As the Broadway show Mamma Mia! announces the end of its 14-year run, here’s a look at some Broadway musicals that ran about 13.9999 years less.
A band of hippies (led by Raul Julia) travel through outer space on an asteroid in the year 2972, searching for an uninhabited planet on which to settle “New Jerusalem.” The weightlessness of space was simulated by actors jumping on trampolines for the entire show. A rock score would have suited the 1970s counterculture themes, but for some reason songwriters Christopher Gore and Galt McDermot chose country music. The original title for the show was Up!, but producers changed it because it was being staged at the Uris Theatre and the marquee would have read “Up! Uris.” (Via Galactica ran for seven performances.)
Rockabye Hamlet (1976)
Adolescent angst and rebellion are major themes in rock music—and in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. So that would make Hamlet the perfect inspiration for a rock musical, right? Wrong. Originally written as a radio play (under the title Kronberg: 1582), Rockabye Hamlet hit Broadway in 1976 with hundreds of flashing lights and an onstage band. Writers followed Shakespeare’s storyline but abandoned his dialogue. They opted instead for lines like the one Laertes sings to Polonius: “Good son, you return to France/Keep your divinity inside your pants.” The show closed after seven performances.
Bring Back Birdie (1981)
A sequel to the 1961 hit Bye Bye Birdie. In the original, teen idol Conrad Birdie sings a farewell concert and kisses a lucky girl before joining the military (it was inspired by Elvis Presley being drafted in the 1950s). Bring Back Birdie takes place 20 years later and couldn’t have been farther from the real Elvis story—Birdie has settled down as mayor of a small town when somebody talks him into making a comeback. The only problem: audiences didn’t come back. One night during the show’s run—of four performances—when actor Donald O’Connor forgot the words to a song, he told the band, “You sing it. I hate this song anyway,” and walked off stage.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1966)
It had the highest advance sales of any show in 1966, primarily because of its cast—TV stars Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain—but also because audiences expected a light, bouncy stage version of the popular movie. Unfortunately, they got a musical more like Truman Capote’s original novella: dark and tragic. After a disastrous trial run, playwright Edward Albee was hired to rewrite the script. He did little to improve it, removing nearly all the jokes and making Moore’s character a figment of Chamberlain’s imagination. Audiences were so confused that they openly talked to and questioned the actors on stage. The show ran for four preview performances before producer David Merrick announced he was closing it immediately to save theatergoers from “an excruciatingly boring evening.”
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