Musicals That Closed on Opening Night

How can a Broadway musical only last one performance?

The Cast of Glory Days.

There's a definite streak of schadenfreude running through the theatergoing community. We can be a lovely bunch, really we can. We celebrate successes and applaud achievements, and we're prone to unmitigated gushing about our favorite shows and performers. But all that passion is a double-edged sword. We also tend to ravage failures with blind abandon, poring over the wreckage like a miles-long line of rubbernecking drivers, sorta kinda hoping that we'll see something horrific that we can talk about for years to come.

 

I mean, we're a well-meaning people. But we love flops. They fascinate us. When word gets out during previews that a showing isn't quite coming together, well, it's like there's blood in the water. We comb the chatrooms for the gory details. We proudly claim bragging rights for having sat through the latest tuner atrocity and lived to tell the tale. We love to play Monday-morning quarterback, wondering how certain shows ever wound up on Broadway. (See "How Do Bad Musicals Wind Up on Broadway?")  

Of course, some shows don't even make it that far, they close out of town, a fate that befell such musical misfires as Prettybelle (despite the presence of Angela Lansbury), The Baker's Wife (despite Patti LuPone), Miss Moffatt (despite, believe it or not, Bette Davis), and Pleasures and Palaces (despite direction and choreography by Bob Fosse). Other shows have made it as far as New York, only to shutter before opening night.

These unfortunate productions include Rachael Lily Rosenbloom (And Don't You Ever Forget It), and Breakfast at Tiffany's, the latter featuring Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain. 

But even when shows make it to their first official performance, there's no guarantee that they'll have a second. Producers often blindly hope that they'll somehow garner a slate of raves that they can publicize to bring the public in.

If that doesn't come, shows will sometimes limp along, in the distant hope that word of mouth might kick in in their favor. But, sometimes, there's simply not enough money left in the coffers to keep the show going, and the show simply shutters after one measly performance. 

The phenomenon of the one-performance musical is actually a relatively recent phenomenon. Prior to 1960, it was possible for a middling show to garner mixed-to-negative reviews and still eke out a run of a few months or so. It wasn't until the 1960s, when production costs started to become prohibitive, that we really started to see shows only last one night. Starting in the '60s, the hits ran longer and the flops ran shorter. The "golden age," as it were, of the one-night flop was the '70s and the '80s, when things were so economically and artistically bleak that it really seemed as though the Broadway musical might meet its demise. 

Here's a list of the Broadway musicals from 1960 on that closed after only one performance, along with a brief description of what, if anything, stood out about that show. Click through in the inks to find out more. 

  • Kelly (Feb 6, 1965) - The grandaddy of modern flops. The plot concerned a man who planned to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. (Doesn't that just scream "musical"?) 
  • Here's Where I Belong (Mar 3, 1968) - A musical version of Steinbeck's East of Eden that was so bad that first-time librettist Terrence McNally demanded that his name be taken off the poster and playbill. 
  • Billy (Mar 22, 1969) - A musicalized version of Herman Melville's Billy Budd
  • La Strada (Dec 14, 1969) - Lionel Bart's not-so-triumphant return to Broadway after Oliver!, featuring a young Bernadette Peters. 
  • Gantry (Feb 14, 1970) - Based on the novel Elmer Gantry, about a preacher who teams up with a female evangelist. 
  • Blood Red Roses (Mar 22, 1970) - An anti-war musical set during the Crimean War. 
  • Frank Merriwell (Apr 24, 1971) - About a heroic college student, set during the Spanish-American War. 
  • Wild and Wonderful (Dec 7, 1971) - A West Point cadet is sent by the CIA to infiltrate the youth counter-culture. 
  • Heathen! (May 21, 1972) - Set in Hawaii in two time periods, 150 years apart. 
  • Rainbow Jones (Feb 13, 1974) - A shy woman spends her days in Central Park talking to her imaginary friends. 
  • Home Sweet Homer (Jan 4, 1976) - From the men who created Man of La Mancha, Based on The Odyssey, starring Yul Brynner, plagued with problems from the start, including alleged food poisoning. 
  • A Broadway Musical (Dec 21, 1978) - Score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, directed by Gower Champion during his lowest ebb (i.e. the 1970s). 
  • The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall (May 13, 1979) - Score by Clark Gesner, of Charlie Brown fame, and starring Celeste Holm. 
  • Onward Victoria (Dec 14, 1980) - Vaguely about women's rights and suffrage, featured Jill Eikenberry in the lead role. 
  • The Moony Shapiro Songbook (May 3, 1981) - A London transfer, featuring Judy Kaye, Jeff Goldblum, and Gary Beach. 
  • Broadway Follies (March 15, 1981) - A bizarre revue starring "living mannequins" Shields and Yarnell. 
  • Little Johnny Jones (revival) (Mar 21, 1982) - A revised revival of the 1904 George M. Cohan show, starring Donny Osmond. 
  • Cleavage (Jun 23, 1982) - The title says it all. 
  • Play Me a Country Song (Jun 27, 1982) - As the title implies, a country-and-western tuner, in which denizens of a local bar gather to mourn its closing. 
  • Dance a Little Closer (May 11, 1983) - An apocalypse musical! Set on the eve of the final destruction. During previews, the show was dubbed Close a Little Faster by insiders. 
  • Take Me Along (revival) (Apr 14, 1985) - Revival of a now-forgotten musical based on Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness. (And not the first O'Neill musical, either. That was New Girl in Town, based on Anna Christie.) 

    In the 1990s and 2000s, and continuing to today, it's actually been rather rare for musicals to close on opening night. Even such recent disasters as Doctor ZhivagoSoul DoctorBonnie and ClydeAmourHands on a HardbodyLeap of FaithScandalous, and Wonderland managed to hold on for at least a few weeks. (Even Amazing Grace seems to be clinging to life, despite negative reviews and weekly grosses of less than $300,000.) 

    The most recent Broadway musical to close on opening night was Glory Days (May 6, 2008), an ill-advised Broadway transfer of an amateurish little show that received an overly kind review from The Washington Post. During previews, Glory Days was limping along at 17% percent capacity, and since it was playing in thrust configuration at the Circle in the Square, this had to be exceptionally demoralizing for the four-member cast. (Everyone can see everyone in this theater. Or, as was the case with Glory Days, everyone could see there was no one.) 

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    Caggiano, Chris. "Musicals That Closed on Opening Night." ThoughtCo, Mar. 21, 2016, thoughtco.com/musicals-closed-on-opening-night-3219504. Caggiano, Chris. (2016, March 21). Musicals That Closed on Opening Night. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/musicals-closed-on-opening-night-3219504 Caggiano, Chris. "Musicals That Closed on Opening Night." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/musicals-closed-on-opening-night-3219504 (accessed November 23, 2017).