What Makes Flops Fascinating?

A lot of people that are even casual theatergoers can tell you what musical they’ve seen multiple times, listened to the cast recording numerous times and have become essentially obsessed with.

But then there are those musicals that people have never seen, but are still fascinated by the score, the history and the liberetto. And sometimes, these shows flopped on Broadway.

There are plenty of musicals that were fairly successful that I admit to being captivated by; La Cage Aux Folles, A Little Night Music, Company, and Into the Woods, but that was the result of my puzzlement as to why I don’t think it’s one of Sondheim’s best scores. But I’ve found myself more preoccupied by the shows that had a short life on Broadway, such as Flora the Red Menace, Mack and Mabel and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which is what I’m presently fascinated by.

But why do people find shows like the ones I’ve mentioned and the one pictured earlier so interesting?

Take Carrie, for example. If you read Frank Rich’s review of the infamous show, it seems a bit evident that some technical elements of the show don’t seem to work. Like red disco lights while killing the pig. It’s something that causes one to wonder if someone did that to be intentionally campy. Sure, there are other things that were wrong with the production; the ending was apparently rather anticlimactic. But there are some great songs from that musical, like “And Eve Was Weak,” which was performed by Betty Buckley as Carrie’s bible thumping mother in the original Broadway production. I can only find the last minute and a half on YouTube, but this actually does give a pretty good impression of the overall number

The number is very intense, although the melody has a familiar feeling. Granted, the effectiveness of the number might be because of Buckley, but it’s still not that bad of number.

But why do I find some flops so deserving of my attention? In my opinion, Flora the Red Menace and Mack and Mabel have terrific scores, but in the case of Mack and Mabel, it doesn’t have that great of a book. I also happen to prefer the off-Broadway cast recording of Flora the Red Menace to the original Broadway cast recording, which might be because “The Kid Herself” isn’t on the original Broadway cast recording and I’m quite fond of that song. (I could go on about this, but I’m already starting to digress.)

To put it simply, I think that flop musicals are fascinating because of the question of “What went wrong?” It’s that question that prompts people to become so enthralled by musicals that most people haven’t heard of.

Anyway, does anyone have any other theories?

(By the way, I don’t feel as though I can really comment on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue yet.)

Sideshow Georges

Wednesday, Michael Riedel reported that Kelsey Grammer will play Georges in the upcoming revival of La Cage Aux Folles. For those unfamiliar with the musical, Georges is the owner of the seedy nightclub in Saint-Tropez that his partner, Albin, performs at as Zaza.

Before anyone starts being cynical about his casting, I would like to point out that Kelsey Grammer has done some musical theater–although not on Broadway. And if you clicked on the link to the article from the New York Post, you probably would’ve read the examples Riedel cited.

Also, if you watch The Simpsons and have seen the episodes “Cape Feare” or “The Italian Bob”, in which Grammer provides the voice of Sideshow Bob, you might’ve seen him sing, which he does do a pretty good job at.

I also noticed in Riedel’s column that he mentions how unglamorous the set is. He had mentioned in a column a couple of months ago that the set for this production from London isn’t very glamorous. If you listen to the number “La Cage Aux Folles,” the lyrics describing the nightclub of the the same name say, “We import the drinks that you buy/So your Perrier is Canada Dry,” “Avoid the hustlers, and the mens room and the food/for you get glamour and romance and indigestion at La Cage Aux Folles,” “You’ll be so dazzled by the ambiance you’re in/you’ll never notice that there’s water in the gin.” Those lyrics don’t seem to suggest a glamorous place to me, unless it’s like Elzar’s Fine Cuisine in Futurama. (I’m sorry; I’m using a glut of Matt Groening series references today.) And the performance from the 2005 Tony Awards does not seem like something you’d find at a place where you’d get indigestion.

(I have other problems, with this performance, such as performance being mostly the dancers doing the cancan interlude in the number and there not being more of the number being performed, because it’s a very amusing number. Also, it’s Jerry Herman. Let his lyrics be heard.)

Anyway, I’m still curious to see how this revival turns out. Especially since it was just revived.

Review: “The Mystery of Irma Vep”–Court Theatre

Chris Sullivan as Lady Enid and Erik Hellman as Jane in The Mystery of Irma Vep. Photo: Michael Brosilow.

At one point in Charles Ludlam’s play The Mystery of Irma Vep, which is currently running at the Court Theatre, it is remarked that a man in a dress can’t be all that bad. While this has a different meaning and a bit of irony since it is said by a male actor in a dress and a wig at that moment in the show, one can agree that, no, a man in a dress isn’t all that bad, judging from Sean Graney’s thoroughly delightful production of Ludlam’s play.

Chris Sullivan and Erik Hellman play the eight roles in the production nimbly and with an exquisite skill that makes their performances realistic in a play that satirizes Victorian melodrama and classic mystery and horror films. Sullivan and Hellman manage to change costumes with lightning speed and keeping each of the characters distinct, even when they might have to do the voices for two characters portrayed by them at the same time.

Yes, , the play is campy, but that is intentional with Ludlam’s script and Graney’s production and they manage to do camp and cross-dressing so well that it seems natural in the world of this play; a world where a shot gun can be fired towards the ceiling and a black puppy dog with a red ribbon falls to the stage. Many aspects of the show are over-the-top, but the play still makes the secrets that Lord Edgar (Hellman) is hiding from his new wife, Lady Enid (Sullivan) as they are terrorized by monsters and, in the case of Lady Enid, the maid, Jane (Hellman), very interesting. Ludlam’s script is also seasoned with wordplay, references to Shakespeare, and double entendres, making it a very clever play that manages to stoop to vulgar humor while managing to still use it in a clever way.

Jack Magaw’s scenic design adds to the humorous, suspenseful tone of the show with a Gothic chandelier hanging above the stage with candles in it and the uneven, disconnected, almost cartoonish walls that are made to look like they’re covered with purple striped wallpaper. Alison Siple’s detailed costumes are period appropriate, while managing to be easy enough for the actors to get in and out of them quickly. The production also has sight gags ranging from the use a fabric to the final scene of the play, which adds some more spoofing. Ludlam’s script along with Graney’s direction and Sullivan and Hellman’s performances create a deliciously amusing night of theater that manages to be compelling and outrageously funny.

“The Mystery of Irma Vep” continues through December 13 at the Court Theatre. Tickets are available by calling (773)753-4472 or visiting http://www.CourtTheatre.org.


I was walking through my neighborhood today when I came across a simple, black and white newspaper called the Lincoln Park Statesman. I was intrigued by the paper because of a headline declaring “A Socialist DePaul” due to GPA Redistribution, which gives me an “Okay, what sensationalism journalism is going on here” thought. (It was also free, but the header states that subsequent copies are $3.00.)

The article that prompted me to pick up a copy is difficult to read because of how poorly written it is. Mind you, I’ve read some poorly written articles for newspapers, but this is confusing. I don’t know if the GPA distribution is being implemented by DePaul or by the DePaul College Republicans? Is this hypothetical? Is there a reason why the writer didn’t cite any sources or quote anyone?

But anyway, the Statesman is apparently “a conservative newspaper dedicated to truth in journalism.” (I’ll show you truth in journalism with my friend the AP Stylebook and Guide to Media Law.) Naturally, I’m probably not going to agree with the views expressed in this publication, which is connected to the DePaul Conservative Alliance. But reading this, I can’t even chew on the content for a bit and try to digest the opinions, like I can with a Charles Krauthammer column. I really can’t even take these people seriously, partly because having “the” before “der” is repetitive. But there’s also a guide to how to milk free healthcare for what it’s worth, that includes “get pregnant,” “save money on a gym membership by getting routine liposuction,” and “take up the art of sword swallowing…with no formal or informal training.”

I’m aware that it’s probably satire, but instead of throwing hands up in the air and saying, “Oh, hey, we’re getting Obamacare, let’s abuse the system,” couldn’t they have said, “Write, call, fax your representatives and tell them to not give us health care reform.”? Because having a way to abuse the system, which I would assume would not cover unnecessary procedures, doesn’t help conservatives at all. It just makes them look crazier.

This Is Where I’ll Be For Six Weeks

I leave for St. Louis on Sunday and will be staying there for six weeks. I don’t know if I’ll see any plays while I’m in St. Louis; I’d like to see some plays because I have been told that St. Louis has some superb storefront theater there in addition to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and the MUNY. But I’m mostly going there to work and write. Blogging will be a bit sparse since I will have to go to the St. Louis Bread Company to use WiFi. Which isn’t bad, because I love St. Louis Bread Company (or, Panera Bread, as it is known outside of St. Louis).

Young Frahn-ken-steen

My dad happens to have a list of things that should not be made into musicals. After seeing the national tour of Young Frankenstein at the Cadillac Palace Theatre last night, I can now agree with him on the Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein being one of those things that should not be made into a musical.

At least, it shouldn’t be done in the manner that Brooks, along with his collaborator on the book, Thomas Meehan, and director Susan Stroman went about adapting it. One of the beautiful things about the movie is the fact that the gags quickly come and go. Some might be running gags, like the horses neighing at the mention of Frau Blucher’s name or Igor’s changing hump, but the gags aren’t dwelled upon and milked to death. The last two things I mentioned in that previous sentence is why Young Frankenstein is not a good musical. The jokes and gags are played out into lengthy numbers and stretched out. The audience can only be thankful that there is not a musical number about the horses neighing at the mention of Frau Blucher’s name.

And the over playing of elements is what kills this show. The two best parts of Young Frankenstein are Roger Bart’s performances as Fredrick Frankenstein and “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” which is also the only memorable number from the show. And even with “Puttin’ On the Ritz,” it is stretched out for what seems to be several minutes as it goes from Bart and the Schuler Hensley as the monster to Hensley and a shadow creature, to the ensemble in elevator shoes to the ensemble and Hensley dancing with strobe lights. And poor Bart, who seems to give the role his all and has some very well done solo numbers, is literally lost in the scenery.

The show is primarily dominated by Robin Wagner’s massive sets and Peter Kaczorowski’s headache-inducing lighting. The set pulls out all of the stops, so we have a rather cartoonish replica of the laboratory, we have the exterior of a ship, that is used in only one scene. And the lighting? There are so many blinding lighting effects used onstage that my eyes hurt at intermission. And I was sitting in the second to the last row of balcony of the Cadillac Palace Theatre.

As for the performances of the other actors, I’m not really sure what to say because I think that maybe their performances would’ve made more of an impression if they had been given better material to work with. But Frau Blucher’s violin is quite impressive since whenever she moves her bow across the strings, we hear horns playing a chord. I’ve never seen a violin that sounded like horns.

Who knows if this will be Mel Brooks’ last musical venture? I love The Producers, which has the benefit of not following the film as closely as this does. If Brooks’ decides to do another musical based off of his films, like Blazing Saddles, I only hope that “16 schnitzengruben is my limit” does not become it’s own number.