Aussie flops

I think we learn a lot from examining history. It repeats itself you know!

I think we learn a lot from examining history. It repeats itself you know!

As the old saying goes foolish is the one who doesn’t learn from history and theatrically speaking I thought it would be good to look back at some big scale commercial musical productions that failed at the box office and try and remember why this happened. I thought it particularly relevant as we see a few new shows that will emerge in the next six to 12 months that are, well, a little risky.

Everyone knows pretty well that when Wicked, Mary Poppins and Jersey Boys hit our shores, their success was fairly assured, providing the shows were well cast and well marketed (as each of them have been). But we are also seeing some shows coming up that are far less certain. Doctor Zhivago is a risk by anyone’s standards, even with Anthony Warlow in the lead. It is not a show that has  any sort of international track record and is based on a long and very serious book and a beloved movie. The musical comes with a new score that doesn’t even include the classic ‘Lara’s Theme’ (something some new musicals have done of late is include an iconic piece of music from the movie version to please audiences).

Even though Hairspray has come after a successful (though hardly box office smashing) movie, it is also a risk, it is cast with excellent actors who, are by and large, unknown to the greater general public and comes many years after it opened on Broadway and could be perceived as old news, again a risk. Next year also promises the first production of An Officer and a Gentleman, based on a famous movie (that this time WILL include the hit song from the movie amongst its original score) again and bravely coming to Australia with no international track record. We wish all these shows the very best, but lets, over this week and next , look at a few that didn’t make the grade and shared not dissimilar risks.

The Full Monty seemed to be a show that had everything. Hit Broadway and London seasons, a solid cast (though no household names), a great score and a terrific book. The show was set for a national tour, but died in Melbourne during a summer season at the State Theatre. It received great reviews, but the public just didn’t want to know. Why? Well the movie was something of a modern classic, set in a little English town. The musical americanised the plot and the setting, which did not please local audiences (as someone said at the time, if they were going to change the setting, why didn’t they set the local version in an Australian country town??!!).

But the big negative with Monty was where it was placed, in the huge State Theatre in Melbourne during the summer vacation period. The show was not a family friendly show. Even though essentially the story was fairly placid, its big selling point (as per the title) was the expected full frontal nude scene in the closing seconds. Everyone will remember the superb lighting effects that made that moment perhaps a little disappointing for those expecting to see the men in all their glory, but the show’s big joke was men doing a full frontal strip for their families and the township. 

Now would you really expect mum and dad to want to take the kids to the summer family musical where we can all sit and watch older men in the buff (and there was some partial nudity earlier in the show, I seem to remember a very bare bottomed Paul Mercurio exposed for a longer time than anyone would like). The lesson —watch where the show plays and especially  make sure the time of the year matches the style of the musical. (Sydney I believe, which was to have the show at the far more suitable Theatre Royal, would have loved Monty and we were never granted the opportunity to see Toni Lamond in the show, who was not in the Melbourne company).

Titanic  always looked like a bit of a risk from the start. The plusses were the musical story of the famous sinking liner had won the Tony award, but it came to Australia several; years after this success (we all know Oz audiences like their shows to be still a little fresh off the production line). It was also a show that had not broken any box office records on Broadway, albeit a successful enough season and a good road history. Yet the style of the show was a little sad and melancholy. Yet director John Diedrich peopled the show with a superb cast of solid actors (but again not household names)  The show looked terrific and to my mind was a huge improvement on the Broadway original as it tried and in many cases succeeded in humanising the characters. Critics were generally very enthusiastic, yet the show sunk (sorry) in Sydney and never made it to Brisbane (its next port of call) where it was pulled very soon before its intended opening. Again the show played at the time of the year that was wrong for the show. Leading into Xmas people just didn’t want to see the mournful and  rather sad conclusion. Also it bore no similarity to the famous movie of the same name, show buffs knew this, but the general public wanted to see the Leonardo and Kate characters portrayed on stage – wrong! This musical was written well before the movie. So unfulfilled expectations once again contributed.

Next week I will look at The Witches of Eastwick, Spamalot and finally go back in time to the most famous Australian flop in our  theatrical history – Applause.

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