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Ten of the Best: Theatre 'flops' ripe for reinvention

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Defining a theatre 'flop' is no straightforward task. A general rule of thumb could be that it makes less money than it costs to stage. But it's not always that simple. Shows which have actually been commercially successful can still be considered flops, whereas some noble failures are often considered in the minds of their audiences out-and-out hits.

To coincide with the current run of Peter Michael Marino's Desperately Seeking The Exit at Leicester Square Theatre, charting his experiences staging famous flop musical Desperately Seeking Susan, we put the question 'which flops would you like to see revived?' to our discussion board users and Twitter followers.

The answers made for fascinating reading. Here is a selection:

1. Twang!
Lionel Bart's 1965 show may share a titular exclamation mark with his mammoth success Oliver! but that's where all comparisons end. One of the most notorious flops in West End history, this Robin Hood musical opened in farcical circumstances with an opening night plagued by lighting failures, last-minute rewrites and a musical director collapsing from exhaustion. With a cast including future comedy superstar Ronnie Corbett and backed by Joan Littlewood's acclaimed Theatre Workshop, how did it all go so wrong? Well, suffice it to say the story of the show is likely to attract more punters than a restaging of the show itself.

2. Carrie
Another flop that has entered theatre folklore, this 1988 Stephen King adaptation ran for only five performances (following 16 previews) before investors pulled the plug. Arguments have since raged over whether the savage reviews were justified, and it has since received an Off-Broadway revival (in 2012), with a Los Angeles production scheduled for later this year. So who knows, we may yet see it back in the West End. Either way, it marked a low point for the Royal Shakespeare Company, which previously turned out legendary longrunner Les Miserables, and has since produced the runaway hit Matilda


3. The Pirate Queen
The musical midas touch definitely evaded Les Mis maestros Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil on this 2006 flop, described by the New York Times' Ben Brantley as a mix of "Sword fights, frolicsome jigs, flag hoisting, rope pulling, stately processions, mincing minuets and hearty river dancing" (what's not to like?!). Centring on Grace O'Malley, an Irish pirate in the Elizabethan age, it failed to find the gold on Broadway and sailed away less than three months after opening night. "The Pirate Queen registers as a relic of a long-gone era," added Brantley, "and I don't mean the 1500s."

4. Matador
This Spanish-infused show ran for three months at the West End's Queen's Theatre in 1991, starring John Barrowman and an army of flamenco dancers. But despite warm reviews and an Olivier Award (for choreography), the show failed to mount a charge and was put out to pasture after three months. A popular choice with our board members, we reckon this has a good case to be revisited - if only to hear once again the timeless classic "Manolete! Belmonte! Joselito!".

5. Moby Dick
One of Cameron Mackintosh's rare failures, pantomimic musical Moby Dick beached after just four months in the West End back in 1992. But our board users' wish for another look may soon be granted; Mackintosh said recently that the show will soon be seen "in London in a pub theatre" and that "there's one being eyed up for Broadway in the next two years". Its fans will no doubt have a whale of a time.

6. Imagine This
The Warsaw Ghetto in 1942 may seem an unlikely setting for a musical, but such was the backdrop of this 2007 show which juxtaposed the oppression of the Nazis with the ancient Roman seige of Masada. After premiering in Plymouth it transferred to the New London Theatre in November 2008 but failed to last the year, with several critics questioning the tastefulness of the subject matter. Cast member Peter Polycarpou wrote in Whatsonstage.com at the time: "...what about Fiddler on the Roof, about the Russian pogroms in 1905, or Sweeney Todd, about a serial killer whose wife makes pies with his victims? There are countless other examples you could draw of musicals which deal with dark and turbulent issues."

7. Children of Eden
Stephen 'Wicked' Schwartz and John 'Les Mis' Caird failed to get this Biblical musical past genesis when it premiered in 1991. Developed through the RSC it closed after only four months at the West End's Prince Edward Theatre, citing the Gulf War as a contributory factor. But it recently rose again for a charity gala in January 2012, starring Gareth Gates and Kerry Ellis, among others. Whether it will reach Revelation with a fuller revival remains to be seen...

8. Metropolis
Adapted from Fritz Lang's futuristic silent movie, this show boasted a 30-strong cast including Brian Blessed and an industrial set that made a nuclear power station look simplistic (see video above - the end is especially magnificent). However, opening in the same month as Miss Saigon and surrounded by a plethora of Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbusters it never stood a chance. According to a Punch article describing the final performance, "no one was offering any reasons for failure, other than that the whole thing was a load of utter rubbish." Ouch.

9. Murderous Instincts
It's never a good sign when the star of your show predicts it will be a flop before it's even opened. But such was the case for this 2004 show, fabulously described as a "salsa-comedy-murder-mystery". The offending star was Nichola McAuliffe, who wrote an article in the Daily Mail which said the show, which was penned by an heiress to the Firestone Tyre fortune and produced by her husband, "promised to be like a motorway pile up". And so it proved.

10. Dance of the Vampires (Tanz der Vampire)
This legendary 2002 Broadway disaster was so passionately defended by our board user 'Coggit', we just had to include it in the list. Coggit writes: "I'm a HUGE Tanz der Vampire fan. It was one of Broadway's biggest flops. I've seen a few bootlegs on YouTube and I just love it for what it was." But, even the show's biggest fan must concede: "The problem is that I don't see how it could work as a serious musical (like the original) in the UK or USA. The moment the melody for 'Total Eclipse' started, the entire audience bursts into laughter, already expecting it to be a comedy before it even begins."

We couldn't include them all, but other shows mentioned by our readers included:

The Lord of the Rings (2007)
Lend Me A Tenor (2011)
Umbrellas of Cherbourg (2011)
Hard Times (2000)
The Rink (1984)

And, due to popular demand, here are honourable mentions for some truly memorable flops (we just can't envisage them being reinvented!)

Too Close to the Sun (2009)
Oscar Wilde: The Musical (2004)
Bernadette (1990)
Which Witch (1992)
The Fields of Ambrosia (1996)
The Hunting of the Snark (1991)
Frankenstein (1981)
Money to Burn (2003)
Behind the Iron Mask (2005)
All Bob's Women (2008)

Please add your own suggestions in the comments box below!

Don't miss Desperately Seeking The Exit at Leicester Square Theatre until 20 May


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