What makes a theatrical disaster more than just an insufferable evening in the theater? It's that people keep referencing it for years...and years...and years.
>>"Mark Twain: The Musical" at the Hartford Armory: In a blatant attempt to attract tourism dollars, a long running show from Elmira, N.Y. (where Twain had a summer home) was brought to town in 1996. But the show was expensive, problematic and ran into problems from the beginning. To make matters worse, there was a torrential rainstorm on opening night attended by the governor and others in black-tie. The armory, fresh from its $10 million makeover, leaked like a sieve, drenching the sound system and forming a miniature Mississippi River in the foyer. The show was more corn than culture and was not embraced by the savvy Connecticut crowd. Because of ballooning start-up costs and low turn-out, the show ended more than $1 million in the red. "We took a large economic risk with a very persuasive salesperson," says one member of the non-profit board that brought the show to town. It closed after one summer.
>>"Pearls for Pigs" at Hartford Stage: The reviews placed the work in its avant garde context but the play, directed by Richard Foreman, alienated many of the theater's subscription-based audience, so much so that the show was used as a touchstone for years as the play most disliked over the years at the theater. But it's not as if audiences didn't know what they were getting into. Foreman staged Georg Buchner's "Woyzeck" in 1990 at the theater, but that production was described as "fairly classical." "Pearls" on the other hand was a show that embraced the director's avant garde and esoteric instincts —- and were not appreciated by even the most "expect the unexpected" Hartford Stage audience.
>>Attempts to revive the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford: For nearly 25 years, entrepreneurs, developers and politicians with stars in their eyes and dubious financial plans have tried to re-open the once-celebrated theater that closed in 1980. It was never independently successful even in its heyday in the '50s and '60s. Along the way, there was a bankruptcy, political finagling, and the millions in state and town money invested. The building, now owned by the town, is boarded up and cannot be used in its current state. A recent report said there "is little, if any interest in pursuing [any plans for a] theater renovation."
>>Mabou Mines production of "The Shorter Shaggy Dog Animation" at Long Wharf Theatre: In 1979, the avant garde off-Broadway theater company (which included Bill Raymond, now Hartford Stage's Scrooge in its annual "A Christmas Carol ") presented its latest show of unorthodox theater at New Haven's Stage II. The subscription audience did not cater to the production's surreal symbolism, giant puppetry and audio assaults. Many audience members headed for the exits, and not too quietly. "It began in dribs and drabs until halfway through the show the exodus seemed as if someone yelled "fire" in the small theater," I wrote at the time. "What the 'Shaggy Dog Animation' needed was a pooper scooper."
>>"Too Much Johnson" at Branford's Stony Creek Playhouse: In the summer 1938, Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre was set to produce its own version of William Gillette's comedy "Too Much Johnson" with Welles revising the work, chopping out huge chunks of the play's exposition, which he intended to replace with mini-films before each of the acts. Intended is the operative word. Welles never got around to finishing the film —- and it turned out that the theater didn't have the capacity to show it even if he had. Without the footage the play didn't make any sense. Still, on the wunderkind Welles' name alone it was a sell out. (Despite it being an epic mess, Katharine Hepburn saw Joseph Cotten in the play and decided that he was her leading man for "The Philadelphia Story''). A side note: The film footage, once thought forever lost, was discovered last year and was restored and finally screened. Welles' first entry in movie-making (three years before "Citizen Kane") is now seen as an invaluable piece of cinema history.
>>National Theatre of the Deaf embezzlement scandal: The widely acclaimed theater company co-founded in 1967 by set designer David Hays had a home base in Chester, an active touring schedule and a Tony Award. In 1994, executive director Charles M. Roper was was fired when an audit showed irregularities in the theater's books. In 1997, Roper pleaded guilty to having embezzled more $100,000 for his personal use and sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison. The theater lost its home and subsequent federal support that was a main source of its operating expenses. It has slowly recovered over the past 20 years and is currently located on the campus of the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford.
What are theatrical disasters that you have witnessed, either in a production or on grander scale? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.