flop drop

From a shirtless ‘Urban Cowboy’ to a dethroned ‘Diana,’ Broadway’s biggest flops

Diana the Musical
Jeanna de Waal and Anthony Murphy in ‘Diana: The Musical.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy

When a musical has been savaged by the critics and abandoned by audiences, the gay-dominated sport of “flop-watching” becomes about the timing. Can you clear your calendar in time to score tickets before the theater marquee goes dark? Moreover, location comes into play. Given their short life span, flops have long been a delicacy enjoyed only by Gothamites and those with deep pockets for last-minute flights.

All of that changed on October 1, 2021, when the ephemeral met the ubiquitous with the Netflix release of Diana more than a month before it would face the critics’ poison pens and half-empty houses made up largely of jeering audience members. The streaming service inadvertently created a watershed moment. With 24-hour access by millions of subscribers, Diana became an eternal dud for the masses. The musical version of the life of “the people’s princess” became the people’s flop.

But so much happened before Diana. Queerty has compiled a list of some of our favorite flops from recent years — each one suitable for your bootleg video wish list or next YouTube deep dive.

Related: Every actress who has played Diana ranked from worst to best


Urban Cowboy

The advertising image of a chiseled shirtless Matt Cavenaugh proved to be the hottest part of this musical adaptation of the 1980 John Travolta blockbuster. But the skilled hand of director Lonny Price and performances by Sally Mayes and Jenn Colella failed to breathe life into an evening that proved to be more thrills-free than the anemic mechanical bull used on stage.


Cry-Baby

A prime example of a show that never should have failed, Cry Baby had all the right elements for a camp classic: irreverent sight gags, hilarious star turns, a zippy score by Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger, and Rob Ashford’s cheeky choreography that included a line of hunky penitentiary chorus boys making license plates into tap shoes.

Related: 5 stage shows that had audiences gagging over full-frontal nudity


Glory Days

The road to Broadway is paved with good intentions. An out-of-town hit with a gay subplot that garnered a rave from the Washington Post, Glory Days was fast-tracked to open under the wire for awards season. But Broadway audiences sadly found the answer to the show’s quizzical advertising tagline “What if two 23-year-olds wrote a musical about 19-year-olds?” was to stay away. It closed on opening night.

 

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

To its credit, when U2’s score was playing and actors were flying around the audience, Spider-Man was great fun. Unfortunately, that was only part of a show so ridiculous that early performances featured a production number with eight-legged spider ladies going shoe shopping. The show boasted 1,066 performances, numerous lawsuits, and a historic loss of approximately $60 million.

 

In My Life

The story of a sadistic gay angel writing an opera for God about a man with Tourette’s who develops brain cancer provided the perfect vehicle for the unforgettable lyric “I’ve just heard a rumor, someone’s got a tumor.” The only thing more unintentionally funny than the musical on stage was the author (and principal investor) wandering the aisles of the theater, shushing audience members in the middle of their laughing fits.

 

A bloody awful trio

Known for its famous “Wall of Flops,” the management of Broadway eatery Joe Allen was careful to curate three the showcards that adorn its northeast corner. It’s here that three highly successful pop composers all met their Waterloo with the vampire musical. 

Dance of the Vampires

Fueled by a fun pop score by “Bat Out of Hell” composer Jim Steinman and inspired by an obscure Roman Polanski film, Dance of the Vampires was a hit in Europe. Broadway proved to be holy water and garlic for this undead tuner. The show looked cheap, its star, Michael Crawford looked uncomfortable, and the audience looked confused.


Dracula

Composer Frank Wildhorn got little love for his score for Dracula from critics who said that crowds would leave the theater humming the scenery. Luckily, audience members accustomed to the Jekyll & Hyde tunesmith’s signature brand of sweeping melodies left humming some really cool stagecraft and never-before-seen flying effects. The cast was great, including Kelli O’Hara, Melissa Errico, and Tom Hewitt in the title role.  The show, unfortunately, was a snore.

 

Lestat

At the end of Act One, vampire mama Gabrielle (the Tony-nominated Carolee Carmello, who returns to Broadway this season in the all-female/nonbinary 1776) opened her clarion voice to belt out “Crimson Kiss” — inarguably the best song in Elton John’s otherwise forgettable score. Alas, it was too little too late. Of the musical adaptation of Anne Rice’s famously homoerotic Vampire Chronicles books, Washington Post critic Peter Marks aptly remarked Lestat‘s contribution to art and equality is demonstrating that a gay vampire with a two-octave range can be just as dull as a straight one.”

It would be disingenuous­ — not to mention heartless — not to note that Broadway is a game of big stakes, and nobody ever starts the first day of rehearsal with the intention of public failure. But hey, flops happen. When someone slips on a banana peel, it’s hard not to laugh. Add in sequins and an orchestra, and it’s damn near impossible.