New York's MCC Theater has attracted a lot of attention lately for taking on a project that many have considered ill-advised. They are staging an off-Broadway revival of the musical Carrie, based on Stephen King's novel of the same name. The original 1988 production of the show remains to this day one of the most famous flops in Broadway history; it was expensive to produce, and when it opened, critics descended on it like rabid wolves. Though the performances of Linzi Hately and the great Betty Buckley were praised, the show was so bad that investors pulled their money and it closed only 5 performances after officially opening. But the new revival has been completely reworked; large parts have been re-written and songs have been removed and added to create a more coherent story. Molly Ranson plays the title character and Broadway veteran Marin Mazzie (Ragtime, Spamalot, Next to Normal) plays her overbearing, religious mother. It remains to be seen whether this incarnation will be successful, but it can't very well fare any worse than the original.
In related New York news, New York City Center Encores! is staging a short run of the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical Merrily We Roll Along from February 8th through the 19th. This show played for only 52 previews and 16 performances in 1981, a surprising disappointment for Stephen Sondheim, perhaps the most respected musical theatre composer ever. The show was sabotaged by negative reviews before and after its opening; the score was praised, but the book was panned as problematic. Throughout the years, the show has been produced with changes authorized by Furth and Sondheim, but a successful revival has yet to appear. The City Center Encores! production, starring Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights), Celia Keenan-Bolger (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), and Colin Donnell (Anything Goes), gives a new generation a chance to discover a show largely dismissed by the Broadway community. Who knows? If it is received well, a reworked Broadway revival may just be on its way...
In fact, it is not unheard of for flops to be reborn into success on the Great White Way. The original Broadway production of The Rocky Horror Show closed after only 45 performances. This one is confusing, as the original 1973 West End production was enormously successful, running for 2,960 performances, and the show's 1974 American debut in Los Angeles lasted for nine months. But the huge success of the film version, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Barry Bostwick) turned the show into a cult classic. The 2000 Broadway revival starring Alice Ripley (Side Show, Next to Normal), Raul Esparza (Company, Speed the Plow), and Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent, Les Miserables), among others, was much more successful than the original production, running for a respectable 437 performances.
The Broadway lineup at the turn of the millennium also featured Jekyll & Hyde, a musical with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics and book by Leslie Bricusse. This is a polarizing show, as critics weren't overly fond of it, and yet it ran for 1,543 performances from 1997 through 2001. However, it still lost money in the end, recouping only about 75% of its investments. Fans can finally look forward to a revival, though; American Idol vet Constantine Maroulis (Rock of Ages) is set to star in a 25-week national tour before landing on Broadway in the spring of 2013. Time will tell whether this production is reviewed more favorably than the original and whether its audience appeal translates to monetary success. If the creative team is willing to work even one-tenth as hard as that of the arduously revised Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, they should have no problem making it work.