Many Broadway shows do not live up to the hype and they often close early, close on opening night, or don't make it to opening night at all.
Broadway history is strewn with the corpses of notorious Broadway flops - shows that were critical, artistic, or financial disasters (usually all three) and closed early. Of course, nowadays it's not unusual for poorly-reviewed Broadway shows to experience long runs, providing they have sufficient funding (Disney's PR machine has given musicals like Aida and The Little Mermaid healthy Broadway runs despite critical bad-mouthing). And with Broadway budgets soaring into the tens of millions, it's not unusual for Broadway shows with good runs to be deemed failures because even a two-year run may not be enough to recoup. All of these factors make it harder and harder to define a "Broadway flop". That said, there are some Broadway show flops whose status is undeniable, and those are the ones that experience shockingly short runs.
Broadway Shows That Close On Opening Night
The classic example of the Big Broadway Flop is the show that closes on opening night. How can this even happen? Well, it usually starts with really bad buzz during previews. If it looks like the Broadway show is not going to get any better during the previews period, and the word-of-mouth continues to be terrible, the show's producers may start (secretly) considering the possibility of closing the show if the reviews aren't positive. The show has its Broadway opening night, later that night the reviews are abysmal, and the producers come to the conclusion that the combination of bad buzz and bad reviews is going to equal low ticket sales. Knowing that they're destined to lose money with every ensuing performance, they go ahead and announce the day after opening that the previous night's performance was the show's last. Hence, the show closed on opening night. This fate doesn't befall many Broadway shows - it only seems to happen once every several years. Recent Broadway flop shows that closed on opening night include Moose Murders in 1983, The Oldest Living Conferederate Widow Tells All in 2003, and Glory Days in '08.
Closing On Broadway During Previews
Some Broadway flops don't even make it to opening night. With horrible out-of-town reviews, or wretched word-of-mouth during Broadway preview performances, the producers see the writing on the wall and don't even bother to hope for positive reviews. Instead of waiting for opening night, they simply close the flop-to-be in previews. In a way, this is a more dignified way to go out, since it doesn't necessitate the misery of making all the actors and creative team suffer through brutal opening night reviews. And, of course, it saves the producers some money. A well-known example from not long ago is when the Broadway play Bobbi Boland, starring Farrah Fawcett, closed during previews in 2003.
Some shows close before they even make it to Broadway. Lots of bigger Broadway-bound productions do "out-of-town tryouts," launching the production at a high-profile regional theater or in a touring house in a big city. The point of the Broadway try-out is to fine-tune the show away from the prying eyes of New York critics and audiences. But sometimes what the pre-Broadway production reveals is that the show is not ready for Broadway, or maybe is just plain awful. If the out-of-town reviews are especially cruel, and the show looks like it can't be salvaged in time to get it to Broadway as planned, the producers may simply cancel the whole thing.
Broadway Shows That Close Shortly After Opening
Far more common than the above scenarios is the short run. The Broadway show opens to negative reviews, tries to run for a little while in the desperate hope that it'll get enough good buzz to boost ticket sales, then finally closes when sales fail to rise. Some Broadway flop shows that had unusually short Broadway runs include the musical High Fidelity (just 13 performances), Edward Albee's adaptation of Lolita (only lasted 9 performances), The Blonde in the Thunderbird (closed in less than a week), and the most notorious Broadway flop of all time, the musical version of Stephen King's Carrie, which closed after five performances in 1988.
A few of these spectacular Broadway flops, most notably Carrie and Moose Murders, have become part of Broadway legend. Avid Broadway fans frequently refer to them, and some of these shows even eventually gain a cult status among theater aficionados. But the reality is that the worst Broadway flops are simply forgotten, with no hope of ever being seen on Broadway again.