Play It Again, Sam: The Evolution of the Theatre Sequel (Webway Wednesday video)

Inside Track   Play It Again, Sam: The Evolution of the Theatre Sequel (Webway Wednesday video)
 
When Andrew Lloyd Webber announced his plans for a Phantom sequel, it stimulated fear and wonder among rabid fans of the long-running hit. They waffled between craving the next chapter of the melodious love story and worrying that the writers might spoil a beloved experience. Why mess with perfection?


Love Never Dies finally opened March 9 in London.  The reviews were mixed, with The Independent’s Paul Taylor calling it “Phabulous,” and The New York Times’ Ben Brantley calling it a “poor sap of a show.”

Historically, sequels for the stage are much less successful than movie sequels (see “Star Wars”, “Die Hard”, the “Bourne” movies, “Harry Potter,” “Batman” etc.). And I confess, I’ll probably be one of the first people on line to see “Sex and the City 2.”

Twenty years after Bye Bye Birdie became a multi-Tony winning smash hit in 1960, Charles Strouse and Lee Adams went back to the drawing board to create Bring Back Birdie.  It closed after four performances.

The same fate was met by The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public, which followed the hugely successful The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasGoes Public ran for 16 performances in 1994 versus 1,584 performances for Texas, which ran from 1978 to 1982.

Annie tried twice to make a comeback on stage, with Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge and then Annie Warbucks. The first played Washington, DC, and died, never making it to Broadway; the second made it to Off-Broadway but never on (it has had a regional life and a recording).  The original “Annie” film starring Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry and Albert Finney grossed over $50 million in 1982.  But have you ever heard of the 1995 TV movie sequel, “Annie: A Royal Adventure"? Probably not.

Straight plays haven’t had much success with sequels either.  When William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker premiered on Broadway in 1959, with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, it played two-and-a-half years and resulted in an equally successful film. Monday After the Miracle, also by Gibson, followed Keller’s years at Radcliffe College.  It was made into a TV movie in the '90s, but on the Broadway stage, it lasted just four days.

Some musical sequels have fared better with a comeback via screen instead of stage.  Take Funny Girl’s film sequel, "Funny Lady."  The first title, which featured a beautiful score by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, helped catapult Barbra Streisand to superstardom.  She received a Tony nom for playing Fanny Brice on Broadway, and later took home an Oscar for the film. The movie sequel, with music by Kander & Ebb, wasn’t a flop, either, grossing close to $40 million when it was first released in 1975.  "Lady" quit while it was ahead, and never tried for life on stage.

Of course, trying to extend the life of popular musicals in a movie theatre doesn’t automatically equal success.  Have you ever heard of “Shock Treatment,” the sequel to “The Rocky Horror Picture Show"?  Me neither.

"Grease 2," directed by Patricia Birch, was a failure at the box office, compared to the original, which was based on the successful stage production. (Birch choreographed both films.) However, "Grease 2," which stared a then unknown Michelle Pfeiffer, has grown back its legs as a cult-classic with campy songs such as “Reproduction” and “Cool Rider.”

Here’s hoping that “Hairspray 2: White Lipstick” meets a kinder fate than “Shock Treatment.” And when Love Never Dies eventually crosses the pond, I, for one, hope that this franchise can make history twice — by making Dies the first successful musical sequel in Broadway history.


"Shock Treatment" trailer from 1981. And yes, that is Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna sans makeup).


Pfeiffer belting it out in "Cool Rider" from "Grease 2," years before singing for "Hairspray," a much more successful movie musical.

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