Broadway has given us a plethora of hits and misses, highs and lows, triumphs and failures. So this week, we’re gonna look at the lesser of those two possibilities and give some honorable tributes to shows that are just so terrible, we end up loving them anyway. Here are my picks for five pieces of musical theater that were train wrecks from beginning to end, and hopefully you can discover their delicious ridiculousness without spending a cent on a ticket or the cast recording.
I’ll be frank in that Tarzan is in no way, shape or form, a truly god awful musical. It features a pretty decent score from Phil Collins, and its original cast had some excellent members to bring those rock influenced ballads to life. But what Tarzan suffered from, in big giant letters, was one word: focus. The Disney Theatrical adaptation of the 90’s animated flick and classic story was sort of like watching a kid have a sugar high for the first time, and then being given a box of crayons and paper. The ideas they come up with are great individual thoughts, but together make no sense in any way possible.
The show opened with a beautiful interpretation of the “Two Worlds” scene from the movie–in which we see Tarzan’s parents attempting to save their child from drowning after their ship crashes. This sophisticated staging, done with harnesses and shown as a bird’s eye view angle to the audience, is practically ruined the moment the actors land on their feet. From that point on, Tarzan comes off more like the cheapest of theme park productions, and can’t seem to decide whether it wants to properly represent the movie it was inspired by or try and be its own, slightly embarrassing, thing. The best example of this is when Jane gets an “I Want” song that features some of the worst prop insects to ever be seen on the Broadway stage–well, that is until Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark came into existence (but more on that later).
4. Love Never Dies
Alright, honesty time: I love The Phantom of the Opera. Yep, I am one of “those theater fans,” and though the show is sometimes embarrassing and full of ridiculousness, it is the kind of insanity that I find beautiful and enchanting, no matter how many times I see it. But the sequel, Love Never Dies, is an entirely different matter. This musical is easily one of the worst things to ever be put on the stage–and is without a doubt Webber’s weakest work, coming off like a poor excuse for a concept album than an actual musical. But somehow, maybe due to its “Drinking Game” friendly qualities, I kind of can’t take my eyes off this hot mess of a theatrical fan fiction.
Based on the even worse novel, The Phantom of Manhattan, Love Never Dies tells the story of Eric (The Phantom) and Christine Daae, and their bloated, over the top love affair that really had no need to be continued in another musical. This time around the Phantom gang has moved to New York City, with the golden show pony that was Raoul now becoming an alcoholic, along with Eric basically now owning all of Coney Island, and Christine coming off like the worst mother of all time. Oh yeah, she has a 10 year old son, a fact that the musical likes to remind you of in every second possible. Oh, and Meg Giry gets more attention, something every Meg fangirl slowly regrets as the musical progresses.
Supposedly this show is gonna get a chance to grace The Great White Way, but hopefully the newly announced touring version tanks, and then we never have to see and/or hear of this monstrosity ever again.
3. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark
Oh Spider-Man, you certainly were a hot mess from the beginning. Now I’m not saying Marvel characters can’t be the inspiration for musicals that turn out successfully, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see a full on superhero musical for a long, long time. Why? Well, to say Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark killed the “genre” is putting it nicely. This ambitious risk taker became the most expensive musical ever produced, and, spoiler alert, it may never recoup its money–ever. But does that make it a bad musical? No, but everything else about it does. From the irritating, mind numbing “theatrical” tunes of U2’s Bono and The Edge, to the trippy, almost comical direction of the once respected Julie Taymor, this was not the hit Broadway was hoping for.
If anything was ever going to key me into the hilarious terror that this show was, it was a scene in which giant cardboard cut outs of Spider-Man and Green Goblin pop out from the sides, as a human sized prop baby flies across the stage, and a voice screams “My baby!” Yeah, can we say “quality theater”? Not really. But at least Spider-Man served as a textbook guide for what not to do when adapting a franchise to the stage.
I’ll always be the first to say that I am hopeful that any show can be good. But then, somehow, there are times where I am truly proven wrong. That show is Baby, It’s You, a bio-musical about Florence Greenberg (played by Beth Leavel), who became the person to discover the girl group The Shirelles, and start her own record label, along with becoming a producer and executive. This concept seemed like an easy blockbuster, a female equivalent to that other jukebox musical about New Jersey, but unfortunately, had a book that seemed to have been written, as vlogger’s Patty and Emily have said “like a school project on the 60’s.”
From an overcrowding of nostalgic tunes, that in no way help shape or progress the plot, to a lack of focus on what the writers actually wanted the audience to process throughout the show–as evidenced by the poorly conceived opening number–Baby, It’s You is like watching a group of drunk, baby boomer theatergoers come up with a show (Mickey and Judy style) that has a great story, and yet they don’t know how to handle it. All I can say is, Beth Leavel, you deserved so much better.
1. Dance of the Vampires
Back in 2002, I was going through my Vampire phase. This usually happens in many tween/teen girls’ lives at least once, and this also happened during my really obsessive Phantom phase. So somehow when I heard that a musical about vampires, starring the original Phantom himself, Michael Crawford, was coming to Broadway, I was determined to go. My mother purchased us two Orchestra tickets for a preview performance, and what we saw that day was the most bizarre piece of theater I have ever witnessed, and nothing, nothing will ever replace it in my mind. This was The Room of musical adaptations, the Citizen Kane of god awful theater. And yet, somehow, I wish I could see it again.
Dance of the Vampires is the English adaptation of Tanz der Vampire, a German musical based on the 1967 Roman Polanski movie of the same name (also known as Fearless Vampire Killers). It’s a pretty typical vampire tale of romance, virgins, and lots of violence, but with the music of Meatloaf (and other Jim Steinman tunes). To many, Tanz der Vampire is considered to be a fantastic piece of rock theater, but it somehow got severely lost in translation when coming to the States. The plot was heavily rewritten, more useless comedic references were thrown in, among other things that resulted in this true bastardization of the original show.
Though my memory of the show is very fuzzy, I do clearly recall Crawford looking incredibly bloated and freakish in the lead role. He obviously could care less about playing this part, and was only in it for the possible (yet eventually non-existent) money, and in no way felt passionate about the project. I also remember the ending, in which there were too many stupid vampire puns on the stage for my 12-year-old mind to process. Yep, this show was awful, even to a tween brace-faced fangirl like I was back then. I still have dreams I’ll go to Germany and see the actual Tanz, so I can erase this production from my memory.
PS: The only good thing that came from this show was discovering my #1 Broadway lady-crush, Mandy Gonzalez. Don’t worry, Mandy, we won’t hold this against you.
So now I am curious, what is the worst show you’ve ever seen on Broadway? Do you have a favorite bad musical? Comment below and tell us your favorite theatrical misfires! Did you see any of the shows mentioned above? Tell us your tales of unfortunate Broadway enjoyment. Until then, see you next time on Theater Thursday.