Broadway or No Way?

by Staff

One of the amazing things about New York City theater is that virtually any subject can form the basis of a Broadway or Off-Broadway musical: Mormons, profane puppets, a boy ballet dancer and Jesus of Nazareth have all had their day in the spotlight, and each has garnered critical acclaim. Certain characters or topics might seem unlikely makings for a hit show—one might have reasonably doubted the commercial potential of a musical adaptation of a 1968 film about an upbeat Broadway show about Adolf Hitler (in other words, The Producers)—but deft hands can craft compelling stories and songs from such raw material. In that vein, no scenario or story line is out-of-bounds, and it's hard to distinguish a pipe dream (Space Invaders the Musical?) from an actual project. We've assembled an overview of upcoming, current and former productions, some real and some not so much. See if you can distinguish between the two—and once you've made the call, scroll down to the bottom for an answer key. Happy April Fools' Day!

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1. Varsity Blues

James Van Der Beek reprises his role as the bright, morally conflicted high school quarterback Jonathan Moxon in this adaptation of the 1999 cult-favorite film. The production's showstopping number, “I Don't Want…Your Life,” includes an intricate tap-dancing routine. Unfortunately, it seems Jon Voight will not return to play Coach Kilmer and belt out the blues song “The Forward Pass Will Never Be an Effective Strategy in Football.” Producers are targeting spring 2014 for the show's Broadway debut.

2. Movin' Out

Mondo-platinum pop-rock star Billy Joel's music takes center stage in this rock ballet, directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp and featuring a piano man and his band. The characters—who include young couple Brenda and Eddie (from “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”) and, naturally, Anthony, or Tony, from the title song—don't speak any dialogue throughout the show, expressing themselves only through rhythmic movement to such hits as “We Didn't Start the Fire,” “Pressure” and “Only the Good Die Young.” The production premiered on Broadway in October 2002 and ran until December 2005.

3. The Hulk: Lean Green Protein Machine

Although Bono and The Edge of U2 became known on the Great White Way for their involvement in the 2011 hit Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, this jazzy 2007 Off-Broadway work, which starred actor Robin Williams as both Bruce Banner and the viridian-hued titular character, marked the dynamic duo's first foray into live theater. The show follows the misadventures of Banner, an unassuming Manhattan physicist navigating the thickets of NYC's online-dating jungle. Banner goes on a series of promising dates with a variety of women—a stylish Madison Avenue fashion executive, a high-powered Wall Street analyst, a Williamsburg oyster shucker/model-schooner-builder—but each time, just as the lonely scientist thinks he's made a love connection, his alter ego's picky personality causes the fledgling romance to wither. Though songs like “Your Haircut Make Hulk Mad” and “Hulk Hate Sashimi” eventually became underground hits, the production closed after just 11 performances. According to the New York Post, it wasn't a total loss: the show did move both TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to tears.

4. Against All Odds: The Phil Collins Story

Take a look at him now: former Genesis front man Phil Collins' life story comes to the stage, scored by fan favorites like “One More Night,” “I Don't Care Anymore” and “Easy Lover.” A staging of “Take Me Home” was notable for its nod to the song's music video, with a hot tub on the back of a limousine live onstage. The production opened on Broadway in the fall of 2006 and ran until the following summer.

5. Te'o! Based on a True Hoax

The sad tale of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, whose long-distance girlfriend never existed, had a natural dramatic arc. Now, the ripped-from-the-headlines story is set to make its Off-Broadway debut, with book and lyrics written by the same team that crafted the much-talked-about baseball play Take Me Out, which debuted Off-Broadway in 2002 and premiered on Broadway in 2003. The show will open in fall 2014; Steven Soderbergh, having retired from filmmaking, is slated to direct, and Matt LeBlanc is lined up for the title role, with Tony Danza playing his father.

6. The Warriors: Home Before Sunrise

With a book by Ethan Hawke and music by The Strokes' Julian Casablancas, The Warriors: Home Before Sunrise is the latest installation of a franchise that began with Sol Yurick's 1965 novel The Warriors and has most recently included a video game in 2005 and a video/computer game in 2009. The Broadway production turns meta when the Warriors, making their way from the Bronx to Brooklyn while trying to avoid rival gangs, break into a Times Square theater through a back door, only to find themselves onstage before a full house. To avoid the police, the crew “improvises” a showstopper before continuing on its journey.

7. Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge

Annie is one of the most beloved characters in Broadway history—but this sequel, whose story line revolved around antagonist Miss Hannigan's attempt to get back at her nemesis, closed in early 1990 after a short test run in Washington, DC. The bizarre plot involved Miss Hannigan—who began the show in prison—scheming to kidnap and murder the lovable redhead. It never did reach the Great White Way.


8. Battle of the Boy Bands

It's 2000 and the hottest boy bands of the decade, 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, are in a heated competition to win the hearts of poster-waving, screaming fans across the country. Will the struggles caused by tabloid drama, tour stress and members threatening a solo career derail their climb to the top? Battle of the Boy Bands is currently in early-stage production talks, but word is the show would feature hit songs like “Bye Bye Bye,” “It's Gonna Be Me,” “I Want It That Way” and “Everybody (Backstreet's Back).” And there's always the possibility for a casting coup: Justin Timberlake playing himself in what would be his Broadway debut.

9. Rocky

Debuting in Germany in November 2012 as Rocky das Musical, this adaptation of the 1976 classic—shepherded to stage by Sylvester Stallone and directed by Alex Timers, a Tony Award nominee—is slugging its way to a successful run overseas. Broadway producers were invited to see the show in Hamburg; whether Balboa's story (“the David Fincher version of Rocky,” according to Timbers) can make it in the heavyweight division of the theater world is yet to be seen.

10. Mean Girls

Tina Fey's eminently quotable 2004 movie is now on its way to Broadway. A musical version of Mean Girls, which dramatizes the catty and conniving battle between Cady, the new student, and The Plastics, a popular clique that rules the school, is in development. The much-anticipated adaptation—whose score is being penned by Fey's husband, Jeff Richmond—could debut in as early as a year or two. The project might just be the perfect vehicle for Lindsay Lohan's comeback.

11. Viva Forever!

Fans of '90s pop went wild for this tale of a young singer struggling with fame that incorporates music from the Spice Girls when it debuted at London's Piccadilly Theatre late last year, though critics were less receptive. Producer Judy Craymer is in the process of overhauling the sets and script—packed with 16 of the group's hits—to ready the musical as it transitions from the West End to the Great White Way. The show's fate remains in question. Might Posh Spice call in hubby David Beckham to save the day?

12. Girl, You Know It's…

“Girl, you know it's—
Girl, you know it's—
Girl, you know it's—”
[Fade to black]

The year was 1989, and Milli Vanilli was on top of the world. The duo's first single, “Girl You Know It's True,” was certified platinum in the United States by early April—its namesake album would go nearly six times platinum by the end of December, and months later the pair would win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist—and subsequent releases “Baby Don't Forget My Number,” “Girl I'm Gonna Miss You” and “Blame It on the Rain” all hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Cut to a July performance at a Connecticut theme park that was broadcast live on Club MTV and the moment that would forever change the music world. Girl, You Know It's… explores what would've become of Milli Vanilli had the song not skipped. Don't miss Don Cheadle (Fab Morvan) and Lenny Kravitz (Rob Pilatus), each making their Broadway debut in this show.

13. Perfect Strangers: The Musical

Sometimes the world looks perfect, nothing to rearrange. Sometimes you just get a feeling like you need some kind of change. Cue Perfect Strangers: The Musical (a Miller-Boyett production), which, amazingly, features all original cast members from the popular TV show. “Cousin” Larry Appleton and Balki Bartokomous are back, and this time the tables have turned: Larry finds himself needing a couch to crash on after Jennifer kicks him out, so he turns to Balki. Together, Balki and Mary Anne and their three kids (each eerily similar to Balki, Mary Anne or Larry) come up with a plan to help Larry win back his wife. The show premiered at the Chicago Theatre, of course, and audience members enjoyed it so much they did the “Dance of Joy” in the aisles. We hear producers are working on a Family Matters spin-off, and with a reception like the one for Perfect Strangers: The Musical, nothing's gonna stop them now. Thinking about skipping this one? Don't be ridiculous.

14. Manilow on Broadway

Brooklyn boy Barry Manilow recently headlined his own show on the Great White Way—or, should we say, Memory Lane. The production was autobiographical in style as Manilow, the self-described “Justin Bieber of the '70s,” wove tales from his New York City life between the songs. The Fanilows in the crowd often accompanied him (he writes the songs that make the whole world sing, after all), jumping up to dance and waving theater-issued green glow sticks in the air. Opening night was postponed due to the singer's bout with the flu, but Manilow made it through the rain, and the show debuted on January 29 of this year. (The after-party was held—where else?—at the Copacabana.) The five-week run ended on March 2, but perhaps Manilow will be ready to take a chance again soon with another stint on Broadway.


15. This Girl is on Fire

In late 2011, the Alicia Keys–produced Stick Fly debuted on Broadway. The play, which featured new music from the “Empire State of Mind” singer, closed after only a few months of performances. However, that's not something Keys is anticipating with her white-hot new show, ThisGirl is on Fire, starring Patina Miller (when she's not performing in Pippin, that is). It's not about the R&B songstress herself; it's the story of just a girl on fire. Rather, she looks like a girl, but she's really a flame, a flame so bright she can burn your eyes. There's even a flame in her eyes. Her head is in the clouds, but she manages to keep both feet on the ground as she's walking on fire—and still be on top of the world, all the while knowing she can fly away. She lights up the night, but, deep down, she's a lonely girl. Because she's just a girl and she's on fire. (Ticket prices include a $3 surcharge for protective eyewear.)

16. Rock 'n' Roll High School: The Ramones Musical

Sean Penn starred as the raucous Eric Spinelli in this loosely based adaptation of the 1979 film Rock 'n' Roll High School. Spinelli and his crew of rabble-rousers do everything they possibly can to ruin the lives of the teaching staff at Chester Carlson High School in Rockaway, Queens. When school principal George Tune promises to let only well-behaved students attend a special concert by Spinelli's favorite band, the Ramones, the rebellious teen devises a plan to forcibly take over the school. With the help of the group—Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Marky—the students force Principal Tune and his faculty to relinquish control of the school, allowing Joey Ramone to take the reins. The musical ends with a full-cast chant of “Gabba Gabba Hey” that lasts for 15 minutes. The production had a Broadway run that stretched from 1983 to 1985.

17. Trapped in the Closet

Based on a series of R. Kelly songs (or “chapters”), each with its own music video, this hip-hopera follows the story of Sylvester, played by Jamie Foxx, as he finds himself in a precarious situation after spending the night with a woman who isn't his wife. Sylvester is forced to hide in a closet when she reveals that her husband, Rufus (Blair Underwood), is about to walk into the room. But Rufus, like the other characters in the tale, has secrets of his own. Composed of 10 separate acts, Trapped in the Closet is considered the lengthiest musical in Broadway history, with a running time of approximately 10 hours. It opened in the spring of 2011 and closed after just 14 performances. Producers cited the cast's exhaustion as the main impediment to an ongoing run.

18. Titanic

Set on the ill-fated ocean liner, Titanic intertwines the stories of first-, second- and third-class passengers during their voyage to America. As they sail on, J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, which owned the vessel, puts pressure on the crew to increase the Titanic's speed, despite objections from the ship's designer. After the Titanic hits an iceberg, many passengers don't realize the extent of the damage, then find themselves reflecting on love, ambition and mortality as the ship sinks. The musical opened in 1997 and went on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, before closing in 1999.

19. Spandex the Musical

As one of the most-worn synthetic fibers in history, spandex is natural fodder for Off-Broadway, and it's about time someone told the material's story. Set in 1987, Spandex follows two characters—a bullied housewife and a down-and-out former gymnast—who find their fullest potential through aerobics, an exercise form facilitated enormously by spandex. A domineering teacher, however, seeks to smother their newborn empowerment. With a new fitness guru in tow, the duo and their fellow classmates challenge the mullet-donning nemesis at the Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship, hosted by Alan Thicke. The musical, sponsored by Crunch Gyms, is set for a short run in May 2013.

20. Carrie: The Musical

This production, based on American horror maestro Stephen King's 1974 novel, has a long (and scary) history. It was mounted on Broadway in 1988 at a cost of around $8 million, an extraordinarily large sum at the time. It closed after just 16 previews and five performances, which made it one of the most expensive theatrical debacles of all time. The show saw a brief Off-Broadway revival in 2012, in a reimagined work that takes place today, and lives on as a cult classic—as you'd expect, considering the script was helmed by Lawrence D. Cohen (who wrote the screenplay for Brian De Palma's 1976 film version of the story) and the songs were by celebrated composers Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford (who collaborated on three songs for the movie Fame, including the title track). The musical is about high school outcast Carrie White, whose strengthening telekinetic powers and ultra-oppressive mother prove to be an explosive combination. When Carrie is asked to the prom by one of the most popular boys at school, she's initially thrilled. But after attending the dance turns out to be a humiliating experience, there are deadly consequences for all. Songs from the original production include “Out for Blood” and “Wotta Night.”

21. Notorious B.W.Y.

This exploration of the music and life of Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls aka The Notorious B.I.G.) rides the waves of Brooklyn boosterism and '90s nostalgia, complete with set and lighting design by Hype Williams and musical direction by Sean “Diddy” Combs. Combs remixes classic Notorious B.I.G. jams (“Big Poppa,” “Juicy”) as well as exclusive unreleased material from the Bad Boy Records archives to tell Biggie's story from the point of view of a young Wallace imagining his future: “It was all a dream….”

Answer Key:

1. Fake 2. Real 3. Fake 4. Fake 5. Fake 6. Fake 7. Real 8. Fake 9. Real 10. Real 11. Real 12. Fake 13. Fake 14. Real 15. Fake 16. Fake 17. Fake 18. Real 19. Real 20. Real 21. Fake