The House of Broadway Musical Flops
One of the exciting things about seeing a Broadway show is the theatre that houses a production. Many Broadway houses have been around for almost one-hundred years. Ensconced within these artistic dwellings are the ghosts of shows gone by, a rich history of great, long running masterpieces ... and the occasional flop. Some theatres have had a lucky streak of success: The St. James, The Winter Garden, The Majestic. Others, have, for one reason or another, been a doomed house. Pouring through my notes, there is one theatre that has had more than its share of flops in its 30-year tenure as a Broadway house: The Marquis Theatre.
The Marquis was a bitter pill for the Broadway community to swallow from the get-go. The structure, buried deep inside an enormous, sterile hotel building, was constructed on the site where several beloved Broadway theatres had once stood. The Helen Hayes, The Morosco, The Astor, The Gaiety, and The Bijou were all razed to make way for this mega structure. The demolishing will forever be remembered as “The Great Theatre Massacre of 1982.”
The first musical to open at the Marquis was the 1986 Broadway transfer of the London hit musical Me and My Girl. It was an unqualified hit in the United States, running 1,420 performances. It picked up a handful of Tony Awards in a season that could have easily been dominated by another British Invasion in the form of Les Miserables. It was a highly comical, deliciously musical confection; the perfect musical to christen this new theatre. Sadly, Me and My Girl, which was still doing solid business, was evicted in 1989 to open up the theatre for one of the most eagerly anticipated of coming season: Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge. In an attempt to make lightning strike twice, the original creators of Annie decided a sequel was a good idea. It turned out that the production was fraught with problems, most to do with the story (or lack of a good one). Despite a great big banner sign advertising Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge opening at the Marriott Marquis, it never happened. A musical version of the film Paper Moon also saw a marquis go up on the building, but it, too, never played before its footlights.
Fortunately, there are always new musicals waiting for a theatre that can accommodate their needs. Shogun: the Musical would be the next tenant of the Marquis. Based on the epic 1976 James Clavell novel about a shipwrecked English captain and what happens to him in 17th Century Japan. Starring Phillip Casnoff and June Angela, the show opened to universally scathing reviews. The only admiration came for some exciting laser effects in the show. It closed after 72 performances.
Optimism carries us forward to 1991 when a new musical involving the likes of Arthur Laurents, Charles Strouse, and Richard Maltby Jr, and a cast featuring Joanna Gleason, Barry Bostwick, Faith Prince, Christine Baranski and Debra Monk was readying itself for Broadway. Based on the popular Dashiell Hammett Thin Man characters Nick and Nora Charles, a gruff gumshoe detective and his high society wife mix martinis and solve mysteries while exchanging sophisticated wit. What a fun idea for a musical, right? Wrong! Cast changes, extensive rewrites, a run-in with the City Consumer Affairs Office, tepid reviews and scathing word of mouth made Nick & Nora a nightmare, closing after 9 performances.
A short-lived revival of Man of La Mancha starting Raul Julia came next, followed by what everyone was sure was going to be the big hit of the 1993 season: The Goodbye Girl. A dream team including Neil Simon, Marvin Hamlisch and David Zippel were adapting a charming, popular film (based on Simon's screenplay) for the musical stage. Bernadette Peters and Martin Short were cast in the leads. This should have been gold! The Goodbye Girl was never exactly awful, but it didn't exactly take flight either. Peters was all wrong for the title role and Short, in the absence of good comic material, turned up the ham volume. In a season that featured more compelling musicals such as The Who's Tommy and Kiss of the Spider Woman opening, The Goodbye Girl shuttered after 188 performances.
Finally, in 1994, the Marquis would have its next hit with the revival of Damn Yankees (718 performances), followed by Victor/Victoria (734 performances). These two musicals had solid runs and it seemed as though the curse of the Marquis was finally lifting. Unfortunately, its next tenant would be the 1998 musical flop, Paul Simon’s The Capeman. Despite audiences eagerly awaiting what singer-songwriter Paul Simon would bring to the musical stage as the show’s composer-lyricist, the show and its subject matter were not given a happy reception. In fact, The Capeman, which was based on a true story about the life of a convicted murder Salvador Agron, stirred controversy and was picketed by some of the families who lost members to Agron’s atrocities. It closed after 68 performances.
Over time, the Marquis started to see a string of hits: a revival of Annie Get Your Gun starring Bernadette Peters was followed by Thoroughly Modern Millie with Sutton Foster, the former running 1,045 performances and the latter reaching 903. It was a nice streak for the Marquis that would be ended by the 2005 Andrew Lloyd Webber flop The Woman in White (109 performances), based on the classic Wilkie Collins novel of the same name. And then the pendulum swung again, this time with a hit coming in the form of 2006’s The Drowsy Chaperone. The most lighthearted and charming of musical comedies, Drowsy Chaperone squatted for 674 performances.
Since 2008, the Marquis Theatre has housed mostly flops: Cry-Baby (68 performances), 9 to 5 (148 performances), Come Fly Away (188 performances), Wonderland (33 performances), a revival of Evita (337 performances), and a revival of Jekyll and Hyde (29 performances). Some limited engagements played the Marquis that fared better, including the Broadway bow of White Christmas and the revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies fresh from the Kennedy Center.
You can’t blame the house for the content, but it does seem that the Marquis has had its share of struggles finding tenants who will stick around for a while. For this comfortable, well-placed, art-deco theatre sandwiched inside a hotel just a stone’s throw from the TKTS booth, you would think it would have had a better run. Perhaps the theatre ghosts of the Helen Hayes, The Morosco, The Astor, The Gaiety, and The Bijou are still a little perturbed by The Great Theatre Massacre of 1982 and show up at the Marquis from time to time to scare away the latest inhabitants?