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Broadway Musicals You Might Have Forgotten

Some Broadway musicals have titles that will be remembered forever, like Cats, Annie, Les Miserables, and The Phantom of the Opera. Other titles might have faded away in time and did not have a long pop-culture shelf life. Here are six musicals that you might have forgotten about including Smile, which was recently featured in the Howard documentary on Disney+.

Smile (1986)

Smile tells the behind-the-scenes story of the backstage antics of teens competing in a beauty pageant. It starred a young, 24-year-old Jodi Benson before she voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Who wrote the songs? Music by Marvin Hamlisch; Book by Howard Ashman; Lyrics by Howard Ashman

When did it run? Smile opened November 24, 1986, and closed January 3, 1987, after 11 previews and 48 performances at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

Why is it forgotten? A cast album was never made and it “had too many cooks in the kitchen,” Benson believes. “We had over 20 producers and they all had input. Howard and Marvin were not on the same page. They were really oil and water. They saw things differently. They were not a great team.”

Other recognizable names: Veanna Cox and Ruth Williamson.

60 Minutes followed the show’s journey to Broadway.

Bring Back Birdie (1981)

The sequel to Bye Bye Birdie. The musical starred Donald O’Connor as Albert and Chita Rivera reprised her role as Rose Alvarez. She was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance. It followed the now-married couple twenty years later as they tried to get Conrad Birdie to perform for one night only.

Who wrote the songs? Book by Michael Stewart; Music by Charles Strouse; Lyrics by Lee Adams. This is the same team that wrote the original 1960 hit.

When did it run? Bring Back Birdie opened on March 5, 1981, and closed two days later on March 7, 1981, after 31 previews and 4 performances at the Martin Beck Theatre.

Why is it forgotten? In it’s New York Times review, Frank Rich wrote: “Instead of doing Bring Back Birdie, these people should have brought back Bye Bye Birdie. Or maybe they should have left their, and our, fond memories in peace.”

Other recognizable names: Maurice Hines, Bill Bateman, and Cleve Asbury.

Here’s a clip from Act One of Bring Back Birdie.

Starmites (1989)

There’s Starlight Express which is not to be confused with Starmites. The sci-fi musical, about a teenager (Liz Larsen) and her comic book collection, takes place on Earth and Innerspace. It was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Choreography. 

Who wrote the show? Music by Barry Keating; Lyrics by Barry Keating; Book by Stuart Ross and Barry Keating.

When did it run? Starmites opened on Broadway at Criterion Center Stage Right on April 27, 1989, and closed June 18, 1989, after 35 previews and 60 performances.

Why is it forgotten? “Yes, that old story,” Angela Lansbury quipped of the quirky plot at the Tony Awards that didn’t seem to resonate with an audience at the end of the decade. Despite six nominations, it won zero. The seven-minute performance on the award show was not enough to boost ticket sales. “There is too much romance and not enough warfare, too many dumb numbers and nothing great in the way of special effects,” the review in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated.

Starmites at the Tony Awards.

The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public (1994)

Dee Hoty starred in this musical that was the sequel to 1978’s The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. She scored the only Tony Award nomination for the show that year. The plot according to Concord Theatricals is, “The I.R.S. seized a Nevada brothel in lieu of millions in back taxes and brought in Miss Mona to recover that big chunk of money.”

Who wrote the show? Book by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson; Music by Carol Hall; Lyrics by Carol Hall

Notable director and choreographer: Co-direction by Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune; choreography by Tommy Tune and Jeff Calhoun.

Notable costume designer: Bob Mackie

When did it run? The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public opened on May 10, 1994, and closed May 22, 1994, after 28 previews and 16 performances at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

Why is it forgotten? Perhaps theatre-goers were disappointed when they didn’t leave winning any money with the sound of slot machines in the lobby. According to the NY Daily News, it lost a reported $8 million after getting mostly negative reviews. “The last new show of the Broadway season is also the worst,” wrote Variety. Like Bring Back Birdie, the original is the one to remember.

Other recognizable names: Casey Nicholaw was in the ensemble.

Dee Hoty sings “I’m Leavin’ Texas” from the musical.

Bring It On: The Musical (2012)

This summer, the high school cheerleading face-off cult-classic film Bring It On celebrates its 20th anniversary of opening in theaters August 22, 2000. The stage version, nominated for Best Musical at the Tony Awards, followed a storyline based on the motion picture about rival squads competing for the national title. It’s often forgotten that some of Broadway’s best creatives worked on this show. When Bring It On opened in 2012, it featured a relatively unknown cast at the time who have now all gone on to stardom including Taylor Louderman, Adrienne Warren, and Ariana DeBose.

Who wrote the show? Book by Jeff Whittey, Music by Tom Kitt and Lin-Manuel Miranda; Lyrics by Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda; Music arranged by Tom Kitt and Alex Lacamoire 

Notable Direction and Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler who was nominated for a Tony Award for best choreography.

Notable Scenic Design: David Korins

When did it run? Bring It On opened August 1, 2012, and closed December 30, 2012, after playing 21 previews and 121 performances at the St. James Theatre.

Why is it forgotten? 3 of the 4 Hamilton creators awarded with Kennedy Center Honors were part of the making of this musical but their two other musicals have become more mainstream in pop culture. Bring It On came in between Hamilton (2015) and In The Heights (2009). Vox called it an “underappreciated gem.”Bring It On doesn’t break new ground, but it kept me smiling,” wrote the NY Daily News in its review. 

Other recognizable names: Kate Rockwell, Joshua Henry, Alysha Umphress, and AJ Blankenship 

Adrienne Warren and the cast of Bring It On on America’s Got Talent.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1966)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a musical based on the 1961 film starring Audrey Hepburn – that never even opened! David Merrick was at the helm of this show that starred Mary Tyler Moore as Holly Golightly and Richard Chamberlin as Jeff Claypool.

Who wrote the show? Book by Edward Albee; Music by Bob Merrill; Lyrics by Bob Merrill 

Notable choreography: Michael Kidd

When did it run? It ran for four preview performances starting on December 12, 1966, and closed December 14, 1966, at the Majestic Theatre.

Why is it forgotten? Producer David Merrick “threw in the towel,” according to the NY Daily News before opening night. Not too many people got to see it. In 2013, a play-version starring Emilia Clarke was adapted for the stage, but like the musical, it had a short shelf life on Broadway with 17 previews and 38 performances.

Other recognizable names: Priscilla Lopez

Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.