The Famous Flops of Musical Theatre


radio SOKY

After over 30 years, Phantom is leaving Broadway. What does that say about the show?

After over thirty years, three national tours, and 13,517 performances, Lloyd Weber’s Phantom of the Opera is leaving Broadway. Ranked number one for Broadway’s longest-running show, Phantom had been holding its ground since 1988. However, with the impact of Covid-19 and the recent shift in audience interest, ticket sales haven’t been enough to maintain its place in the Majestic Teacher. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means about Phantom. Does this mean it isn’t a good show anymore? Does it mean it hasn’t aged well? Does it mean its artistic value is diminishing? At first, I thought the answer was yes; I thought, of course, if people aren’t interested in seeing it anymore, that means it’s less artistically important. But then, I thought of my favorite musicals which were all flops, and I realized there are so many factors contributing to a show’s success, not just its artistic genius. 

Now, in honor of all the brilliant works that weren’t quite a hit, I wanted to make a list of musicals with the shortest runs, just to say that even if a show closes, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a beautiful work of art. These are the Famous Flops of Musical Theatre.


Merrily We Roll Along

Written by the mighty Sondheim, Merrily We Roll Along had sixteen performances total on Broadway, closing because of bad reviews. The musical follows the friendship arc of Charlie, Frank, and Mary all the way to their tragic falling-out. The catch is that the whole story is told backwards, so the audience is continually scrambling to get their bearings on what exactly is going on. It is definitely a musical that you have to sit with and process beyond the theatre. 

I love it because it pretty much encapsulates the saying, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” You get to the finale, Our Time, which is this song about how excited and ready they are to make a difference in the world, and you’ve already seen how the friendship ends. But it’s somehow uplifting to see their naive, hopeful beginnings. It’s almost like we’ve been on rewind the entire show, and now they’re sending the audience out to rewrite the ending.


Tuck Everlasting

Tuck performed a total of thirty-nine times on Broadway before closing due to low ticket sales. It is a beautiful little show based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt that follows the story of Winnie Foster and her journey with the Tucks. The score is gorgeous, without a doubt; however other aspects of the show had its flaws.

I think the downfall of Tuck Everlasting lies in the plot of the novel itself, which is not the musical’s fault at all. The idea of a seventeen-year-old who is actually over 100 years old trying to convince a child to drink the immortal water is a little irksome. Unlike the 2002 movie adaptation which chooses to portray Winnie as in her teens, the musical chose to keep her in the preteens. Making Winnie eleven kind of distracts the audience from the actual message of the show, which is really all about family. 

In no way was Tuck perfect, but it did star Andrew Keenan Bolger and Sadie Sink, so I think it deserved at least more than thirty-nine performances.


Bridges of Madison County

This show ran for 100 performances, and I hate to say it, but I kind of agree with this one. It’s really sad because the score is one of my all-time favorites. With this All-Star cast– Keli O’Hara, Steven Pasquale, Hunter Foster, Derek Klena– and music by Jason Robert Brown, the Original Broadway Cast Recording is stunning. However, like Tuck Everlasting, the plot of the source material was the main issue. There just wasn’t that much plot. And I find it questionable how Francesca has no consequences for cheating on her husband. Nonetheless, I suggest you listen to the cast recording sometime.



This is Pasek and Paul’s pre-Evan Hansen musical that ran only forty performances. It’s a rocky love story about Eddie, a soldier about to go off to the Vietnam War, and Rose, a local cafe owner’s daughter. They meet one night when Eddie is looking for a date to the “dogfight,” which is a contest to see who can pick up the ugliest girl. They fall in love after Rose decides to give Eddie another chance.

Starring Derek Klena (Broadway’s favorite male lead) and Lindsay Mendez, Dogfight deserved better. This killer score and gut-wrenching story dealt with so many themes: love, body image, war trauma. It is definitely a less uplifting, darker show than its more famous brother, Dear Evan Hansen, but still worthwhile to check out.


I used to think that the closing of a show on Broadway was a sign of something negative, something indicative of a flaw in craft. However, this is far from the truth. With final performances of Phantom at hand, let’s look back and appreciate Broadway’s closed shows of the past and look forward to a new generation of theatre.


by Elyza Tuan ’23, Editor-In-Chief