Top Ten West End Flops

The Spice Girls and Jennifer Saunders revealed this month that Viva Forever, their much anticipated but critically condemned West End musical was finally closing in June and would not complete its full run. In the light of its demise, we take a look back at the top 10 West End and Broadway disasters that have gone before, never to see the limelight again.

1. SpiderMan: Turn off the Dark

This is the most expensive Broadway musical ever made, costing a whopping $75m (£48m). It was besieged by well-documented problems in its outset including injuries to major cast members in rehearsal, an opening night that was postponed 6 times, and the resignation of director Julie Taymor. Not to mention its music and lyrics were penned by U2’s Bono and The Edge.  Although still running on Broadway, this show makes this list due not only to its appalling reviews, but mostly due to the fact that it haemorrhaged money in every element of its production and continues to do so. As critic Jeremy Gerard pointed out, the show would have to run for 12 years, at sell-out levels, before it will make a penny of profit for its investors due to its extortionate production costs.

2. Carrie

Based on the novel by Stephen King, this is widely known as the biggest theatrical flop of all time. It first debuted in Stratford upon Avon for a short run in 1986 to mixed reviews. It was also haplessly plagued with crucial technical slipups. A prime example of this was the blood pouring down Carrie’s face, which, on film gained iconic statusand became its defining moment, on stage it seeped into her microphone and caused it to malfunction so she could not be heard for the entire of the scene. In 1988 the show crossed the Atlantic to open on Broadway at an extortionate cost (at the time) of $8million, with most of its original cast. However, after only 16 previews and 5 performances to negative reviews, Carrie’s financial backers withdrew their support and the show bowed out.

3. Gone with the Wind

A doomed offering whose first mistake was probably casting Darius Danesh in the role of Rhett Butler – (remember his Baby One More Time audition for Pop Idol?!)- that even esteemed director Sir Trevor Nunn could not save. It received poor reviews and was especially criticised for being too long, with a running time of over 3 ½ hours. The curtains were called early and it closed in 2008 after only 79 performances.

4. Lord of the Rings, the Musical

This was nervously anticipated in London following its initial flop in Toronto, and a multi-million pound makeover (£12.5 million to be precise). It opened in the heart of Covent Garden in July 2007 and promised to be an amazing spectacle with impressive special effects and West End darling Laura Michelle Kelly as Lady Galadriel. It immediately left critics stunned, but did not deliver, or as The Sun put it: “stunned into yawning.” It was condemned for being too long, too confusing and too boring, an overall disappointment. It closed in 2008 after 492 performances.

5. Thoroughly Modern Millie

This relatively unknown musical opened in London in 2003 with Amanda Holden making her West End debut as the eponymous heroine. The plot  follows the quite a predictable format of: “small town Kansas girl takes on New York City searching for adventure and prospects. Chaos ensues.” Oh, and just for good measure, it’s set in the Roaring Twenties in the Age of Jazz.  Unfortunately, despite her best Southern accent, Holden was not well received. Critics called it “thoroughly charmless” and condemned her for “projecting very little personality”. Curtains were called early after only 8 months in June 2004.

6. Desperately Seeking Susan

A strange pop combination of Madonna’s 1985 film of the same title with the music of Blondie, this shambolic musical hit the West End back in 2008. It failed to get into the groove (sorry) and critics ripped it to shreds (I couldn’t resist). It ran for only four weeks in a 1,100 capacity theatre, with am embarrassing average audience of just 200 people watching each night. Before its inevitable closure, it was reported to have made a loss of a whopping £3.5 million.

7. Eurovision  

As the name suggests, this was inspired by and based on the infamous song contest. Produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber and originally written for the London Gay Theatre Company, this farcical comedy starred Anita Dobson and James Dreyfuss. However, not much else is known about it, as it closed after remarkably short run of only three weeks in 1993.

8. Leonardo the Musical

This musical, with a  very loose grasp of the facts, depicted Da Vinci’s struggle to paint the Mona Lisa and a burgeoning  romance between the two, which culminated in the Mona Lisa’s pregnancy. In a strange twist, it also tried to suggest that Da Vinci was  homosexual and engaging in a secret relationship with his friend and fellow painter Melzi. However, the story off-stage is more surreal than the action on it, as the whole production was bizarrely financed by the tiny South Pacific nation of Nauru. Better still, they paid for it with funds generated from sales of their biggest national export: fertilizer made from bird droppings. Critics were in their element writing puns combining a poor show and the unfortunate product providing its existence. The kindest of which was the Independent’s rather tame: “this show is a stinker”; others were not so forgiving. Unsurprisingly this was not a long-lived production and it closed after just five weeks.

9. Oscar Wilde the Musical

Probably the shortest theatrical run ever. Lasting only one day, this horrendously misguided musical, written and directed by DJ Mike Read, opened and closed on the same night at the Shaw Theatre in 2004. Written to coincide with the author and satirist’s 150th birthday, and lyrics comprising of rhyming couplet’s from Wilde’s own work, critics slated it and only 5 people booked to attend its second night, in a theatre seating 500. Consequentially, the curtain was called much sooner than expected for a shame-faced Read.

10. Behind the Iron Mask

A misguided offering,  based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Man In The Iron Mask, and the 1998 film adaptation of the same name, about a mysterious masked prisoner in 17th century France. Its doomed run lasted all of 18 days from open to close in 2005. Critics did not mince their words when condemning this piece both “unendurable” and “relentlessly, agonisingly third-rate”, with the Evening Standard going so far as to suggest that anyone who paid willingly for a top-price ticket should be “locked up.” I think that says it all.

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