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.)


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