We couldn’t stop at the last five because, compared to the five that we have for you in this blog post, those five musicals were on Broadway for ages. Of course, we are nothing but respectful of all short run Broadway productions because it takes a great deal of success to perform on that street to start.
Everyone loves a show that has a good long run and there is a special group of musical fans that love the cultish feeling that comes with loving a short lived musical. With that in mind, here are five musicals with short runs that we absolutely adore, and we are not alone.
Seventy-three performances and previews combined is where the operetta Candide comes in at, which qualifies it for our list of short run Broadway musicals. This work was based on the Voltaire novel by the same title. The music was written by Leonard Bernstein and the libretto written by Lillian Hellman, for the version that was performed I 1956. Hugh Wheeler wrote a book for it and since 1974 this version is the one that is regularly performed.
The production we would like to focus on premiered on December 1, 1956 and was conducted by Samuel Krachmalnick. Tyrone Guthrie directed and designers Oliver Smith and Irene Sharaff created the costumes and sets. Anna Sokolow choreographed the cast that included Barbara Cook, Robert Rounseville, Max Adrian, and Irra Petina.
Critics didn’t take well to the Hellman libretto calling is “bland.” It was a box office failure. Yet, in the mindset that you can never give up, three years later a production was staged at the Saville Theatre in London and the Hellman libretto was used. This show ran for only sixty performances.
The second version, with the Hugh Wheeler book, opened at the Chelsea Theater Center in 1973. IT moved to a Broadway location the next year and this reprise ran for almost twenty-four months. This production gave nearly 750 performances and closed in 1976. Bernstein was not involved in this reproduction.
2. Merrily We Roll Along
George Furth wrote the book and Stephen Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for our next short run Broadway musical. The inspiration for the show came from a play by the same name written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Due to casting problems the premiered was delayed twice.
Finally, on November 16, 1981 Merrily We Roll Along opened at the Alvin Theater and the reviews were less than kind. While the critics loved the score the general feeling about the book was negative. This production was plagued with bad reviews prior to opening and after. It was this that forced the musical to shut down after sixteen performances and fifty-two previews.
Critic Frank Rich said Sondheim had “broken” his heart. Another critic, Clive Barnes, told people to “see it for yourselves.” He felt the musical to be “far too good” to miss out from the “word of mouth and critical consensus.” One reason why it might have not done well is because the audience had a difficult time following the storyline.
Yet, as we have seen with other short run musicals, the bad reviews and early closings does not always mean a work fades into obscurity. This musical has had several reproductions. On May 26, 1994, Merrily We Roll Along, premiered at the York Theatre located in St. Peter’s Church.
An earlier reproduction was held at the La Jolla Playhouse in 1985 and it ended after twenty-four performances. Another production, put on by Arena Stage, opened at the Kreeger Theater in Washington, D.C. on January 30, 1990. This production received good reviews and it was felt that the problems that plagued the earlier production were rectified.
3. The Rocky Horror Show
Based on the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this short lived musical was written completely by Richard O’Brien in an honor to B movies, specifically of the horror genre. The story is about an innocent, chaste couple whose car breaks down in a storm and they are forced to take refuge in the home of a scientist who not only dabbles in the reanimation of dead tissue, he dresses like a burlesque dancer.
The Royal Court Theatre was the first venue to house this musical and it opened on June 19, 1973. It moved throughout London and several occasions and finally closed in September of 1980. Winning the Evening Standard Theater Award for Best Musical, the London cast gave an astounding 2,960 shows.
The Rocky Horror Show also did well when it premiered in Los Angeles but the Broadway run in 1975 closed after forty-nine previews and performances. The Belasco Theatre was the location of this disappointing run. Despite the bad turnout, this musical was nominated for a Tony Award and three Drama Desk Awards that year.
As for the reproductions following this Broadway failure, well, there are far too many to list here. This musical has been reproduced more than twenty times including many tours through the United Kingdom and America. Other locations to stage The Rocky Horror Show include Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Melbourne, St. Louis, and Rio de Janeiro.
4. Anyone Can Whistle
This musical, and the next, come in to tie for the shortest runs on Broadway with only twenty-one combined previews and performances. Anyone Can Whistle beats our next entry with nine performances over the five from the musical we will talk about after this. Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim got together to create this work, which has a story surrounding a female mayor who is shady and her constituents who only want to save their town which has gone bankrupt.
Angela Lansbury, whom is famous for her work on Murder She Wrote, starred in the lead role and it was her Broadway debut as well. After being offered the role she gladly accepted because, it is said, she was wanting to work with Laurents and Sondheim. Lee Remick and Harry Guardino were also cast in this production. Barbara Streisand was considered for Remick’s role but Streisand turned it down to make her mark in Funny Girl.
After tryouts were given in Philadelphia, Laurents decided to ignore the negative criticism that said the show was absurd and challenging to comprehend. It is said that Laurents focused more on restaging the production opposed to fixing the real problems. Problems seemed to come out of nowhere, especially when Henry Lascoe, a supporting actor in the show, had a heart attack.
Yet, Sondheim has been quoted saying that this actor, Lascoe, was so domineering he had intimidated a young Lansbury, who was not giving the performance they needed. That was until Lascoe had to step down due to his unfortunate illness, it was the freedom from his experienced nature that allowed Lansbury to shine.
5. Carrie: The Musical
Maybe it’s just us but creating a musical around this Stephen King horror novel is a risky venture. Not only is the subject matter disturbing, we wonder how anyone would be able to write songs to surround the plot. Yet, if Les Misérables, Little Shop of Horrors, and Sweeney Todd have all shown us anything it is that disturbing subjects can make for a great musical.
Unfortunately, the first production of Carrie was unable to relate this marriage to the audiences. Our last musical on the list of short Broadway runs comes in a twenty-one total shows with previews and performances combined, only five of that number were from opening night until closing. Of course, this was not where the tale begins so let us go there.
In 1984, the creative team showcased the first act at 890 Broadway and then declared that the full musical would open on Broadway two years later, 1986. Getting there in that short time proved difficult and the money for the production wasn’t raised until 1987.
The Royal Shakespeare Company gave a four-week production in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The reviews were both negative and positive. It seems that if there was a problem to be had, this production of Carrie had it. Script and technical obstacles continually popped up. Even when they dropped blood on the lead actress the microphone failed.
It cost eight million dollars to bring the show to Broadway and we can assume, with only five performances, they did not earn this money back. Carrie has its own cult following and has been restaged several times in places like Seattle, Manila, and Los Angeles.
This article is a continuation from 5 Musicals with Short Runs on Broadway, in case you missed it!