Movie sequels succeed. Book sequels succeed. TV reboots do just fine. What’s the one thing in pop culture where a continuation of the story has almost never worked: stage musicals.
Bring Back Birdie
Bye Bye Birdie was a smash on the stage and the screen in the 1960s. A very thinly veiled adaptation of the real-life story of Elvis Presley getting drafted into the Army at the height of his fame and influence, it’s about a similar hip-swingin’ early rock n’ roll idol named Conrad Birdie who gets drafted and agrees to a publicity stunt before he ships off: He’ll kiss a female fan and debut a new song. So what happened to Conrad Birdie? Did he come back from the military, and eventually semi-retire to nightly shows in Las Vegas before dying in the bathroom in his early 40s? (You know, like Elvis?) Not exactly. In 1981, Bring Back Birdie debuted on Broadway, positing the story that after the events of Bye Bye Birdie, Birdie went bye-bye, in that he disappeared off the face of the Earth. Characters from the first musical must, well, bring back birdie. The show closed after just four performances, making it one of the biggest bombs in Broadway history.
The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public
The country music-inflected The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was a massive Broadway hit in 1978, striking just when country music was experiencing a major boom period. Inspired by a real-life Texas brothel called the Chicken Ranch, the risqué musical concerned a historic, beloved den of iniquity and the plucky working girls who ply thy their trade there. After running for 1,700 performances, a film version was made in 1982 starring Dolly Parton — and it made $70 million at the box office, at the time, the second-biggest movie musical gross of all time (after Grease). A sequel might have been a good idea, but creators might have waited way too long…and went with a bizarre premise. Opening in May 1994, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public found the original musical’s madam, Miss Mona, coming out of retirement to save a Las Vegas brothel that owes millions in back taxes. The solution: Miss Mona sells shares of the brothel on the New York Stock Exchange. An equal and incongruous mix of sex jokes and finance jokes, Public shut down after 16 performances.
Love Never Dies
The Phantom of the Opera holds the unique distinction of being the longest-running Broadway show of all time — it opened in January 1988 and it’s still playing nightly at the Majestic Theatre after more than 12,400 performances, and it’s based on Gaston Leroux’s 1909 gothic romance about a disfigured man who haunts the Paris Opera House only to fall into a love he cannot have with a singer named Christine. Webber started working on a sequel in 1990, which unlike its predecessor, isn’t based on a Leroux novel. The sequel, Love Never Dies, wasn’t ready for the stage until 2010, when it debuted on London’s West End. The plot: Christine receives a mysterious invite to perform on Coney Island. (Guess who sent the invite? Hint: It’s the Phantom.) The new musical was not well-received; Webber closed the first production down after a handful of performances for rewrites. Critics still didn’t like it, and neither did audiences. While it’s never even hit Broadway, Love Never Dies has been moderately successful as a touring production.