Broadway history is littered with ups and downs. There’s little to match the high of an opening night, and not much to meet the low of a show’s final performance, but what about when both of those come on the same day? Since Oklahoma! re-defined the modern musical in 1943, there have been exactly 22 musicals that have closed on opening night, and we’re taking a look back at each one.
Here’s the list, in reverse chronological order:
1. Glory Days
Opened and Closed May 6, 2008
Though Broadway musicals closing on opening night is all but unheard of today, the most recent was less than ten years ago: James Gardiner and Nick Blaemire’s Glory Days. Telling the story of four high school pals who reunite a year after graduating, the show premiered at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. The production, directed by Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer, was well-received and transferred to Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre a few months after closing in Virginia. Three out of four cast members made their Broadway debuts. Blaemire and Gardiner were making their writing debuts, as well.
Glory Days ended up being short lived, but it certainly had—and has—its fans. The show received a cast recording a year after its Broadway run, and is now available to be licensed for new productions from Playscripts, Inc.
2. Take Me Along
Opened and Closed April 14, 1985
Based on Ah, Wilderness, Eugene O’Neill’s sole comedic work, Take Me Along originally opened on Broadway in 1959. While not a giant hit, this original production with a score by Bob Merrill (of Funny Girl fame) and a book by Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof) and Robert Russell (Flora, the Red Menace) enjoyed a healthy run of just over a year and 448 performances—Jackie Gleason won a Tony Award for his performance as Sid Davis. Its revival did not share this success.
When Goodspeed Opera’s production transferred to Broadway in 1985, the show found less resonance with audiences than the 1959 original, possibly due to the lack of star power in the leads; the original production starred Gleason, Eileen Herlie, and Walter Pidgeon. Though the revival’s Kurt Knudson, Beth Fowler, and Robert Nichols were—and remain—more than capable, they didn’t bring the star power this solid-but-not-exceptional musical probably requires for box-office success.
3. Dance a Little Closer
Opened and Closed May 11, 1983
This show had quite the writing pedigree. Alan Jay Lerner, of My Fair Lady and Camelot fame, supplied the book and lyrics and Charles Strouse, the composer behind Bye Bye Birdie and Annie, wrote the music. Based on the 1936 play Idiot’s Delight by Robert E. Sherwood about a group of people briefly trapped in a European hotel at the beginning of a world war, Lerner’s musical version took things a bit further, telling the story of people trapped in the Alpine Barclay Palace Hotel while a potential nuclear Armageddon looms.
The show didn’t fare well with critics and called it quits on opening night. If you want to hear the score, you’re in luck—a Broadway cast album was produced. Though the physical release is out of print, it’s available for download on iTunes or as used merchandise from third party sellers on Amazon.
Opened and Closed June 23, 1982
This provocatively-titled musical seems to be all but forgotten today, after closing on its opening night in 1982. The show was a revue in which a variety of couples of all ages pursue love. The production began life in Mississippi, where it got attention for its bawdy and (for the time) outrageous humor—songs included “Puberty,” “Living in Sin,” and “Boys Will Be Girls.” After a brief but successful tour, Cleavage came to Broadway where audiences were less interested. A cast recording was produced, though it has yet to see release on CD or digital formats.
Cleavage was written by Buddy and David Sheffield, both of whom have gone on to considerable success after their brief Broadway outing. Buddy became the head writer at In Living Color and received an Emmy nomination for his work. He also co-created Nickelodeon’s Roundhouse, which aired from 1992 through 1996. David’s writing credits include Saturday Night Live (from 1980 to 1983), Police Academy 2, Coming to America, and the 1996 remake of The Nutty Professor.
5. Play Me a Country Song
Opened and Closed June 27, 1982
Twelve friends gather to celebrate their favorite bar in the Rocky Mountains—Woody—before it’s torn down, all while singing an original score of country and western music—Follies, but with a twang? Play Me a Country Song featured a seasoned cast, including Mary Gordon Murray, Candace Tovar, Mary Jo Catlett, and Karen Mason (making her Broadway debut); but its material—by Jay Broad, John R. Briggs, and Harry Manfredini—was not well-received with Broadway audiences. (Considering The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was enjoying its second hit Broadway engagement during Country Song’s run, it may have been an unpleasant surprise.)
6. Little Johnny Jones
Opened and Closed March 21, 1982
George M. Cohan’s original 1904 Broadway show Little Johnny Jones was a big hit, introducing such standards as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy.” It was also a product of its time. The musicals of the early 20th century, still heavily influenced by variety and vaudeville, would mostly confuse and bore audiences today, who are accustomed to the streamlined and plot-driven works we have now. Nevertheless, Little Johnny Jones is remembered fondly by theatre historians. Some even credit it as the first American musical.
Goodspeed Opera House tried its hand at adapting the work for modern audiences in 1980. This revised production featured a new book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, Parade) and a score of Cohan tunes that were largely not from his original score to Little Johnny Jones, though “Give My Regards” and “Yankee Doodle” were of course retained. The show was a success for Goodspeed—it was even filmed for television broadcast and shown on PBS. Donny Osmond, then at the height of his fame, joined the production for a Broadway transfer in 1982, but poor notices from critics sank any chances at a sustained run.
7. The Moony Shapiro Songbook
Opened and Closed May 3, 1981
This campy musical by Monty Norman and Julian More, about the life of a fictional songwriter in the early to mid-20th century, began in London, opening in 1979 under the title Songbook. (That production featured choreography by Gillian Lynne, of Cats fame.) When it opened on Broadway few years later, it had a new title and a new choreographer, George Faison, known for his work on such musicals as Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and The Wiz. The cast—Gary Beach, Jeff Goldblum, Judy Kaye, and Timothy Jerome—all played multiple characters as the madcap story of Moony Shapiro brought the character from Liverpool, to the Lower East Side, and eventually back again to Liverpool.
The Moony Shapiro Songbook got surprisingly kind reviews and received a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, but, in the end, the humor did not seem to resonate with American audiences the way they had on London’s West End.
8. Broadway Follies
Opened and Closed March 15, 1981
Broadway Follies attempted to bring variety and vaudeville back to Broadway, evoking the Ziegfeld Follies from the first half of the 20th century. The “musical” announced itself as an “extravaganzicle” in the opening number, after which the production presented seven unconnected vaudeville-style acts, from a comic juggler to a group of street performers to a singing comedian. Whether it was the style of the presentation or just the acts themselves, Broadway Follies was not popular with audiences or critics and closed on its opening night.
9. Onward Victoria
Opened and Closed December 14, 1980
This musical, written by Keith Hermann, Charlotte Anker, and Irene Rosenberg, was based on the real-life story of Victoria Woodhull, a 19th-century millionaire who with her sister became the first women to operate a brokerage firm. It was first produced Off-Off-Broadway in 1979 under the title Unescorted Women. It made the leap to Broadway a year later. Audiences didn’t seem too interested, and the show had already announced it wouldn’t continue past opening night before reviews were even printed. Those interested in hearing the score can seek out the cast recording produced a few months after the Broadway closing. While out of print, used copies can be found on Amazon.
10. The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall
Opened and Closed May 13, 1979
These days, audiences remember Clark Gesner for his successful musical adaptation of the Peanuts comic strip, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, but Gesner wrote several other musicals. The Utter Glory of Morrissey Hall marks the only other musical of Gesner’s to make it to Broadway. The show tells the story of an all-girl’s school in England, its embattled headmistress, and a particularly rowdy class of girls. It premiered at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts in 1976 and played the New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre in 1977. Celeste Holm, Oklahoma!’s original Ado Annie, joined the cast as Headmistress Julia Faysle for the Broadway run, which sadly closed on its opening night. With mixed-to-positive reviews, the show recorded two cast albums: one of the Pacific Conservatory production that has never been released on CD and one of the Broadway production, which was released on CD in 2003 and is available on Amazon.
11. A Broadway Musical
Opened and Closed December 21, 1978
A Broadway Musical is another that looked like a winner on paper. Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, the team behind Bye Bye Birdie and Applause, wrote the score, William F. Brown wrote the book, fresh off his huge hit The Wiz. The plot concerns a white producer’s go at turning an African-American writer’s play into a stage musical, and was inspired by Strouse and Adams’ real-life experiences on Golden Boy. At the time, A Chorus Line led the boards as Broadway’s megahit and another backstage musical must have seemed like a great choice.
The show had trouble from the beginning. Following a tryout production in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, much of the cast and creative team were replaced. The production moved downtown to Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre where it played 14 previews and one official performance before closing up shop. Though no cast recording was ever produced, the show resurfaced in a 2017 concert presentation at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
12. Home Sweet Homer
Opened and Closed January 4, 1976
Written for Yul Brynner, Home Sweet Homer was based on the Greek legend of Homer, specifically Odysseus and his journey back home to his beloved Penelope. The show was originally written by Erich Segal and Mitch Leigh, the latter of whom is best known for Man of La Mancha. A national tour of Homer played the United States for a year with many changes along the way. By the time it reached Broadway, Home Sweet Homer had dropped Segal’s name completely, and the production credited the book to Rolan Kibbee and Albert Marre, lyrics to Charles Burr and Forman Brown, and music to Mitch Leigh.
The show didn’t receive horrible reviews, but troubles on the road put the production in a bad spot by the time it reached New York. Producers cited high operating costs, unscheduled layoffs, and a musicians strike that prevented the show from reaching New York later than planned. The production had already spent its entire capitalization by the time it reached New York, and the postponement of the Broadway opening had resulted in the cancellation of $250,000 of group sales. Producers posted a closing notice as the opening night curtain fell.
13. Rainbow Jones
Opened and Closed February 13, 1974
With book, music, and lyrics by commercial jingle writer Jill Williams, Rainbow Jones was an original musical about a woman who counts animals from Aesop’s Fables as her imaginary friends. A man she meets in Central Park helps her understand that the “friends” were created to help her deal with the death of her family. The show tried out in Washington, D.C. and Boston, but opened on Broadway to negative reviews and closed immediately. The show is available for licensing through Pioneer Drama Service and receives occasional amateur and regional productions.
Opened and Closed May 21, 1972
Heathen! took place in Hawaii, with dual stories set in 1819 and 1972. A trio of characters from the latter, descended from a trio from the former, illustrates “heathens” are no different than the ordinary people of today. The show, written by Eaton Magoon, Jr. and Sir Robert Helpmann, was not well received by critics and featured a starless cast. Heathen! closed after its opening night, and neither Magoon nor Helpmann were seen on Broadway again.
15. Wild and Wonderful
Opened and Closed December 7, 1971
Written by Bob Goodman and Phil Phillips, Wild and Wonderful is a largely forgotten musical. The story concerned a former West Point cadet sent by the CIA to infiltrate a youth movement. Pamela Blair, A Chorus Line’s original plastic-surgery-lauding Val, appeared in the ensemble.
16. Frank Merriwell
Opened and Closed April 24, 1971
Frank Merriwell was based on a series of novels and short stories published between 1896 and 1930. Somewhat analogous to a comic book super hero of today, Frank Merriwell was an All-American sports star, a student at Yale, and a solver of mysteries. In 1971, the series received this campy Broadway musical adaptation, directed and choreographed by Neal Kenyon, who was then best known for his work on the campy and successful Dames at Sea. The show closed after negative reviews.
17. Blood Red Roses
Opened and Closed March 22, 1970
Billed as “a play with music,” Blood Red Roses was an anti-war musical about the Crimean War, which a program note compared to World War I and the Vietnam War. The material, by John Lewin and Michael Valenti, was not well received by audiences nor critics and the show closed after 20 previews and one official performance.
Opened and Closed February 14, 1970
Based on Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry, this musical was written by Peter Bellwood, Stanley Lebowsky, and Fred Tobias. The musical adaptation starred Robert Shaw in the title role, opposite Rita Moreno as Sharon Falconer, an evangelist loosely based on Aimee Semple McPherson (who would herself become the star subject of the short-lived 2012 Broadway musical Scandalous). Though Gantry had major star power attached and had been much anticipated on Broadway through its reported three-year development process, tepid reviews on opening night spelled doom for the piece.
19. La Strada
Opened and Closed December 14, 1969
The score to La Strada was written in 1967 by Lionel Bart, hot off the international success of Oliver! For La Strada, he took the 1954 Fellini film of the same name as his source material, telling the story of a young girl sold to a circus strongman to serve as his assistant. The young girl eventually becomes the star of the circus and falls in love with the strongman, only to be left by him in the end.
The musical began a Detroit try-out in October of 1969, but it was already in trouble. Bart did not participate in the work’s rehearsals, so Martin Charnin (who would go on to write Annie) and Elliot Lawrence worked as best they could with needed revisions. The bleak subject proved to be challenging as well. Though the critics didn’t like the show, they did like its leading lady—Bernadette Peters, in her first Broadway leading role.
Opened and Closed March 22, 1969
Based on Herman Melville’s final novel, Billy Budd, about a seaman who is falsely accused of mutiny, Billy opened on Broadway in 1969. At the time, Britten’s 1951 opera Billy Budd was still relatively recent, and had yet to make its New York debut. Nevertheless, Stephen Glassman, Ron Dante, and Gene Allan endeavored to make the story into a rock musical. Unfortunately, the only element reviewed positively was Ming Cho Lee’s scenic design. Billy closed on Broadway after 21 previews and one official performance.
21. Here’s Where I Belong
Opened and Closed March 3, 1968
Based on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, the musical Here’s Where I Belong boasted a writing team destined for greatness. Composer, Robert Waldman, went on to write The Robber Bridegroom in 1976. Lyricist, Alfred Uhry, is a Tony winner for Parade and The Last Night of Ballyhoo. The show should have been the Broadway musical bookwriting debut for Terrence McNally—who would go on to write such shows as Ragtime and Kiss of the Spider Woman—but he asked that his name be removed prior to opening, which of course tells you that Here’s Where I Belong had considerable troubles before it made it to opening night. After a postponed opening and bleak reviews, Here’s Where I Belong closed on Broadway after 20 previews and one official performance. The production was profiled in William Goldman’s infamous book The Season.
Opened and Closed February 6, 1965
Shortly after completing work on the Mary Martin production of Peter Pan, Mark “Moose” Charlap began working with Eddie Lawrence on a musical called Never Go There Anymore, about Steve Brodie. Brodie, a real-life personality, claimed to have jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge and survived in 1886. The musical came to be called Kelly, taking its title from the Brodie-inspired hero of the piece, Hop Kelly.
Things started to get out of hand when the show played its tryout engagements, first in Philadelphia and later in Boston. The budget skyrocketed from $350,000 to $650,000, and producers brought in show doctors—including Mel Brooks—who made drastic changes to the material against the authors’ wishes. Charlap and Lawrence sued the producers to prevent the show opening on Broadway, but open on Broadway it did. Unfortunately for all involved, it closed the same night.
Charlap and Lawrence’s demo recordings—reflecting their original version of the show—were released commercially in 1980. A proper cast recording was also released in 1998, following an Off-Broadway concert presentation of the show by the York Theatre. This recording also reflects Charlap and Lawrence’s original version.