locations to get the film version made and it was thought the Broadway run would be a slam dunk hit. With a great cast that had already performed in other cities and filmed what would be the hit film version that has since gone on to be a cult classic, the Broadway version seemed like a safe bet. But surprisingly it was despised by New York City audiences and was considered a failure complete failure. The movie had already been filmed at this point and it was released shortly after the Broadway version. That movie would make the show a worldwide hit that still gets shown in theaters at Halloween to this day.

Tarzan

Disney has had only one real flop on Broadway, and this was it. This Broadway production made use of the Disney Renaissance film with music by Phil Collins as inspiration to what Disney hoped would be their next big musical hit. Coming off of hits like Lion King and Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, it felt like this show was going to be a sure thing. It wasn’t. The show was panned critically for its uninteresting characters and the bad choices that were made to extend the story of the movie into a longer Broadway musical. The Disney name being attached helped it stay open, but only enabled it to run for a year before closing. This proved Disney had to work harder to translate movies to the stage, and that would benefit later shows like Newsies and Frozen.

Chicago

Chicago Musical Billboard Brandy Times Square
This show is the longest running American musical of all time, but the current production is actually a revival that started as a one weekend only production of a failed musical. The first time around the show won no Tony Awards despite a cast which included Chita Rivera and choreography from Bob Fosse. It ran for a moderate amount of time but gained relatively little popularity. It was not a complete failure but it was not remembered well. The reason? It opened having to compete against A Chorus Line, one of the most successful Broadway shows of all time. The revival, which had no other major hit to compete with became a success, inspired a Best Picture-winning film and gave the show the long run on Broadway it deserved. It even ended up running longer than A Chorus Line did.

Shrek The Musical

Another case of a movie not being made into a successful musical. This musical, based on the hit children's film series Shrek, could never quite fill its theater, which was one of the largest on Broadway. Not only that, this show often did not even fill half the theater especially towards the end of its run. It was also massively expensive for a Broadway show and could not recover its initial investment. But the show was filmed on Broadway and made its way to Netflix where it took on a new life. It also became a highly produced show across the US, being popular in high schools, and ended up earning money and appreciation there that it could not achieve in New York.

Legally Blonde

Before even opening on Broadway, this musical had almost everything going for it. A ramp up TV show happened to promote the show. It had a famous movie for inspiration, (and to use as a crutch to sell tickets). The story already had a sizeable following. And it still flopped. But that flop did not remove its fame. Its popularity would really only begin to spread after it closed on Broadway. A sing-along version of the musical was created and aired on TV. Following this, there were countless international and community theater productions allowing this show to grow beyond its early failure. Who needs a good Broadway run when community theater pays the bills.

Merrily We Roll Along

This show was supposed to be a hit. At least that’s what everyone said while it was being made. It came from a famous composer who had pretty much nothing but hits. It had great young actors. It had an intriguing story. In fact, so many people believed it would be a hit that a documentary was being made about it before the show even opened in anticipation of capitalizing off of its success. Then it flopped.  I mean many people walked out mid-show. The concept, the story of the decline of college friendships told in reverse wasn’t well understood by audiences, especially why at the beginning adults were being played by young actors, and the show closed rather quickly. Its fame comes from it being the only large scale flop of composer Stephen Sondheim, the man behind classics like Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd.

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman

Long before the first theatrical film based on the comics, Superman got his own Broadway musical. This show didn’t even try for a second to be serious, and that hurt it. It featured very few characters from the original comics, mainly only Clark Kent/ Superman and Lois Lane and a score that with one exception never really caught on, and it flopped on Broadway. But this show has larger fame for two reasons. One, it produced a minor hit “You’ve Got Possibilities” which was taken up by cabaret singers even to this day. The other was the TV film version which was actually the first movie version of Superman. You heard right, the first film made of Superman was based on a failed Broadway musical which came out over two years before what most people think of as the first Superman movie. Sorry, Christopher Reeve.

Seussical

This show attempts to combine all of the books of Dr. Seuss into one storyline. As you can probably guess it had many problems on Broadway, from choosing to use a minimal set to the costumes that sometimes didn’t look like the book versions of characters, to the actual story being a bit jumbled. But they had a plan to fix everything. What did they do to fix it you ask? Did you say add Rosie O'Donnell as Cat in the Hat because you’d be right! But it didn’t work and the show closed as a flop. But now years later, thanks to some story changes and script edits (45 minutes cut out of the show to be exact) it is the most produced show in the US by community theaters and has earned a place amongst the most famous Broadway musicals.

9 To 5

The musical version of the popular film never captivated audiences on Broadway. The New York City production lost money and the show was considered a failure almost immediately. However following its closure on Broadway, on the reputation of the film, this show spread internationally gaining more fame from each of these productions than the original on Broadway. The popular songs and story from the movie weren’t enough for the Broadway crowd, but they were more than enough for the world stage.

Spiderman Turn Off The Dark

I have to end with the biggest and probably most famous Broadway flop of all time, Spiderman Turn Off the Dark. This was a musical version of one of Marvel Comics most popular characters just after the original movie series had ended. It also had the director of the incredibly popular Broadway version of the Lion King in its creative team and songs by Bono and the Edge. But they could not get anything like what audiences wanted, leading to massive rewrites and multiple versions of the show being performed during the run. Now, this show holds many records, the longest time in previews before officially opening and the high price tag of $75 million to produce. But what it is most known for is injuring the actors due to the shows extensive stunts and special effects. When it closed, it lost more money ($60 million) than any show in Broadway history. This is insane because it's also one of the top 30 highest grossing Broadway shows of all time. One of the main reasons for the closure was the show’s loss of insurance, and that even after 3 years of edits people weren’t buying tickets. Even the international and tour versions of the show never happened due to its complete failure in New York City.

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