Broadway has seen many amazing triumphs and quite a few flops. As there are a few shows that achieved greatness, such as Fiddle on the Roof, Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and a few that have been recorded in the annals of infamy. In an early blog, we looked at two such shows, Dude and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Today we consider two others.
One is a murder mystery and the other a musical. The first opened and closed in, while the other made it through four performances before folding.
Opened and Closed on Feb. 22, 1983
It’s hard to say how Moose Murders by Arthur Bicknell ever got to a Broadway theatre. The ill-conceived murder mystery farce, which was set in a very large and old mansion was a strange conglomeration of what were supposed to be comedic happenings and, or course, murders. The set included a real rain effect and a whole lot of doors.
There were blind jokes, pratfalls, and chase scenes. During the play, people were killed by a murderer who was wearing, yes, a moose head. Eve Arden was the original leading lady, but after a horrific first preview she left the show. Future Emmy winner and recent Tony nominee Holland Taylor replaced her.
In the New York Times, reviewer Frank Rich wrote, “the season’s most stupefying flop—a show so preposterous that it made minor celebrities out of everyone who witnessed it, whether from on stage or in the audience.”
Having witnessed a preview of this show on Broadway, I’d have to agree. Often people leave during the intermission of a flop, but this one was so bad just about everyone returned to see if it could get worse. And it did.
It did do one thing: it set the standard for Broadway flops. It played at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre for one night.
Bring Back Birdie
March 5-7, 1981
Bring Back Birdie, with book by Michael Stewart, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse, was a sequel to the hit show Bye, Bye Birdie. The basic premise focused on a plan to bring rock and roll star Conrad Birdie back into the spotlight after his stint in the Army and his disappearance from public life. In the sequel, Birdie is 20 years older.
The cast was formidable, and it included Donald O’Connor (Albert), Chita Rivera (Rose), Maurice Hines (Mtobe), Marcel Forestieri (Birdie), Robin Morse (Jenny), and Maria Karnilova (Mae). Rivera was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Actress in a Musical.
But the show was troubled. The producers kept putting off opening night and continued to add preview performances. By the time it opened at the Martin beck Theatre, Bring Back Birdie had given 31 previews. It closed after four performances.
During one preview, Donald O’Conner came out to sing one of his numbers, which had been rewritten. At one point, he got confused, stopped, told the audience he never liked the song, and left the stage. Bring Back Birdie was that kind of mess, and with extended previews and bad word of mouth, no one expected it to survive. And they were right.
Upcoming, we’ll look at some of the more renowned Broadway shows, and of, course, from time to time we’ll visit the vault that contains some of the biggest disasters that have ever been put on Broadway’s celebrated stages.