What makes one production hit it big, and another show bites the dust of ignominy—with great alacrity? A producer once intimated to us that the difference between a hit and a flop can be quite slight. Not all the judicious planning and money in the world can assure the creation of a blockbuster. On the other hand, a movie produced for just peanuts some years ago ended up making over a hundred million dollars!
Will the presence of big stars do the trick? Much of the time, but definitely not always. Sex and violence? They’re compelling attractions—but could also end up as major turnoffs.
An unusual story, beautifully told? Ditto. Film awards and triumphs at international festivals. Yes—up to a point.
Perhaps we can learn valuable lessons from the sad experiences of some musical-theater producers, who invested a lot of money in some “exciting” projects—but got only pain (no gain!) in exchange:
Take, for instance, the financier behind the 1986 musical, “Into the Light,” which was about—the Shroud of Turin! Now, why would anybody in his right mind think that there would be a huge audience for such esoteric and quasi-religious hoo-hah?
What about “Bring Back Birdie?” We loved the original musical, “Bye Bye Birdie,” but not enough to want to see the production of a new show that updated the story and showed us what happened to its lead characters, two decades later! Alas, the new production cravenly bit the dust after only four performances.
“One Night Stand” similarly failed to interest let alone excite theatergoers with its story about—a suicide! Not exactly a fun evening, huh? The show was so dismally dark that it never even got to the Great White Way, and literally “died” during its trial run.
Sometimes, the problem appears to stem from the overly grandiose intentions of a musical project. For instance, “Gone With the Wind” was already a big novel and a movie about the civil war in the States—so, why would anybody want to turn it into an even bigger and more ostentatious musical? In 1970, however, that’s exactly what happened with “Scarlett” (for its female protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara).
Sadly, but all too expectedly, the lumbering production bled to death—again, even before making it to Broadway.
To make things worse (some lessons are never learned), another musical on the US civil war was produced in 1999, and met a similarly fatal end.
Not enough support
On the local show biz scene, the flops have generally been less eggregious, mostly the result of artistic ambition not finding enough support from local viewers. For instance, the film, “Mortal,” played to near-empty houses, as did the similarly well-intentioned and significant “Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.”
And, one of Dolphy’s few failures in terms of audience support was his take on “Cyrano de Bergerac,” which was sensitively acted by him but was rejected by viewers who didn’t want him to stop playing the clown—and fool.