Have Any Broadway Musicals Ever Closed Before They Opened?

Jennifer Ashley Tepper Is answering your questions with Broadway Deep Dive!

By: Mar. 05, 2023
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Do you have a burning Broadway question? Dying to know more about an obscure Broadway fact? Broadway historian and self-proclaimed theatre nerd Jennifer Ashley Tepper is here to help with her new series, Broadway Deep Dive. Every month, BroadwayWorld will be accepting questions from theatre fans like you. If you're lucky, your question might be selected as the topic of her next column!

Submit your Broadway question in the comments here!

This month, the reader question was: Have any Broadway musicals ever closed before they opened?

I love this reader question because the Broadway shows that closed before they opened deserve to be remembered. All have fascinating history behind them.

Have Any Broadway Musicals Ever Closed Before They Opened? Breakfast at Tiffany's

6 previews, December 12-14, 1966

The most anticipated musical of the 1966-1967 Broadway season (which included Cabaret, I Do! I Do! and The Apple Tree), Breakfast at Tiffany's, had an impressive million dollar advance. The new musical produced by infamous impresario David Merrick was based on the esteemed 1958 Truman Capote novella, which had already been turned into a hit 1961 film.

The role made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the movie, Holly Golightly, was claimed by Mary Tyler Moore for the stage musical, which also starred Richard Chamberlain in the role of the writer based on Capote himself, Jeff Claypool. With two television stars on board, Abe Burrows (Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed) on the book, and Bob Merrill (Funny Girl, Carnival!) on music and lyrics, it was no wonder that audiences were clamoring for this new musical to come to the Majestic Theatre.

Pre-Broadway tryouts in Philadelphia and Boston were very troubled, with negative reviews across the board, and Edward Albee (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) hired to replace Burrows. While Burrows' adaptation failed to craft a successful musical comedy out of what was originally a mood piece, Albee turned the show into an experimental work. In Albee's version, Holly Golightly was no longer an individual but a character being made up by the Capote stand-in, Jeff Claypool, as he went along. Audiences and critics were confounded all along the way.

Breakfast at Tiffany's made history because it was the only show anyone could remember where the producer pulled the plug despite more-than-solid sales, announcing after six Broadway previews that the show was just not good enough to be seen and audiences should be spared. Merrick took the blame, achieving a publicity stunt of sorts even out of a show that closed after six previews.

Let My People Come

128 previews, July 2-October 2, 1976

Some historians and journalists don't count Let My People Come as a Broadway musical that closed during previews. This is because, unlike the other six productions with this distinction, Let My People Come ran for months of previews on Broadway, after a successful off-Broadway run of two years. Not having a Broadway opening night was a strategic choice for this show with the subtitle "A Sexual Musical". The creative team believed their show would be completely slammed by Broadway critics, but that if they could keep any reviews from coming out, they could sell tickets successfully. Let My People Come canceled three planned openings and tried to be the first Broadway show to run without ever officially opening.

The musical, with book and music by Earl Wilson, Jr. and lyrics by Wilson and Phil Oesterman (who also produced and directed), regaled audiences with songs like "I'm Gay", "Come In My Mouth", and "The Cunnilingus Champion of Company C" at the Morosco for 128 previews. The audience was largely middle-aged suburban couples, who had enjoyed Hair and were now enjoying other bohemian shows that were produced as a result of Hair's success. Theatergoers were titillated by the dirty but joyful burlesque presented at a legitimate Broadway house, and they even got to shake hands with naked cast members on their way out of the theater.

The Little Prince and the Aviator

20 previews, January 1-17, 1982

Based on the beloved book The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince and the Aviator had a troubled rehearsal period. The show's original director Robert Kalfin was replaced by Jerry Adler and original choreographer Dania Krupska was replaced by Bill Wilson, late in the process. Producer Joseph Tandet had already produced an unsuccessful film adaptation of the work, with a score by Lerner and Loewe.

This version of the story did feature work by many who had significant success in other ventures. Don Black, the lyricist, later wrote Sunset Boulevard. John Barry, the composer, also composed 11 James Bond films and won five Oscars. Hugh Wheeler, the book writer is better known for his work on Sweeney Todd. The production starred Michael York in his first musical role and a pre-Little Shop of Horrors Ellen Greene.

There was a huge nationwide search to find the boy who would play The Little Prince. The Daily News ran a feature on the casting calls; Little girls had Annie, and now little boys would have The Little Prince. The role eventually went to a ten-year old Anthony Rapp. One night, during his number "Playground of the Planets", instead of planets entering on tracks, there was a blood-curdling scream because a track had run over someone's foot. An adolescent Rapp, suspended in the air, ad-libbed, "Ladies and gentlemen, it would appear that there's been an intergalactic disturbance!"

The show received its closing notice the day before what would have been opening night, and never opened. In a unique twist, despite only playing 20 previews, the show made back two thirds of its investment. This was because Tandet sued The Nederlander Organization, claiming that they demanded more money while the show was happening than they'd originally stated they would, and was awarded a million dollar settlement.

One Night Stand

8 previews, October 20-25, 1980

One Night Stand featured the second-to-last new Broadway score by Golden Age legend Jule Styne. Styne composed hit shows including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, (part of) Peter Pan, Bells Are Ringing, Gypsy, Funny Girl, Hallelujah, Baby!, and Sugar-and also had his share of flops with cherished scores including Subways are for Sleeping and Fade Out- Fade In. Styne ended his long Broadway career that had begun in 1947 with One Night Stand, which closed in previews in 1980, and then the short-lived The Red Shoes in 1993.

According to Ken Mandelbaum in his must-read book Not Since Carrie, One Night Stand was "a musical about a successful stage and film composer who invites the audience to an evening of entertainment which will be followed by his suicide at 10pm, the songs and dances preceding the suicide to explain what went wrong".

One Night Stand's book and lyrics were by Herb Gardner, better known for his hit plays including A Thousand Clowns. In fact, One Night Stand came about when Styne sought out Gardner to discuss the possibility of musicalizing A Thousand Clowns, and Gardner pitched him an original idea instead.

One Night Stand is the only one of the seven Broadway musicals to have received close to an original Broadway cast recording, no doubt partially due to reverence for the talent and career of Styne. While Breakfast at Tiffany's eventually received a studio recording and Let My People Come was recorded during its off-Broadway run, One Night Stand can be heard as a traditional original Broadway cast recording-albeit recorded years later and with the original leading actors, including Charles Kimbrough, Jack Weston, and Catherine Cox, but not the entire original cast.

Have Any Broadway Musicals Ever Closed Before They Opened?
Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. "Rachael Lily Rosenbloom and don't you ever forget it [1973], production." The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Rachael Lily Rosenbloom... and don't you ever forget it!

7 previews, November 26-December 1, 1973

The papers called it "the first intentionally campy musical in Broadway history" and "Broadway's first disco musical", but Paul Jabara's Rachael Lily Rosenbloom... and don't you ever forget it! packed her bags after only 7 previews at the Broadhurst in 1973.

The wild and fantastic tale of an average girl going from the Brooklyn fish market to the height of Hollywood glamour was created by Paul Jabara (composer, lyricist, co-book writer) who later went on to pen hits including "Last Dance," "The Main Event," and "It's Raining Men," and become a Grammy and Academy Award winner.

Rachael Lily Rosenbloom... was the brainchild of the then 25-year-old Jabara, who appeared in several Broadway shows and worshiped Barbra Streisand. The title character shared this trait, and the extra 'a' in Rachael was the one that 'Barbra' discarded from her name. The show even opened with a song called "Dear Miss Streisand" before hitting numbers with titles like "Cobra Woman," "Overdose," "Get Your Show Rolling," "Broadway Rhythm," and "Raquel Gives The Dish." The backstage atmosphere and onstage drama at the show was so crazy - from drug use to kicklines in g-strings - that it prompted several of the dancers to begin the talk sessions that would become the basis for A Chorus Line.

The show was directed by prolific downtown theatermaker Tom Eyen who later wrote book and lyrics for Dreamgirls. Its cast included Ellen Greene, Paul Jabara, Anita Morris, Marion Ramsey, Carole (Kelly) Bishop, André DeShields, Michon Peacock, Thommie Walsh, and Wayne Cilento.
In 2017, I was so thrilled to produce a return of Paul Jabara's Rachael Lily Rosenbloom...and don't you ever forget it! at 54 Below, the first time the show had been seen since its final Broadway preview in 1973. It was directed by Max Friedman, with orchestrations by Charlie Rosen and music direction by Natalie Tenenbaum, starring the great Bonnie Milligan in the title role. You can find clips of our concert version of the show on YouTube-it's a wild ride!

Senator Joe

3 previews, January 6-7, 1989

Senator Joe was a musical about Joseph McCarthy, which closed after three previews at the Alvin Theatre in 1989. The show was intended to be run in repertory with another new musical called Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, but only Senator Joe ever made it into previews before the whole enterprise was scrapped.

Tom O'Horgan, director of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar among other shows, strove to found a theatre company that combined pop music and opera and premiered new shows. Both Senator Joe and Nimrod were to be the work of this company. While the shows were in the process of being created, producer Adela Holzer came on board-and suddenly the two projects which had been intended as off-Broadway political cartoons were headed to Broadway.

Book and lyrics for Senator Joe were by Perry Arthur Kroeger, who had previously appeared in Hair. As Kroeger shared in my If It Only Even Runs a Minute concert series, "Everything ended on the morning of the fourth preview with Adela [Holzer] being arrested at a phone booth and being taken to Rikers Island. To this day, I do not fully understand how she was financing our production."

The Alvin (now Neil Simon) Theatre is the only Broadway theater to house two Broadway musicals that closed during previews (Little Prince and the Aviator, Senator Joe). Adela Holzer is the only producer of two Broadway musicals that closed during previews (Senator Joe, Truckload). Ellen Greene is the only star of two Broadway musicals that closed during previews (Rachael Lily Rosenbloom..., The Little Prince and the Aviator). Hugh Wheeler is the only book writer of two Broadway musicals that closed during previews (The Little Prince and the Aviator, Truckload).


6 previews, September 6-11, 1975

In 1975, the musical Truckload started previews at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway. One week, and six previews later, the show closed, without ever officially opening.

Truckload was produced by Adela Holzer, The Shubert Organization, and Dick Clark of American Bandstand. It was directed and choreographed by Pat Birch (Grease, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown), with book by Hugh Wheeler, lyrics by Wes Harris, and music by Louis St. Louis, who also appeared in the show.

In 1974, after St. Louis and Birch had done Grease, as well as Over Here! together, St. Louis wanted them to put together a concert. He played a song for her called "Truckload" and Birch was immediately inspired to craft a musical about being on the road, traveling with your friends, meeting all kinds of different people along the way.

The show featured all kinds of characters not usually featured in Broadway musicals. The score was eclectic, filled with different music genres brought to vibrant life by St. Louis. The centerpiece of the production was a giant monster truck center stage at the Lyceum, with St. Louis' piano built into it. Truckload encouraged the audience to get up and dance, including on stage with the performers. Birch aimed to turn the Lyceum into an immersive dance party.

Truckload's cast, filled with young talented performances, was especially devastated to find out after a preview, that the performance they'd just given was their last-the show would never happen again. I was lucky to interview actor Ilene Graff for my book series The Untold Stories of Broadway, and she told me:

"It was the worst disappointment of my life. I had been playing Sandy in Grease on Broadway, and I'd left to do Truckload. We didn't even get to open. To this day, I've had several series cancelled, pilots that didn't sell, shows that closed, projects that fell apart-but nothing has hurt close to the way that Truckload hurt at the time, because we all believed in it so much. I loved it! I loved singing those songs. I loved singing those backup parts-the backup parts in the show were to die for! Then, it was all over and it was horrible. After six previews.

The Shuberts had a hand in producing the show, and Phil Smith knew how crushed we all were. He came over to me and gave me his business card, and scribbled something on the back. A Chorus Line had just opened and of course, I knew everybody in the show and in the pit. He said, "Any time you want to go see A Chorus Line, show the ushers this card at the door, and they'll let you in." So I would go stand in the back of the Shubert and watch A Chorus Line and sob. There were all these people with jobs!"