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How Did This Flop?

Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/22/14 at 10:22pm
I was looking at some of Tennessee Williams Broadway credits and came across the revival of "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore". Produced by David Merrick and starring Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter, how could this only play for 7 performances? I guess opening right at the New Year wasn't helpful, but two high profile stars couldn't get this off the ground?
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If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
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henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/22/14 at 10:57pm
Overwhelmingly bad reviews.



Major playwrights have flops (Williams had several). Even with a show with two huge stars (Banhkead had several flops, including a major bomb with an Odets play, Clash by Night, which also starred Lee J. Cobb - then not well known - and Joseph Schildkraut - by then an Academy award winning actor as well as a theatre star - produced by Billy Rose and directed by Lee Strasberg).

Even today, The combination of famous playwright and two huge stars does not guarantee even a modest success.

Exhibit A: The Anarchist.



Updated On: 4/22/14 at 10:57 PM
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/22/14 at 11:27pm
I guess you're right. But by today's standards it would be like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Beiber starring on Broadway.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
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EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/23/14 at 01:16am
Too many factors to name, it seems. I get the impression Bankhead was seen as a troubled actress by that point who didn't always deliver. Tab, as he talks about in his memoirs, was trying to be taken seriously as an actor but something like this wouldn't exactly bring his fanbase running.

Also the play initially opened just (almost exactly) a year before on Broadway with Hermione Baddeley and Paul Roebling, was savaged by the critics, though it ran about two months. So critics were already ready to pounce on it by the time this revised version opened (despite completely different actors and creative team.) David Merrick must have seen it as a role for a classic Tennessee Williams' grand dame star role (ironic since Hermione--no great slouch--got the best reviews as this NYT piece on the original 1963 production shows http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/12/31/specials/williams-milk.html ). It was meant to be a sort of last final stage success for Tallulah who had been having issues with drinking, pills and her behaviour for at least a decade before.

Tab's memoir is not filled with the best facts, so take this with a grain of salt, but he says he was offered to take over from Newman in Sweet Bird of Youth on Broadway, but was so intense to get the role of Tony in the West Side Story film that he turned it down. Despite the trials of Milk Train's first run, he didn't wanna pass up such a chance before and director Tony Richardson (also new to that revision) fought David Merrick to hire him at the suggestion of Anthony Perkins an ex of Tab's and the first choice--again despite Tab also hearing about how difficult Talullah was now to work with and RIchardson NOT wanting her so they compromised on the casting.

Tab blames the flop status on the fact that it opened immediately after the Kennedy assassination and people were staying away from the theatre to watch TV, or something, and that Tallulah was just such a trainwreck in it that the only audience were camp fans wanting to howl at her--and that Marrick wanted to close it on the road but Tennessee convinced him not to. Tab does include a photo of a tellegram from Williams praising him on his performance, and a few shots of him in the play looking very fetching in a beard, for what it's worth.

The only published version *I* have of the play (in the Library of America Williams 2 volume set) is the revision for this production. Williams has a note about the changes which, while I think they're great on paper probably made the play an even harder sell to commercial audiences--he added kabuki theatre on stage characters who changed the scenes, etc, because he felt it was important to make the play even more distanced from conventional theatre to bring out its effective stylization. He was probably right, but by this point I think a few things had happened to Williams' work.

I know people sharply disagree on this (though opinions seem to be changing) but I find a lot of Williams' later work fascinating and very very good, including Milk Train. But it was a hard sell on the Broadway stage--and Milk Train really marked the switch when he probably should have been doing small off-broadway productions except he was considered too big a name--his plays got much more experimental. The critics also had started their backlash on him (which really started probably consideriably earlier with complaints about the violence and vulgarity of Sweet Bird and Suddenly Last Summer) including the whole "concerns" of a number of critics about homosexuals controlling the theatre. And Williams probably trapped with his plays being not quite avant garde enough but also not quite mainstream enough--but as I said before this huge rant, things were not helped by Tallulah, and by the fact the play had already flopped just a year before.
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EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/23/14 at 01:17am
(Of course SOMEONE still agreed to fund the infamous Losey directed film adaptation, Boom!, with Liz and Richard Burton and Noel Coward in the previously female role of The Witch of Capri. A pretty fascinating film... Well at least for fans like myself.)
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AC126748
Broadway Legend
joined:7/15/06
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/23/14 at 09:26am
Roundabout did a production of MILK TRAIN a few years back at their Off-Broadway space, with Olympia Dukakis in the role of Flora. That production also featured a male actor (Ed Hibbert) as Witch of Capri. I saw it, and while it didn't make much of an impression on me, I remember it getting fairly solid reviews.

There was another Off-Broadway production in the late eighties with Elizabeth Ashley, Amanda Plummer, and Marian Seldes. For a play that's generally considered a minor work, it hasn't vanished entirely.
"You travel alone because other people are only there to remind you how much that hook hurts that we all bit down on. Wait for that one day we can bite free and get back out there in space where we belong, sail back over water, over skies, into space, the hook finally out of our mouths and we wander back out there in space spawning to other planets never to return hurrah to earth and we'll look back and can't even see these lives here anymore. Only the taste of blood to remind us we ever existed. The earth is small. We're gone. We're dead. We're safe." -John Guare, Landscape of the Body
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someone.else's.story2
Leading Actor
joined:3/18/07
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/23/14 at 11:35am
Saw it in LA awhile back at th Fountain. Solid script and not worthy of being a flop in my opinion. But also one of his lesser plays, I feel.
I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. ``oscar wilde``
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EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/23/14 at 02:18pm
It definitely is one of his minor works. The Dukakis revival struck me as wrong headed in a number of ways, but mostly just due to Roundabout being not too ambitious when the staging probably should be.

It also is, like his other BIG 1960s flop that Merrick later produced Kingdom of Earth (which Merrick forced to oddly forced to be titled The Seven Descents of Myrtle and Sidney Lumet filmed with Lynn Redgrave and a Gore Vidal script as Last of the Mobile Hot Shots) very much a transitional work for Williams between his big hits and his 70s works that often now are being rediscovered as, IMHO, very strong like Small Craft Warnings and Vieux Carre. But, it's not a great play like, Orpheus Descending, that just was failed by a poor original production--but like most Williams, there is a lot of great stuff there.
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/23/14 at 04:31pm
Thanks for the information. I didn't know that Tallulah was in such bad shape. I knew Tab Hunter was known more as a beefcake tv star and this would have been a stretch for him.

Tennessee Williams had an interesting career. He wrote all his masterpieces at the beginning of his career and then towards the end he was writing the experimental work that most writers produce early in their career.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
daredevil
Stand-by
joined:8/17/05
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/24/14 at 03:24pm
I was actually at the opening night. It was crazy! I had seen the first production in January of 63---it was very austere, took the script very seriously, liked the final minutes---saw it as part of a trilogy with Sweet Bird of Youth and Night of the Iguana, all of them dealing with the conflict of carnal love, versus real contact and meaning. The Richardson production with Tallulah and Hunter was loud and grotesque---almost like a bizarre amateur production--Hunter seemed to be trying very hard to make the character work---but the whole evening had a side show effect---I have no idea why someone (was it David Merrick) decided to produce it. it closed almost immediately.
Gothampc
Broadway Legend
joined:5/20/03
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/24/14 at 03:36pm
"I have no idea why someone (was it David Merrick) decided to produce it."

Maybe he needed a tax write-off. He was also producing Hello Dolly at the time and knew that was going to be a huge revenue generator.

But more seriously, he probably thought like I did. Tallulah Bankhead in a Tennessee Williams play sounds good on paper (a southern woman acting a southern writer's work) with Tab Hunter to bring in the younger generation.
If anyone ever tells you that you put too much Parmesan cheese on your pasta, stop talking to them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.
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Mr Roxy
Broadway Legend
joined:5/17/03
How Did This Flop?
Posted: 4/24/14 at 03:45pm
Another example

Peter Allen - Legs Diamond

2 or 3 good songs does not a great score make. Show was in previews forever. It was a mess. Great idea but poor execution and material Had Merrick produced it he would have done a Breakfast @ Tiffany's and closed it before it opened. Allen's name could not counteract the savage reviews.
Cynicism is an unpleasant way of saying the truth - Lillian Hellman.

 
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