arts 02.10.16

Broadway Flops

Contemplating a new fall season, the late Times critic Walter Kerr once wrote, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même shows."

Point taken: in the theater as in other arts, you mostly experience middling work. Those incandescent shows that you never forget—they're relatively rare and all the more indelible for it.

That's also true of the theater's underbelly, the musicals and plays that are so excruciating, so insanely off-the-rails that they can offer their own perverse enjoyment (provided you're not depending on that show for a paycheck or hoping for a return on your investment).

Probably the most notorious Broadway bomb was Moose Murders from 1983, for which Frank Rich began his review this way:

From now on, there will always be two groups of theatergoers in this world: those who have seen "Moose Murders," and those who have not. Those of us who have witnessed the play that opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theater last night will undoubtedly hold periodic reunions, in the noble tradition of survivors of the Titanic. Tears and booze will flow in equal measure, and there will be a prize awarded to the bearer of the most outstanding antlers. As for those theatergoers who miss "Moose Murders" - well, they just don't rate. A visit to "Moose Murders" is what will separate the connoisseurs of Broadway disaster from mere dilettantes for many moons to come.

That gallows humor, very much part of the theatrical tradition, has a beloved shrine at Joe Allen, 326 W. 46th [8th/9th] 212.581.6464, a restaurant and Broadway watering hole that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. Among the reliable pleasures of Joe's (which include the La Scala salad) is scanning the framed window cards on the brick walls to ponder the best laid schemes of mice and men (itself a quick flop in the 1974 revival starring Kevin Conway and James Earl Jones).

Moose Murders gets pride of place but spend some time here and you can work up a good flopsweat… Bette Davis in a musical. Got Tu Go Disco (nicknamed Got Tu Be Kidding). The Leonard Bernstein/Alan Jay Lerner musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (which was as much fun as it sounds). The musical version of Carrie, a farrago so absurd that it prompted us into an uncontrollable laughing fit many years ago during one preview—for which we tender our belated apologies to Betty Buckley et al.

Kelly, the musical that started the tradition at Joe's, opened and closed on February 6, 1965. In the Times, Howard Taubman wrote, "Ella Logan was written out of Kelly before it reached the Broadhurst Theater Saturday night. Congratulations, Miss Logan."

In that very same year, Triton Gallery, 630 9th [44th/45th] 212.765.2472, first opened its doors, selling theater posters, the hits and the misses, both originals and reproductions.

In 2013, they found a a trove of Broadway window cards and posters, which had sat forgotten in a warehouse for 40 years. Check out the Lost Collection here.

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