Thursday, September 17, 2009


The movies are famous for sequels. Most, like remakes, are “at best unnecessary and at worst an insult to the originals”. However, while there are often revivals (more successful than movie remakes), Broadway musicals are not known for spawning sequels.

There has been no “West Side Story – The Next Generation”, “Return of the Music Man”, “Cabaret II – Back to Berlin”, or “Guys and Dolls and a Baby”.

But there have been, to my knowledge, three actual Broadway musical “sequels” – new musicals with the same characters and similar situations that take place after the original production. Since you have probably not heard of them you can correctly assume they were not box office, or critical, successes. Only two actually made it to Broadway.

The first is “Bring Back Birdie”, obviously a sequel to the classic “Bye Bye Birdie”, which had 31 previews and only 4 performances (the original had 607) back in early 1981 at the Martin Beck Theatre. It reunited the creative team of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams and librettist Michael Stewart. Chita Rivera reprised her roll as Rosie, but Albert and Mae Peterson, originally Dick Van Dyke and Kay Medford, were played here by Donald O’Connor and Maria Karnilova. There was no sign of the Peterson family from the original, the patriarch of which was Paul Lynde.

In the sequel, 20 years after the end of the original, Albert is offered twenty thousand dollars if he can find Conrad, who has disappeared into obscurity, and persuade him to perform on a television show. Albert takes a leave of absence from his job teaching English and locates Conrad, now overweight and the mayor of Bent River Junction, Arizona.

I was in the audience for one of the 35 performances. There was an unsuccessful try at updating the innovative “Telephone Hour” production number idea using videos. And Donald O’Connor almost attempted to reprise his “Singing in the Rain” off the wall back flip during one of his solo numbers – but thought better of it considering his age.

Despite its short run, Chita Rivera was nominated for a Tony and a Drama Desk Award as Best Actress in a Musical for BBB2. The original “Bye Bye Birdie” was nominated for, and won, many Tonys 20 years earlier, including a win as Best Musical, a nomination for Chita Rivera as Best Featured Actress in a Musical and wins for Gower Champion as Best Direction and Best Choreography. Dick Van Dyke also won a Tony.

Ken Mandelbaum writes in his book “Not Since Carrie, 40 Years of Broadway Flop” – “’Bring Back Birdie’ may rank as the worst Broadway musical ever to be created by top-level professionals. The book was tasteless and ridiculous.”

I met BBB librettist Michael Stewart, who also wrote the books for “Hello Dolly” and “42nd Street”, when he was a guest lecturer on one of my post-tax season transatlantic crossings on the QE 2 back in the 1980s. I saw the original "Bye Bye Birdie" during its Broadway run, but with "Match Game" host Gene Rayburn and not Dick Van Dyke.

“Annie”, which first promised Broadway audiences in early 1977 that “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow”, had not one but two attempts at a sequel. The first was “Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge”, which opened at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. in December 1989 to “universally disastrous reviews”. Wikepedia reports that “extensive reworking of the script and score proved futile, and the project was aborted before reaching Broadway”. The second attempt was made in 1993, with a completely different plot and score. “Annie Warbucks” opened off-Broadway at the Variety Arts Theatre, where it ran for 200 performances. It never made the transition to Broadway. I have not seen either sequel.

It is a coincidence that the music for “Annie” and “Annie Warbucks” was also written by Charles Strouse, although the lyrics were by Martin Charnin.

The third Broadway musical sequel, which did briefly make it to Broadway, was “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public”, which ran for 28 previews and 16 performances in the spring of 1994. The same creative team returned for the sequel, including Tommy Tune as co-director and co-choreographer. This musical told the tale of the best little whorehouse in Las Vegas.

Miss Mona, “madam” of the original Texas “Chicken Ranch”, is coaxed out of retirement to take over Las Vegas brothel “Stallion Fields”, which has been seized by the government and is being run by the IRS in the hope of recovering $26 million in back taxes. Mona is once again at odds with a zealous right-wing politician trying to close the “house” down.

The New York Times review indicated that, while it had all the glitz one expects from Las Vegas - and even had Siegfried and Roy (portrayed by one actor, half of whom is made up as Siegfried, the other half as Roy) - “What it ain't got is fun”.

Dee Hoty, “Miss Mona”, was nominated for a 1994 Tony as Best Actress in a Musical. I also did not see this apparent fiasco.

While “Lorelei”, which I did see, opens and ends years after the original “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” story takes place, is not so much a sequel as a revival of GPB – created to capitalize on the popularity of Carol Channing after “Hello Dolly”. So it doesn’t count. Lorelei remembers her earlier Atlantic crossing while embarking on another after many years of marriage.

“Lorelei” opened January 27, 1974, at the Palace Theatre and ran 320 performances. While it has updated lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and a new book by Kenny Solms and Gail Parent, it is really just the original "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" by Anita Loos and Joseph A. Fields with lyrics by Leo Robin with a few new scenes and songs thrown in to book-end the original story and score. The show also featured Peter Palmer (Broadway’s “Lil Abner”), Dody Goodman, and Lee Roy Reams, who would many years later again appear with Carol in one of her revivals of Dolly.

So there you have it – the extent of Broadway’s experimentation with sequels. Did I miss any?


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