The Broadway Sequel | Playbill

Special Features The Broadway Sequel
Sequels have played an important part in the history of Hollywood. During their Golden Age in the 1930's, the movies reaped great rewards with the Thin Man series, the Andy Hardy and Jones Family films, four Nancy Drew flicks and the Tarzan series.
Bye bye, Bring Back Birdie. The flop closed after a mere four performances.
Donald O'Connor and Chita Rivera

Broadway has had less luck with sequels. Successful plays and musicals have often spawned unsuccessful sequels. The first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize, Of Thee I Sing (1931), had a satiric political book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind and a brilliant score by George and Ira Gershwin. It ran for 441 performances, which in that era was considered a long run. The same creative team came up with a sequel to this winner called Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933), and it even had the same three actors - William Gaxton, Victor Moore and Lois Moran - playing the same roles they had created in Of Thee I Sing. The results were not good. The show was declared inferior to its predecessor and ran for only 90 performances.

Two George M. Cohan musicals fared a little better. Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway (1906) starred Victor Moore as Kid Burns, a very comic character. The show was a success and repaid its investment a few days after its New York opening. The 1907 sequel, The Talk of New York, starring Moore in the same role, was also a success and played for a popular 20 weeks.

William Gibson's The Miracle Worker (1959) was a very affecting play about Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. It ran for 719 performances and was made into a successful film. Mr. Gibson's 1982 sequel to the play, Monday After the Miracle, depicted what happened to Keller and Sullivan 20 years after the initial play. It received such harsh reviews that it closed after seven performances.

Musical sequels are a very risky business. The 1960 smash Bye Bye Birdie was a thinly veiled satire of Elvis Presley. It ran for 607 performances. In 1981 the creative team behind the show produced a sequel called Bring Back Birdie. Nobody wanted him back, and the musical folded after four performances.

A similar fate awaited the hit musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1978), which prospered for 1,584 showings. But in 1994, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public was produced and it expired after two weeks. Fooling with classics can be dangerous. Ibsen's play A Doll's House has been revived many times on Broadway with success. In 1982 Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Hal Prince ventured to create a sequel called A Doll's Life. It proposed to show what kind of life Ibsen's heroine, Nora, led after she slammed the door on her family in his celebrated play. The fact that she became a women's libber didn't interest critics, and Nora protested for only five performances.

There is one more category to be mentioned: prequels. We know of one successful one. In 1939 Lillian Hellman wrote her venomous study of an avaricious Southern family, The Little Foxes. It was a huge success, with Tallulah Bankhead scoring her biggest Broadway triumph. In 1946 Broadway saw Another Part of the Forest, in which Hellman depicted the same family in earlier years, with Patricia Neal in the Bankhead role. Neal won a Tony Award for the performance, proving that a sequel can be a success.

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