The phrases “aiming for a Broadway bow in…” or “intended for Broadway” often don’t amount to more than a press release. But when a show has announced a Broadway theatre and opening date and put up its marquee, it’s a pretty safe bet the show will be happening.
However, there are a few shows that sadly fell just short of opening their doors. A musical version of “Bus Stop” called “Cherry” had put up ads in Times Square in 1972 but never emerged. A musical version of the movie “Paper Moon” was announced for the Marquis Theater in 1993 and put up its marquee until plans fell through. And then there’s “Rebecca,” which is a whole article in and of itself.
Here are three more examples of shows that came so close to a Broadway bow and what led to them being merely could-have-beens:
1. “Lone Star Love”
“Lone Star Love,” a country music retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” set in the Civil War-era South, was a success when it premiered off-Broadway in late 2004. After some retooling, the show was set to make its Broadway debut on Dec. 3, 2007, at the Belasco Theater. However, during its pre-Broadway engagement at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater, the show got mixed-to-negative reviews and suddenly scrapped its Broadway plans. So, what changed between Off-Broadway and Broadway? Two words: Randy Quaid.
Quaid, most famous for the role of “Cousin Eddie” in the “Vacation” films, was cast in the lead role of Colonel Falstaff. Quaid and his wife/manager Evi Quaid were allegedly as tyrannical as any Shakespearean villain. Quaid felt at liberty to change lines, blocking and lyrics anytime he saw fit. There were also several arguments over design elements, including the color of his wig and the size of his codpiece. The Quaids’ behavior became more erratic until it got so out of hand that the producers decided to simply close the show.
All 26 actors involved in the defunct production filed charges with Actor’s Equity against the Quaids, claiming, among other things, that he hit an actor several times on the head during a performance, made sexually suggestive comments to cast members and claimed that any actor who made direct eye contact with him onstage would be fired. Actor’s Equity found that the show was forced to close because of the odd and abusive behavior of Quaid, thus depriving the actors of their jobs. Quaid was forced to pay a fine of $81,572, which is a two-week’s salary for the cast and crew, and was banned from the union for life, according to the Backstage.
2. “The Mambo Kings”
Oscar Hijuelos’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love” told the story of two brothers from Cuba who come to New York City in 1949 trying to become recording artists. The book had been turned into a film in 1992 starring Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas in his first English-speaking role.
A few years after the movie was released, the film’s director, Arne Glimcher, began working on a stage version that he planned on directing, writing the lyrics to and co-authoring the book with Hijuelos. In 2002, it was rumored to be coming together, with the possibility of Banderas starring alongside Jon Secada and Jennifer Lopez.
Talks apparently fell through, and it wasn’t until 2004 that producer Daryl Roth and her son, future Jujamcyn President Jordan Roth, announced that they would team up for the first time to produce the show. Pre-Broadway tryouts were set for May 31, 2005, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Theater in preparation for the Broadway premiere in July 20 at the Broadway Theatre. Esai Morales (“NYPD Blue”) and Jamie Camil (Rogelio on “Jane the Virgin) were cast as the Castillo brothers. Other cast members included Cuban music star Albita, Christiane Noll and David Alan Grier, who replaced star Billy Dee Williams when he dropped out due to a hip condition.
However, things started looking grim when the show opened to mostly negative reviews in San Francisco. The producers frantically began looking for several show doctors to help with the book, music and direction. While names such as Tommy Tune and Maury Yeston were rumored, the producers eventually hired playwright David Ives to help with the book, Jason Robert Brown to help with the music and Jerry Mitchell to help with the direction. But before the new creative team could even begin work, the producers announced there was no way to meet the current Broadway schedule and decided to close the show out of town.
3. “Busker Alley”
It’s not uncommon for a show to change its name during its journey to Broadway. “Away We Go!” became “Oklahoma!,” “Elaborate Lives” became “Aida,” “Feeling Electric” became “Next to Normal,” etc. But few shows have had as many name changes as “Busker Alley.
It started in 1969 when the famous Disney songwriter brothers Robert and Richard Sherman (“Mary Poppins,” “The Jungle Book”) and Disney scriptwriter A.J. Carothers (“The Happiest Millionaire”) wrote a musical version of the 1938 film “St. Martin’s Lane” called “Piccadilly.” It told the story of a simple busker (street performer) who takes a younger woman under his wing and teaches her the art of busking.
However, nothing came of it until 1982, when they began rewriting the show with the new title, “Blow Us a Kiss.” Still, nothing would happen until 1991, when it was announced that Tommy Tune was attached to the project and yet another new title, “Busker Alley.” Initially announced for a May 1992 Broadway opening with a pre-Broadway tryout at Boston’s Colonial Theater, it wasn’t until 1995 that the show got underway with a 16-city tour before heading to the Great White Way.
While touring, the show would go through two more name changes. A survey conducted by the producers, Fran and Barry Weissler, revealed that most people didn’t know what a busker was, so they changed the name to “Stage Door Charley.” Then, for some reason, it was changed about a month later to “Buskers.” Finally, it reverted back to “Busker Alley.”
I can personally attest to this. When I was a child, I was taken to see this show by my grandparents. My ticket said “Stage Door Charley,” my program said “Busker Alley” and my souvenir book said “Buskers.”
After many rewrites, cut songs and cast replacements, the show was to open at the St. James Theater on Nov. 16, 1995. On Oct. 1, however, star Tommy Tune broke his foot during a performance in Tampa, Florida, the last tour stop before Broadway. While Tommy Steele and Gregory Hines were mentioned as possible replacements, the producers decided to end the run.
In 2006, a concert of the show starring Jim Dale would lead to another attempt to bring the show to Broadway, but that production was met with its own set of troubles before it was abandoned.