|The 'so bad it's good' classic Carrie|
Let's Hear It For The Flops
Date: 9 February 2010
Now I know that many of you out there must be like me when it comes to your fascination with the musical flops, the shows that land in the West End or on Broadway and are gone before they can finish putting up the marquee, but why are we so fascinated by them?
I, for one would never root for a show to fail, as a producer, writer and directer myself. I would hate to have a flop on my hands, on top of that so many people lose their jobs and years of creativity disappear in a second.
However, when I can smell a flop is on the horizon I’m glued to my laptop for days to see what’s happening. It’s a strange fascination, something we like to ask questions about like “How did it all go so wrong?”
I’ve always had a love for the musical adaptation of the Stephen King novel Carrie which became such a notorious flop that it even had a book named after it. It was a gem of a show that was 50 percent brilliant and 50 percent horrid. Finding out recently that it was having a new reading and may well be coming back was like Christmas and New Year rolled in to one for me.
What defines a flop though?
The obvious flops would be the ones that close almost immediately after opening such as Carrie, Too Close To The Sun, Glory Days etc, these are the shows that so many people in years to come lie about actually seeing that if they had seen them the shows would still be running.
Message boards are always at war when it comes to the next set of flops, shows that you think were hits but actually never were. On Broadway Jekyll and Hyde ran for almost four years yet never made its money back, Footloose ran for two years and the same story, even the West Ends’ new smash Legally Blonde failed to recoup on Broadway.
However we are interested in the first kind of flops right? It’s the flops that make history
Broadway and the West End have always been risky business ventures, many of the musicals that play never make their money back meaning investors never see a penny. Nowadays shows have so many investors because budgets for an average size Broadway musical can easily top $10 million.
So why are people not more careful about what shows to bring to the heart of theatre land? Is it just that they have so much blind belief in these shows that they can’t see the woods for the trees, or maybe it’s that once the ball is rolling they just want to see it through and hope that the critics won’t be too harsh? Whatever the reason it’s something that will always plague theatre, that risk that all producers etc. must take. It’s the ultimate gamble, risk everything or don’t play at all, and let’s be honest it’s a great thing that these people do take the risk.
Sometimes when a show flops originally it can go and have a fantastic life in regional theatre like Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, in fact many of Sondheim’s shows never made their money back, can you imagine theatre without Sondheim?
So if we can see these shows are bad ideas from the start then why can’t the creative team and the investors? Why did Rodgers and Hammerstein not see that Pipe Dream was not a good idea, or did nobody want to tell Alan Jay Lerner that an all singing and dancing version of Lolita called Lolita My Love was probably not going to have people racing to the theatre.
Yes the flop is a fascinating thing, we sit at home and say “we saw that coming” but would we see it coming if we were actually involved, when you are so passionate about something your judgement can become clouded as I was told by one critic who did not like my play Rage.
One of the most heartbreaking things other than what I mentioned earlier however is that flop shows are often pretty damn good and have moments of musical brilliance in them but never get recorded. What people would give to get a professional studio recording of Carrie, Good Vibrations, Cry Baby etc. or many of the older shows that bowed out early on?
Yes many of us love the flops and have respect for them, the ones that didn’t quite make it or the ones that were always destined to fail. Each of them had talented people with a vision who wanted to make it work, and whilst people like me exist who love to hear all about those shows and listen to the scores etc. with fondness, these shows will always live on... and so they should.
They may have got it wrong but could we do it any better?
So let me know what your favourite flops are?
Until next time....
- Craig Hepworth
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
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