Broadway Sequels Are Never Equal
It's easy to understand why Broadway musical sequels happen, especially sequels to the big ones that people adore. Audiences love a show so much that it seems likely they would like to spend more time with them and hopefully enjoy more showtunes from the same composers. On paper, that might make sense, but in execution Broadway musical sequels are almost always a bad idea. Let's take a look at some Broadway musical sequels and assess.
Let ‘em Eat Cake
The first Broadway musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama was the 1931 political satire Of Thee I Sing. The musical followed the campaign of “Wintergreen for President”, a man running on the platform of “love”. The comedic ins and outs of the campaign were fodder for hilarious mockery, including a particular attention to the uselessness of the Vice Presidential candidate named Throttlebottom. George and Ira Gershwin provided the witty score and George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind wrote the droll book. In 1934, there was a sequel to Of Thee I Sing called Let ‘em Eat Cake that satirized the the re-election campaign. Audiences didn’t embrace the sequel like they did the original, and it only lasted for 89 performances.
Divorce Me, Darling!
In 1953, Sandy Wilson concocted a fizzy and fun musical called The Boy Friend, a pastiche of 1920s musicals. The story is about a girl named Polly who makes up an imaginary boyfriend and spends the rest of the show trying to keep her fabrication going. Of course, she finds real love along the way. The Boy Friend made the trip across the Atlantic a year later where it became enormously popular and introduced Julie Andrews to the Broadway musical stage. What very few people know is that Wilson wrote a sequel to The Boy Friend known as Divorce Me, Darling (1965) that jumps ahead ten-years, pastiches 1930s musicals, and revisits the lives of the key characters of the original. The sequel ran or 91 performances in London, but this time it did not cross the ocean to play Broadway.
Bring Back Birdie
In 1960, Bye, Bye, Birdie introduced Rock & Roll to the Broadway musical scene (albeit three songs of a mostly traditional score). The story of Albert Peterson, a manager/songwriter of the Elvis Presley-like Conrad Birdie and his put upon fiancée/secretary Rosie was a tale about the generation gap and how Rock & Roll swept America. The musical was fresh and original, bursting with fun characters and joyous music. This, apparently, compelled creators Charles Strouse (music), Lee Adams (lyrics) and Michael Stewart (book) to decide audiences would like to return to the story twenty-one years later to see what became of Albert, Rosie and company. In 1981 Bring Back Birdie opened at Broadway's Martin Beck Theatre (the original had also played there) where it lasted 4 performances and closed after abyssal reviews. The original Rosie (Chita Rivera) came back and was Tony-nominated for her efforts, playing opposite Donald O'Connor stepping in for Dick Van Dyke as Albert. Albert and Rosie find themselves parents of teenagers and experiencing the generation gap with a new perspective. Sadly, the score was entirely forgettable and the jokes were forced and unfunny. Bring Back Birdie felt like reheated leftovers of Bye, Bye, Birdie and audiences just didn't care.
The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public
The 1979 musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, about the prostitutes in a brothel who have their establishment shut down, had a long run on Broadway (1,584 performances). In 1994, Miss Mona and her band of singing-dancing whores returned to Broadway in the musical’s sequel The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. Composer-lyricist Carol Hall, book writers Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, and original choreographer Tommy Tune returned for the project that moved the action to Las Vegas. The story found Miss Mona being brought in to make a success of a Nevada brothel that owes money to the IRS. Though the score has many fun songs and the original cast recording captures the piece in all its campy, sleazy fun, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public did not please critics or audiences, and the show folded after a mere 16 performances. Actress Dee Hoty did receive a Tony nomination for her performance as Miss Mona.
Annie Warbucks has the distinction of being one of the only Broadway musical sequels that is actually pretty good. The original Annie, based on the popular comic strip about a plucky orphan living during the Great Depression who is adopted by a crotchety millionaire, was the big hit of 1977. The Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics) score featured many hits including anthem to optimism “Tomorrow”. Further adventures of Annie and company resulted in an attempted sequel called Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, which had been announced for a Broadway berth at the Marquis Theatre in 1989. Plagued with problems, that musical never arrived. A few years later, Annie Warbucks opened Off-Broadway in 1993. Running for 200 performances, the musical’s plot was similar to the original, with the optimistic moppet squaring-off with a mother/daughter pair of con artists. The music is really quite good, a highlight being “But You Go On” featuring some of Charnin’s best lyrics.
Love Never Dies
Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is Broadway's longest-running musical, a run that is getting close to reaching three-decades. With audiences romanticizing the story of a psychotic music teacher and his muse, not to mention it's open-ended conclusion, is it any wonder that Lloyd Webber felt a sequel would be a great idea. Opening in London in 2010, it was hoped that its sequel would eventually make its way to Broadway. Instead, Love Never Dies was mostly spurned by audiences and critics, and instead the idea of going to the Great White Way was put on permanent hold. Love Never Dies jumps ahead ten-years and Christine Daee is an opera star who has been invited to Coney Island to sing for a Coney Island show. It turns out that the Phantom is up to his old tricks and has arranged this to once again be a part of her life. The musical wasn't awful, but it was frustrating because it wiped away the impact of the ghostly, ambiguous ending of the original. The original ended perfectly, and a sequel was n