Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Before I tell you all about the greatest flop in Broadway history, I must tell you that I read today that the musical "Wicked" has now broken the all time weekly box office record of any musical in Broadway history. Or for that matter, at the Gershwin Theatre in New York City where it is now in its eighth year. The gross for one week between December 26th, 2010 and January 3rd 2011 at this theatre alone was $2,228,235. There are two touring versions in the country as well. One is in Chicago, which broke more records grossing $1,726,476 in the same week and Indianapolis which grossed in the same period a whopping $1,597,732. That's a total of (drum roll please) $5,552,443 for ONE WEEK. Absolutely amazing and it couldn't to a nicer man. God love you, Steven Schwartz! You who help countless numbers of we dreamers who want to have our own "Broadway Miracle" He works so hard helping others and has certainly been an inspiration to me and my writing partner, John Nugent. Now before you say "Well, if you're already famous like Steven Schwartz. things like that just happen. Oh no! Ask Charles Strouse with or without Lee Adams how being famous doesn't save you from a great big Broadway flop. Together they had one of the biggest-- "Bring Back Byrdie" (Donald O' Connor in a jump suit?-- dear God) and "It's A Bird, It's a Plane" But the all time biggest flop in the world was called "Home Sweet Homer" with music by Mitch Leigh, the composer of "Man of La Mancha." It even co-starred Joan Diener who had been in "La Mancha" and the legendary Yul Brynner. It opened and closed in one afternoon-- not even making it to the Sunday evening performance. That date was today's date in 1976-- yes, the same year that Jimmy Carter took office as president. The libretto or the book of this notorious flop was by Roland Kibbee and Albert Marre. The lyrics were written by Charles Burr and Forman Brown and as I mentioned before, the music was written by "The Impossible Dream" composer Mitch Leigh. By the way, Mitch Leigh never again had a successful Broadway show after this unmitigated disaster. Originally, this ill fated musical bomb was called "Odyssey". It was Loosely based on Homeric legend, focusing on Odysseus , the hero of the Trojan War and the guy who came up with the sneaky idea of the Trojan Horse. Brilliant! Now, according to legend, while fighting in this war, Odysseus did something so offensive to the god Poseidon that the angry god decreed that he would never find his way back home. Of course it also involved his spouse Penelope, awaiting his return to Ithaca. You remember her-- the most faithful wife in history. When her husband never returned, because of the god's decree, she was pressured to marry one of the young men in the country which she actually promised to do the day that she actually finished weaving a hug tapestry that she sewed by day in full view of everyone in town and secretly unraveled it at night. Is that a sneaky broad or what? Of course, although it was a great stalling, all of these would be suitors all moved right into the palace, all of them waiting for the finish day of this amazing tapestry and every one of them took full advantage of Grecian hospitality in general and her good heart in particular! -- you know, gold, treasures, food. Well anyway, after ten long years, Odysseus returns in a very convincing secret disguise of a poor beggar and retuns to Ithaca where he gathers some friends who recognize him. He then convinces dear Penelope to announce the choosing date of one of the many suitors. She is to hold a contest wherein she will marry the suitor who is able to string Odysseus' bow and fire an arrow through a set of gold rings: a feat that only Odysseus, himself had been known to do. During the contest, Odysseus friends lock all of the doors to the Palace. After all the suitors fail at the task, Odysseus, himself begs to try. The suitors who think he is only a poor beggar mock him, but it might good sport to watch his failure. Once Odysseus achieves the task, his disguise is miraculously removed by the goddess Athena. Once his true identity is revealed, Odysseus uses the rest of his arrows to kill all of the suitors. Now, he is totally victorious and he and Penelope and their twenty year old son, Telemachus (born on the day his father left to fight the Trojan War) all live happily ever after. Too bad this poor show didn't have the same luck. The musical was designed as a vehicle for Yul Brynner, who was anxious to duplicate his success in The King and I more than two decades earlier. The original book and lyrics were by author Erich Segal, the author of "Love Story" and a fairly modest production with a small cast began a national tour in December 1974. The tour was plagued with problems from the start. Both Brynner and co-star Joan Diener r frequently were ill and missed performances. In April 1975, the two, together with Diener's husband Marre and Brynner's wife Jacqueline, filed a $7.5 million lawsuit against Trader Vic's in Manhattan, alleging the short ribs they ate there shortly before the start of the tour were poisonous and had left them "ill, weak, and infirm." And of course that cursed the musical too? Right? Oh brother. In each city the show was played it received consistently bad reviews, and when it reached Los Angeles, Segal asked that his name be removed from the credits. Marre, whose career was littered with bombs like Cry for Us All and the equally dreadful Shangri-La, by Burt Bacharach and Hal David not only revamped the book and lyrics, but fired the totally clueless choreographer Billy Wilson and took over the musical staging as well. In August, an unhappy Brynner sued to terminate his contract but backed down when he was threatened with a $1 million countersuit. By November, the producers decided to close the show at the end of the tour and forgo a Broadway opening. Brynner (already angry that he couldn't get out of this bomb) threatened to quit and take up another multi-million dollar law suit if they didn't proceed to New York City and Broadway as planned and promised to Brynner. The fast shuffle followed and eleven previews later, the poor show, now an extravagant production retitled "Home Sweet Homer", opened at the Sunday matinee on January 4, 1976 at the Palace Theatre. The closing notice was posted as soon as the curtain fell. Yul Brynner vowed he would never step foot on another Broadway stage. You might call this true story "The bigger you are, the harder you fall. Today also would have been Sterling Holloway's birthday. Sterling was the voice of Winnie The Pooh, the stork in"Dumbo" and Kaa The Snake in "The Jungle Book" Rehearsal went very well for our musical "The Bremen Town Boys" last night. We have a great cast and an amazing director.


Jay Kindervater said...

Bacharach and David had nothing to do with the Broadway "Shangri-La."

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