Have Any Broadway Plays Ever Closed Before They Opened?

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

By: Mar. 18, 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 plays 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.

Our last column was about the seven Broadway musicals that closed during previews. This column is about the nine plays that closed before they opened on Broadway in the last 100 years.

A Way of Life

9 previews, January 18-February 1, 1969

Produced by Edgar Lansbury (successful Broadway producer and brother of Angela) and Marc Merson, A Way of Life played nine previews before it closed prior to opening night at the ANTA Playhouse (now the August Wilson Theatre) in 1969.

A Way of Life was written by Murray Schisgal, who had previously written the smash hit play Luv, which ran on Broadway for more than 900 performances. A few years later, he returned to Broadway with two shows in the same season. One was A Way of Life which closed in previews, and the other was Jimmy Shine, which starred Dustin Hoffman and had a more respectable run of 161 performances.

Among the actors in A Way of Life were Estelle Parsons, Bob Dishy, and Lou Jacobi. Dishy replaced Elliott Gould in the play when the producers fired him during rehearsals. Gould found out something was wrong when he showed up at rehearsal and discovered he was locked out. This was right before he was cast in M*A*S*H*, which would bring his career to a new level.

The play was about two brothers, one of their wives, and two other blue collar workers, who all want something better than their current lot in life. It had an illustrious design team, including William and Jean Eckart (scenic design), Then V. Aldredge (costume design), and Tharon Musser (lighting design).

Schisgal begged Lansbury and Merson to close the play, which he felt had gotten too far away from his original intentions for it, and they complied. The play appeared again in 1971 with a completely different title, The Box Step, as well a completely different creative team. It played a three week run in Washington D.C. that was billed as "pre-Broadway", but never did transfer.

Bobbi Boland

7 previews, November 4-9, 2003

Six of the nine Broadway plays that have closed during previews in the last century were in the 1960s. This leaves one in the 1970s, one in the 1990s, and Bobbi Boland, the most recent play to close during Broadway previews, in 2003.

After a respectable off-Broadway run in 2001, the decision was made to move Nancy Hasty's play Bobbi Boland to Broadway in a new production, starring beloved television star Farah Fawcett in the title role. Fawcett would be making her Broadway debut, although she had appeared off-Broadway. (In 1983, her performance as a replacement in the play Extremities was so acclaimed that it won her the same role in the play's movie adaptation.)

Fawcett played the role of a former Florida pageant queen who now runs a charm school and tries to keep up appearances in her domestic life. The play took place in the 1960s.The main action revolved around a high stakes dinner party where Bobbi Boland and her husband were hosting his boss and the boss' mistress.

After seven previews, producer Joyce Johnson pulled the plug, reporting to the press that the show just did not work in a Broadway house.

Bobbi Boland also featured Kelli Giddish, of Law & Order: SVU fame, in her only Broadway credit to date.

Face Value

8 previews, March 9-14, 1993

Are you ready to take a meta-theatrical ride?

In 1991, when Miss Saigon opened on Broadway with a white actor (Jonathan Pryce) in the role of The Engineer, who is supposed to be partially of Asian descent, playwright David Henry Hwang was part of vocal protests against the casting.

Shortly after, Hwang's follow up to his acclaimed Broadway debut M. Butterfly in 1988 was a socio-political farce, Face Value, based on the events surrounding the Miss Saigon casting controversy. Face Value starred Mark-Linn Baker as a white actor cast as an Asian character in the fictional Broadway musical The Real Fu Manchu. Face Value was part show biz drama, part antic farce, part serious commentary on race and politics... and all of the parts didn't come together during its Boston tryout or its week of previews at the Cort. The show was Scott Rudin's debut as a Broadway producer. It was directed by Jerry Zaks, and the cast also included Jane Krakowski and BD Wong. Hwang and others involved later reflected that the play was attempted too quickly, without enough time for development and rewriting.

In 2007, a new play by Hwang called Yellow Face opened off-Broadway, telling a semi-fictionalized version of the autobiographical story about the playwright's experience with Face Value. Yellow Face won an Obie for Hwang and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Infidel Caesar

1 preview, April 28, 1962

The shortest-lived Broadway production on this list, Infidel Caesar played only one preview before disappearing into the mist, at the Music Box Theatre. There were rumors that the production was a cover up for the Mafia, with producers capitalizing the show at a far higher number than it actually cost and then escaping with most of it after just one preview.

William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was reimagined in modern-day Cuba, with Fidel Castro standing in for Caesar. According to reports, music with "a Latin Caribbean voodoo influence" would be played through speakers that were newly installed at the Music Box. (The theater's last musical had been Lost in the Stars more than a decade prior, which definitely did not utilize a large speaker system.)

The play was written and directed by Gene Wesson, whose previous credits included performing in two Broadway musicals: Happy Hunting and The Ziegfeld Follies of 1957. Wesson also appeared in Infidel Caesar, alongside fellow cast members Michael Ansara, John Cullum, James Earl Jones, Robert Earl Jones, and Ramon Novarro.

Ansara led the cast as Cesar, after previously appearing in the hit 1953 film adaptation of Julius Caesar starring Marlon Brando. He had played Pindarus in that adaptation, by Joseph Mankiewicz, and now he took on the task of embodying Castro as he played the lead on stage. Ansara had a successful career otherwise that also included leading the television series Broken Arrow and playing Commander Kang in Star Trek.

The rest of the cast included several legends who would find Infidel Caesar an odd footnote during long, illustrious careers. Cullum played Cassius, renamed Cassios, and later reflected that the set had been made of "thrift-store pillows" and "a papier-mâché mountain". James Earl Jones and his father Robert Earl Jones appeared on stage together in Infidel Caesar and did the same in an acclaimed off-Broadway hit called Moon on a Rainbow Shawl during the same season. James Earl Jones shared that this was a time of bonding and unprecedented closeness for the father-son pair, since James was raised by his grandparents and didn't actually meet his father until he was 21. Ramon Novarro, a legend of silent film and "the talkies" and groundbreaking actor in the Latinx community, made his only Broadway appearance in Infidel Caesar.

Stay tuned for Part 2: the other half of plays that have closed during Broadway previews in the last century!