Top 10 Greatest Broadway Musicals That Failed Dismally At The Box Office. Not Every High-Quality Broadway Show Can Be A Runaway Commercial Hit and Many Lose Large Amounts Of Money At The Box Office
Greatest Broadway Musicals That Failed Dismally At The Box Office And Why They Failed
We all have our favorite shows that never caught on but hold a special place in our hearts. Not every Broadway musical has legs but there are so many that didn’t get their fair shot at finding an audience.
Often created by majorly gifted and highly regarded visionaries behind the scenes, and executed by outstanding performers, take a look at top-quality Broadway shows with demising financial returns.
10. The Scottsboro Boys (2010, 78 performances)
Maybe a bunch of old white guys shouldn’t have written a musical framed by a minstrel show but that’s exactly what John Kander, Fredd Ebb and David Thompson did. Their intentions might have been noble in their effort to make a scathing social critique on racial injustice but the net effect was not positive. Nominated for an impressive 11 Tony Awards, the beleaguered satire which faced protests during its run, walked away with nary a trophy.
9. Mack and Mabel (1974, 72 performances)
Plagued by an unlikable leading character in Hollywood director Mack Sennett, and his grooming of waitress and would-be actress Mabel Normand, this musical with a ravishing score by hitmaker Jerry Herman failed to resonate. Some critics felt like the show could’ve worked as a bittersweet drama instead of the broad musical comedy that it ended up being. The West End revival and other concert versions have fared better in their execution.
8. Big (1996, 193 performances)
Sometimes, a Broadway adaptation of a beloved film property can’t give up the ghost of its source material. The crack writing team of David Shire, Richard Maltby and John Weidman crafted a perfectly diverting iteration of 12-year old Josh Baskin’s overnight transformation into an adult and its ensuing implications. But neither audiences nor critics were here for the Susan Stroman directed vehicle, though rigorous script revisions and conceptual retooling made the national tour a decent hit.
7. The Pirate Queen (2007, 117 performances)
Another head scratcher of a massive miss, the adventures of 16th century Irish pirate Grace O’Malley still seems ripe for the Broadway stage. Add the provenance of Les Miz scribes Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, and a dynamic Stephanie J. Block in the titular role, and the result should’ve been pure pixie dust. But the show was dismissed for being too mechanical, with not enough heart to appeal emotionally to audiences hungry for that Jean Valjean brand of pathos.
6. The Capeman (1998, 68 performances)
What should’ve been a slam dunk (songs by Paul Simon, libretto by Pulitzer Prize winner Derek Walcott), this beset musical based on the life of convicted murderer Salvador Agrón simply did not work as a stage property. The stellar cast including Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades and Sara Ramirez did right by the beautiful score, but the result was flat, a product of a writing team who had no experience writing a musical. A concert version at the Delacorte in 2010 fared much better.
5. Merrily We Roll Along (1981, 68 performances)
Fortunately Stephen Sondheim was not discouraged by the abysmal reception this narratively innovative musical– the story is told in reverse chronological order– faced when it first premiered. The score is outstanding (especially the iconic overture) and the tale of three old friends trying to juggle relationships, creative career paths and romantic entanglements is extremely relatable. Merrily will get another chance at redemption in 2023’s hotly anticipated revival.
4. Amour (2002, 48 performances)
With absolutely delicious music by famed French composer Michel Legrand, this musical fantasy revolves around Dusoleil, an unassuming, diffident clerk who can walk through walls. This gem of a show wrestles whimsically with themes of morality, and the original Broadway cast boasted an embarrassment of riches that we clearly didn’t deserve: Maclolm Gets, Melissa Errico, Norm Lewis, Christian Borle and Christoper Fitzgerald!
3. Chess (1988, 85 performances)
We’ve lost count of how many different versions of this embattled musical exist, but it likely exceeds the number of moves in The Queen’s Gambit strategy. Set against a Cold War era chess tournament, the "poperetta" written by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Tim Rice, could never seem to find its dramaturgical footing. However, the score is one of the most infectious and soul-stirring in musical theatre history. Nobody On Nobody’s Side doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it’s a banger.
2. The Goodbye Girl (1993, 211 performances)
If Neil Simon plus Marvin Hamlisch plus David Zippel plus Bernadette Peters plus Martin Short does not equal boffo comedic gold, there’s really no way to guarantee Broadway alchemy. The $10 million advance suggested a promising future but the musical about a single mother whose life is uprooted by an egotistical actor, was virtually dead on arrival. Still, the score is quite wonderful, with Elliot Garfield Grant being one of the finest character establishing songs ever written.
1. A Class Act (2001, 135 performances)
Framed by the memorial service for A Chorus Line bookwriter and lyricist Edward Kleban, this portrait of a frustrated artist uses the catalogue of Kleban’s songs (yes, he was a composer too) to get into the psyche of a neurotic genius who never achieved the kind of renown he craved. Much like other musicals in the same vein (Tick, Tick…Boom, Sunday in the Park With George), A Class Act grapples with the highs and lows of a chosen life in the theatre: what Kleban did, and what many of us do for love.