British stage makes hay with Broadway duds

Fri May 2, 2014 11:40am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

SHEFFIELD England (Reuters) - Broadway musicals are usually revived when, like "My Fair Lady" or "South Pacific", they have been big hits. But the British stage, in London and elsewhere, has been giving flops a second chance.

This year's Olivier Award for best London revival went to a Broadway dud with big names attached - Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's "Merrily We Roll Along", which ran for only 44 previews and 16 performances on Broadway in 1981.

Other famous flops that have had British revivals include Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" of 1956, which had closed on Broadway after 73 performances, and another Sondheim show, his "Pacific Overtures" of 1976, that was revived at London's Donmar Warehouse in 2003.

Now, aspiring British theatre director Matthew Malone, a masters student in music at the University of Sheffield, hopes to further his ambitions to put on West End and Broadway musicals by taking the trend a step further: reviving a Broadway flop in Britain and bringing it back to New York.

This past week he has given the Jules Styne musical "Subways Are For Sleeping", which closed in 1962 after just 205 performances despite having a star composer and star cast, its first fully orchestrated revival in more than 50 years.

Having exhumed the score from parts scattered in three U.S. archives, Malone put on a performance at Sheffield university with a student cast and orchestra performing the songs, with no stage set, that appears to have been a hit among the young audience.

"It's a great project," he said. "I've got a 36-piece orchestra, 15 people in a chorus, I've got four principal singers, everyone's enjoying it and there's a big buzz."

Why some shows put together by hit-making teams fail while others succeed is hard to judge. But the London director of "Merrily", British actress Maria Friedman, thinks "Merrily" - about a penniless composer's rise in show business - may have been ahead of its time.   Continued...

A homeless man walks past an advertising board for a west end theatre show in London February 16, 2011.   REUTERS/Toby Melville