We continually look at Broadway musicals and rank them. When this happens our interest goes directly to the top. Who was the best? What show had the longest run or did the best in the box office?
This blog is dedicated to just the opposite. We want to take a look at the works whose time on Broadway was scant and limited – those short run Broadway musicals. Maybe we can find out what went wrong or learn that some perfectly good, amusing, or sensational musicals just had a bad “run” of it.
It is in their honor that we bring to you a list of musicals with some of the shortest runs on Broadway.
1. The Bridges of Madison County
Clocking in with 137 performances, including previews, this adaptation from the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller has had far more shows under its belt than many of the other musicals on this list. Still, one-hundred performances aren’t enough to get The Bridges of Madison County into medium obscurity and lands it a place here.
Jason Robert Brown wrote the music and lyrics with a book by Marsha Norman. Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is the Broadway location where this work opened on February 20, 2014 Unfortunately, two days shy of a three-month run, The Bridges of Madison County closed for good on May 18th of that same year.
This work has been reproduced several times including a tour of the United States in 2015 and a production in Manila. The critical reception was mixed.
Jason Robert Brown wrote the music and lyrics and Alfred Uhry wrote the book for our next musical with a short Broadway run with previews and performances equaling up to a total of 124 shows. Just as is the case with our previous musical, Parade, despite its low numbers at the box office, won two Tony Awards of the nine for which they were nominated. Parade also won six Drama Desk Awards.
The story that this musical surrounds is a murder trial from 1913. Surrounding the rape and murder of a thirteen-year-old girl who worked in the factory. Her manager, Leo Frank, is on trial for her killing. When the media began to cover the story anti-Semitic feelings began to sweep Atlanta, where the trial was being held. After he get sentenced to life in prison a group kidnaps him and hangs him in his victim’s home town.
The idea came from Harold Prince and he first approached Stephen Sondheim but the famous composer wasn’t interested and Prince then passed his idea across Brown. An interesting tidbit of trivia is that book writer, Alfred Uhry, is closely related to the story not just because he is from Atlanta but also because his great-uncle owned the factory where the girl worked and Leo Frank managed.
In the story the Uhry made the ideology that Jim Conley, who was the factory janitor and a key witness in the trial, was the true murder. The press and the authorities are painted as the bad guys in this telling of the tale.
3. Side Show
Premiering on Broadway in 1997 this short run musical comes in with 122 performances and previews. This story, which tells the tale of the Hilton twins, who were conjoined and stage performers in the 1930s, was written by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger. The Richard Rodgers Theatre was the proud host of this musical that was short lived.
Robert Longbottom choreographed the show as well as directed, Robin Wagner built the sets, and the costumes were designed by Gregg Barnes. The cast consisted of Emily Skinner as Daisy, Alice Ripley as Violet, Norm Lewis, Jeff McCarthy, and Hugh Panaro. To keep with the norm for this article, Side Show was nominated for four Tony Awards, although they didn’t win any.
The next year TheatreWorks, a non-profit, theater company just outside San Francisco, staged their own production of Side Show. Held at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, the reception was very positive. The production was awarded a few Dean Goodman Critics Awards and the Garland Award in 1998.
Other companies to reproduce this musical are the Physically Handicapped Actors & Musical Artists League in Denver, Co. in 1999, The Signature Theatre Company in 2001, and a shortened production was given at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, two founding members of the disco group ABBA, wrote the musical for Chess, Tim Rice wrote the lyrics for this story involving an intense chess tournament between two grandmasters, one from America and the other from Russia. Adding to the drama is a woman who they are competing over.
It is possible the two grandmasters are based on Russian chess geniuses Viktor Korchnoi and Anatoly Karpov. In tradition with two other Time Rice works, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar, a recording, namely a concept album, was released to the public before a production was staged. This tactic is used to raise funds for the first production.
Chess opened in London’s West End in 1986 and the run there lasted three years. Yet, in 1988, when it premiered on Broadway, the story was completely different. There were changes made to the show after leaving London and coming to America. It is said that in the London version there was very little spoken dialogue whereas the Broadway production had quite a bit more.
Of course, this musical was nominated for quite a few awards including the Drama Desk Awards and the Tony Awards. And, as is the norm with shows that don’t do well at first, Chess, has been reproduced many times including two United States Tours and several international productions.
5. The Scottsboro Boys
Seventy-eight shows are the total performances and previews our next short run musical gave on Broadway Written by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and David Thompson, The Scottsboro Boys was nominated for twelve Tonys but didn’t win one. The first production of this musical was give Off-Broadway but when it made the leap to the big street the run lasted only two months.
In 2010 at the Vineyard Theatre, this musical made its Off-Broadway Debut. While there it ran for a little more than a month and then made its way to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. There it would preview for a short time as well. On Oct 31, 2010, the Broadway production opened at the Lyceum Theatre.
Even though the run for this musical was short, it was produced in Pennsylvania at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre by the Philadelphia Theatre Company in 2012. Another production was staged at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco that same year.
Other productions include a London staging at The Young Vic theater. This production received wonderful reviews and the audience was filled to capacity. They won six Laurence Olivier Awards including Best New Musical, Best Director, and Best Choreography. From there, this production moved from their Off-West End location to the Garrick Theatre in London’s historical West End theater district.
The plot is centered around the Alabama trial of nine young black men in the 1930s. Unfairly and falsely accused of raping two white women on a train, this musical touches heavily on the unfair court system and how race and racism plays a big part in verdicts.
Learn about the hottest Broadway shows to come to New York City this year!