In movie land, sequels are nothing new—the eighth Fast and the Furious film was released this year, with ninth and tenth entries planned for 2019 and 2021—but when it comes to live theatre, we usually favor revival productions, rather than the continuation of a story.
Still, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been attempted. The vast majority of musical sequels have not been successful enterprises and, therefore, are not very well-known today, but all sequels featured below have been recorded in some form or another, should you care to hear what happened to the characters of musicals like Bye Bye Birdie and The Phantom of the Opera after “The End.”
In chronological order, here are eight musical sequels that made it to the stage:
1. The Talk of New York
George M. Cohan’s 45 Minutes from Broadway was the Broadway hit of 1906. The score contained such hits as “45 Minutes from Broadway,” “Mary is a Grand Old Name,” and “So Long Mary.” The plot, as anyone who has studied musicals of this era can tell you, is not really worth recounting here, which is probably why Cohan found it such an easy decision to mount a sequel musical—The Talk of New York—the following year, with Victor Moore again starring. Though the show was a hit, it hasn’t been well-remembered—none of the score’s tunes are top of mind today—and it’s never appeared on Broadway since.
2. Let ‘Em Eat Cake
George and Ira Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing, written with book writers George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, lampooned American politics with the story of John P. Wintergreen, a politician who runs for President of the United States on a platform of “love.” The show was a huge hit on Broadway, running for 441 performances—quite an achievement by 1931 standards—and winning the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the first musical ever to do so.
The writers, stars, and producer of Of Thee I Sing started work on a sequel almost immediately. Let ‘Em Eat Cake’s plot showed President Wintergreen’s defeat in his bid for reelection, which inspires him to join forces with former Vice President Alexander Throttlebottom to take over the government by creating a Fascist movement. The show’s darker themes did not sit well with audiences, and, after opening in October of 1933, Let ‘Em Eat Cake closed after only 89 performances. The show is occasionally brought back for concert productions today, and was preserved as a studio cast album in 1987.
3. Divorce Me, Darling
Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend was a sendup of musicals from the 1920s, and, in addition to being a hit in London and on Broadway, introduced Julie Andrews to American audiences. A little over a decade after The Boy Friend premiered, Wilson decided to write a follow-up that takes place ten years later and, naturally, is a pastiche of 1930s musicals. A West End production ran under 100 performances, and it wasn’t until nearly 20 years later that the piece made its North American debut, at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston. Cast recordings exist of the show’s 1964 original London cast as well as of a 1997 Chichester Festival revival cast, starring Ruthie Henshall.
4. Bring Back Birdie
Bye Bye Birdie, which opened on Broadway in April 1960, was a huge Broadway success. It ran for a year-and-a-half (over 600 performances), won four 1961 Tony Awards, toured the U.S., played London’s West End, and was adapted into a major motion picture. The piece also remains one of the more frequently produced musicals in high schools, amateur, and regional theatres.
Twenty years after its Broadway bow, the writing team behind Birdie—including Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, and Michael Stewart—reunited to write a sequel: Bring Back Birdie. The original musical, of course, tells the story of music producer and composer Albert Peterson who capitalizes on his biggest singing star, the Elvis-modeled Conrad Birdie, having been drafted into the army. In the sequel, we find out that Conrad disappeared after being discharged, and 20 years later, Albert stands to make $20,000 if he can get Birdie to make a triumphant return on live TV. Albert and former secretary-turned-housewife Rosie begin their search for Birdie, who they discover is hiding out as the mayor of an Arizona town. Of all the coincidences, it also turns out Albert’s mother, Mae, is a bartender in the same town, and she still has a host of insults to sling at Rosie. Many machinations later, Conrad is set to perform on TV but pulls out at the last second to run for President of the United States, but Mae saves the day when it turns out she used to be in show business and was a favorite performer of the TV executive demanding the performance. Furthermore, it turns out her stage name was Zepol, or Lopez backwards—Mae is Spanish, much to Rosie’s shock.
Bring Back Birdie opened on Broadway in March 1981 with original Rosie Chita Rivera leading the cast, along with Donald O’Connor (Cosmo from the movie version of Singin’ in the Rain) taking over the role of Albert from Dick Van Dyke. Though Rivera received a Tony nomination for her performance, the production didn’t fare very well; it closed after just four performances. A cast album preserved the score for any interested in hearing the continuing adventures of Rosie, Albert, and Conrad.
5. March of the Falsettos/Falsettoland
Easily the most successful musical sequels ever, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland are actually both part of William Finn’s Marvin trilogy, which begins with the 1979 one-act musical In Trousers. Trousers tells the story of Marvin, who is married and has a child. He reminisces about past relationships with women before confessing he’s gay. Finn continued writing for the Marvin character with two more one-act Off-Broadway musicals. In March of the Falsettos, which premiered in 1981, Marvin has found a boyfriend, Whizzer. He tries to salvage his relationship with his son, while his ex-wife enters into a relationship with his psychoanalyst. Falsettoland, which premiered in 1990, finds Whizzer dying of AIDS, and depicts how Marvin, his family, and friends deal with the tragedy.
March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland were combined into a full-length two-act musical called Falsettos, which opened on Broadway in April 1992. The production featured much of the cast that premiered the works originally Off-Broadway, including Michael Rupert as Martin, Stephen Bogardus as Whizzer, Chip Zien as psychoanalyst Mendel, and Heather MacRae as Marvin’s friend Charlotte. Falsettos was revived on Broadway in 2016, courtesy of Jordan Roth and Lincoln Center Theater. That production starred Christian Borle, Andrew Rannells, Stephanie J. Block, Brandon Uranowitz, Tracie Thoms, Betsy Wolfe, and Anthony Rosenthal. It was filmed for broadcast as part of the Live from Lincoln Center series, but ended up receiving a special release in movie theatres. The recording premieres on PBS October 27.
6. Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge and Annie Warbucks
Undeterred by the Bring Back Birdie experience, composer Charles Strouse jumped back into the world of musical sequels less than a decade later, this time continuing the story of his most successful musical, Annie. Written with lyricist Martin Charnin and book writer Thomas Meehan, Annie tells the story of a plucky young orphan in depression-era New York who is chosen to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks. After thwarting a plan by the evil Miss Hannigan and her brother, Rooster, to pose as Annie’s parents, Annie is officially adopted by Warbucks. Annie opened on Broadway in April 1977. Five years, seven Tony Awards, and over 2,000 performances later, Annie closed on Broadway and became a favorite for regional and school performance groups, in addition to receiving a major movie adaptation, international productions, and many tours.
Charnin began talking publicly about an Annie sequel as early as 1982, but no official production was announced until June of 1989. Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge reunited the entire original Annie writing team, along with much of original creative team and one of the original stars, Dorothy Loudon, who had won a Tony for her portrayal of Miss Hannigan in 1977. Annie 2 was to pick up six weeks after the events of Annie, with Miss Hannigan in prison and plotting revenge. A prison fire affords Hannigan a chance at escape, whereupon she decides to disguise herself and try and marry Warbucks, who has discovered that he must be married for his adoption of Annie to go through. Hannigan finds an Annie lookalike that she can switch for the real Annie, allowing her to become the “Annie”-approved wife candidate.
Annie 2 had a pre-Broadway try-out in Washington, D.C., where Annie had enjoyed an acclaimed pre-Broadway engagement in 1977. Changes to the Annie 2 script and score were immediate and copious as the team worked to fix a production in trouble. The prison element was dropped early on for a new plot point that saw Hannigan being sent by Warbucks to Argentina one-way, only for her to jump ship and make her way back to NYC. Songs were dropped, re-written, and added. The consensus seemed to be that Annie 2 had not nearly enough Annie in it. Ultimately, they couldn’t figure it out in time; producers announced in January 1990 that Annie 2 would close in Washington, scrapping Broadway plans. They still intended to make an Annie sequel happen, but planned on another developmental production at Goodspeed in Connecticut—where the original Annie was first developed—before an eventual Broadway transfer in late fall 1990 or early winter 1991.
In reality, the final stage sequel to Annie took a bit longer to gestate, and it would never (as of 2017) play Broadway. Rather than continue work on Annie 2, Strouse, Charnin, and Meehan essentially started over with a new show called Annie Warbucks. The plot element of Warbucks needing to get married to keep Annie was retained along with several of the melodies, but the character of Miss Hannigan was dropped completely in favor of a new villain, Child Welfare Commissioner Harriet Doyle. As Warbucks searches for a wife, he finds that Doyle and his daughter are trying to steal his billions away from him. After being workshopped at Goodspeed, Annie Warbucks played a pre-New York tryout tour, culminating in a well-received Off-Broadway production that opened in August 1993. Plans to move the production to Broadway fizzled when sufficient backing couldn’t be raised.
The original Off-Broadway cast of Annie Warbucks recorded a cast album, which is sadly now out of print. Annie 2 went unrecorded until a 2008 studio album of Annie that included a second disc with the first recording of Annie 2, together with narration by Carol Burnett (as Miss Hannigan) that explains the plot.
7. The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public
Carol Hall, Larry L. King, and Peter Masterson’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas opened on Broadway in June 1978, and went on to run for 1,584 performances. It tells the story of, well, the best little whorehouse in Texas, and local government efforts to shut it down. Hall, King, and Masterson, along with original director/choreographer Tommy Tune, all reunited for a Whorehouse sequel in 1994, titled The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Goes Public. The sequel’s plot had the IRS coaxing former madam Mona to come out of retirement to run a Las Vegas whorehouse that owed the government $26 million in back taxes.
The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public opened on Broadway in May 1994, but wasn’t well-received. The production closed two weeks later. A cast recording preserved the score.
8. Love Never Dies
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Richard Stilgoe, and Charles Hart’s The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most successful entertainment ventures in history; the Broadway production is the longest-running production ever, soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary. Andrew Lloyd Webber began talking about a Phantom sequel in 1990—long before the extent of the musical’s success was clear. Lloyd Webber collaborated with author Frederick Forsyth on a plot, setting the original charactes in early 20th century New York City. The duo halted those plans, and Forsyth turned some of their work into a novel, The Phantom of Manhattan, which was published in 1999. By 2006, Lloyd Webber had resumed work on the project, eventually coming to Ben Elton (book writer of Lloyd Webber’s The Beautiful Game) to work on a storyline. Lloyd Webber was briefly delayed when his pet cat inadvertently—and ironically, given Lloyd Webber’s huge success with the musical Cats—deleted his work on the Phantom sequel’s score. Lloyd Webber announced that the sequel was to be titled Phantom: Once Upon Another Time in 2008, though later that same year he renamed it Love Never Dies.
The plot of Love Never Dies takes place ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera at a Coney Island amusement park called Phantasma, which is run by a mysterious masked man—the Phantom. Former Paris ballet dancer Meg and her mother, Madame Giry, have smuggled the Phantom from Paris to New York. Meg is now a burlesque performer while Madame Giry produces. The Phantom, meanwhile, is still obsessed with Christine, and has her hired to perform at Phantasma. When she arrives, we find that her husband Raoul is now an alcoholic gambler, and they have a son. The Phantom reveals himself to Christine, and we learn that Christine had at one point, after a late-night tryst, planned on leaving Raoul for him. Not only this, but her child’s father is not Raoul, but the Phantom. This information specifically creates tension with the Girys, who had expected to inherit Phantasma for their efforts helping the Phantom.
The plan was for Love Never Dies to open simultaneously in New York, London, and Shanghai in fall 2009, though after several postponements, only the London production materialized, in February 2010. The production was not well received by critics, and in December, Lloyd Webber closed the show for four days to re-tool and revise. Even though the revised version got better reviews, the production closed in August 2011 and the Broadway production was postponed and ultimately cancelled.
When an Australian production came up in 2011, Lloyd Webber gathered an entirely different creative team and cast to continue work on the show, implementing revisions and drastically reducing the scale of the physical production. This version of the show was much more successful with audiences and critics alike. The production was filmed for release on DVD and Blu-ray.
Love Never Dies will make its North American premiere next week, when a new national tour based on the 2011 Australian production begins performances in Baltimore.
GET A FIRST LOOK AT THE NEW NATIONAL TOUR OF LOVE NEVER DIES: