Interview: Backstage Babble's Charles Kirsch Is Celebrating Flops at 54 Below

BACKSTAGE BABBLE CELEBRATES JOE ALLEN RESTAURANT honors 14 legendary flops on April 29th

By: Apr. 17, 2024
Interview: Backstage Babble's Charles Kirsch Is Celebrating Flops at 54 Below
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For his age, Charles Kirsch has an unbelievable wealth of experience. His podcast, Backstage Babble, gives a behind the scenes look at Broadway shows and the theater industry. On Monday April 29th at 7 pm, Kirsch will be hosting a special event at 54 Below paying tribute to 14 shows on the iconic “flop wall” at Joe Allen Restaurant.

BACKSTAGE BABBLE CELEBRATES Joe Allen RESTAURANT will feature singers including Tony nominee Brenda Braxton representing Legs Diamond, Drama Desk nominee Philip Casnoff representing Rockabye Hamlet, Robert Creighton representing Laughing Room Only, Tony nominee Anita Gillette representing Kelly, Tony nominee Josie de Guzman representing Nick and Nora, Tony nominee Willy Falk representing Marilyn, Tony nominee Beth Fowler, her husband Jack Witham, and singer Elena Shaddow representing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Tony nominee Amanda Green representing High Fidelity, Ruth Gottschall representing The Prince of Central Park, Tony nominee Michael Korie and Tam Mutu representing Doctor Zhivago, Michael Kubala representing A Broadway Musical, Heather MacRae representing Here’s Where I Belong, Jim Walton representing Merrily We Roll Along, and Martin Vidnovic representing Home, Sweet Homer. The evening will be accompanied by Michael Lavine.

We spoke with Kirsch about the upcoming show, and what he loves about flops.

How would you describe your upcoming show at 54 Below?

Backstage Babble Celebrates Joe Allen Restaurant will feature members of the original casts and creative teams of 14 musicals that have posters on the legendary “flop wall” at Joe Allen. Many people might know the names of, say, Laughing Room Only, The Prince of Central Park, and Doctor Zhivago from looking at the posters while they eat their burgers, but on April 29 at 7 pm, they will get the chance to hear (respectively) Robert Creighton, Ruth Gottschall, Tony-nominated lyricist Michael Korie, and Tam Mutu talk about and sing from these musicals. Of course, that’s just a small sampling of the legendary lineup for the night, which includes eight Tony nominees and many other wonderful performers. Something that this evening will prove is that “flop” isn’t a referendum on quality: after all, look at Merrily We Roll Along! Jim Walton, who played Franklin Shepard in the original production, is singing from the show, which has a poster up there, and as of this year the revival is now the biggest hit on Broadway! Who knows what other future classics you might have the chance to discover?

Where did the idea for this show come from? What drew you to talking about these historic flops?

The idea for this show was pitched by Pat Daily, the partner of the wonderful Tom Viertel, who runs 54 Below. I was honored to be asked to take on this theme, because, like any musical theater fan, I’m almost more obsessed with Broadway flops than long-running hits. I have a well-worn copy of Ken Mandelbaum’s legendary book, Not Since Carrie, which chronicles the history of many of the most famous Broadway misfires, and to me the most exciting feeling in the world is listening to the cast album of a show that you know wasn’t a success and finding so many hidden gems that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t the next Oklahoma!

If you had to pick, do you have a personal favorite flop of all time?

My favorite flop that isn’t on the Joe Allen wall (or at least not currently) is a musical called All American from 1962. It has a book by a young Mel Brooks and a score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, and it has a lot of really fun and catchy songs (including the breakout hit, “Once Upon a Time”) and a wacky story about a college professor who applies engineering logic to football to help the team succeed. Fun fact: the show’s ingenue role was played by Anita Gillette, who is singing from a different show of hers, Kelly, on the 29th! In terms of the Joe Allen flops, a lot of them sadly don’t have cast albums, so I don’t know them too well, but I think the show Legs Diamond, which Brenda Braxton is singing from, has a really fun Golden Age-style score.

What's coming up next for you? Do you have anything else in the works for Backstage Babble podcast?

In July, I’m producing my next 54 Below show, a concert of the musical The Rink. In terms of Backstage Babble, I’m approaching my 200th episode, and have a very exciting guest in store for that special occasion! Upcoming interviewees include 10-time Tony nominee Graciela Daniele, two-time Tony winner Jerry Mitchell, and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright. It’s been so rewarding to get to meet so many legends of Broadway through the podcast and the 54 Below shows, and I can’t wait to keep going!

Is there anything else that you'd like to add?

Just that I’m really excited about the show on the 29th, and the unprecedented opportunity to hear so many songs that have never been recorded or performed since the original productions of the shows they were in. Rehearsals have been going extremely well, with the music in the masterful hands of Michael Lavine, who I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with several times now. I think any theater fan (in or out of New York, thanks to the livestream option) won’t want to miss this evening.

Tickets to Backstage Babble Celebrates Joe Allen Restaurant are available on 54 Below's website.

Learn more about Charles Kirsch and Backstage Babble here.


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