What do theatre critics know?
Well, sometimes very little.
There are those rare occasion when all the great and the good in the media, from the West End to Broadway to Blackpool, just can’t sniff out a hit.
Here’s the Blackpool Winter Gardens’ guide to some of the best musicals that were hated by the critics but loved by the public:
As a movie, and origin story of one of the best loved characters in children’s fiction, Finding Neverland ticked all the boxes. The story of J.M Barrie’s first play about the ‘Boy who Never Grew Up’ was of course a smash hit, so turning it into a musical was (probably) going to be a hit too.
Gary Barlow was the man up to the task, but not as far as the critics were concerned.
It received decidedly lukewarm reviews on opening. DC Theatre Scene’s Jonathan Mandell suggested that it had “cherry-picked Barrie’s biography to make it more family-friendly, and use it as a pretext for yet another packaging of the Peter Pan brand.” Whilst Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph said of the show that it “appears simply to be treading vacant air”.
None of this mattered however, as, according to The Mirror, Andrew Lloyd Webber had already emailed Mr Barlow to confirm that he had a huge hit on his hands. As some of the other examples show, Sir Andrew is worth listening to.
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of critical scorn was Cats. Upon the release of this 80’s classic the Daily News from the US said it “makes for a strained and eventually wearying evening.” But, this didn’t stop it from having a 17 month London run, and reaching 7,458 performances before it closed.
Andrew Lloyd Weber’s classic became the second longest running performance in Broadway history.
Despite even The Guardian calling a modern 2016 reboot ‘kitch, dated…yet strangely adorable’ there’s still a sense of ‘guilty pleasure’ about the whole show that means it’ll never quite go out of fashion.
It’s hard to believe now, but even Wicked, possibly the greatest smash hit musical of modern times, wasn’t many critic’s cup of tea on opening night.
When it debuted on Broadway in 2003 it met with a barrage of critical abuse. Newsday called it “overproduced, overblown, confusingly dark and laboriously ambitious jumble’ and the New Yorker said that of “The show’s twenty-two songs were written by Stephen Schwartz, and not one of them is memorable.”
Whatever they thought Wicked is still going and has notched up more than 4,000 performances, been seen by 38 million theatergoers and taken over $3.1 billion in ticket sales,
Yep, turns out there’s an Addams Family musical. But when a musical about the collapse of Enron can make big bucks, then why not?
The best of the terrible reviews probably comes from Ben Brantley in the New York Times who started his attack by saying: “Imagine, if you dare, the agonies of the talented people trapped inside the collapsing tomb called “The Addams Family.”…in this genuinely ghastly musical”.
It might not have been the mega-hit of the likes of Wicked or Cats, but the Addams Family ran for about a year and a half before heading out on multiple national tours.The $16.5 million production took $6.5 million in its first six weeks.
It even started a new run in Chicago in 2015.
What the public wants the public gets.
Evita too was panned on its musical debut. At least people are learning to trust Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tm Rice these days. In regular fashion The Daily News called it “spectacularly vulgar…dispiriting and even pointless” whilst the Wall Street Journal described it as “hopelessly muddled.”
Perhaps they missed the potential cultural impact of a musical that could tour not just the traditional Western English-Speaking markets, but in places like Italy, Brazil and Spain. Getting Madonna in the eventual film version showed just how powerful it was as a concept.
The version above stars Ricky Martin. What more do you want?
Coming up in Blackpool:
If you’re looking for your musical fix, then the Blackpool Winter Gardens has you covered.
Fancy taking a time warp to the Rocky Horror Picture Show, getting soppy at Ghost, or putting on your dancing shoes for Footloose? Then it’s all showing at the Winter Gardens this Autumn![Feature Image – CC Wikimedia Commons]