From “Little Mary Sunshine” and “Dames at Sea” to “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Urinetown,” the musical theater has taken great pleasure in poking fun at itself. Not surprisingly, countless other show titles have been subjected to considerable abuse, many of which perfectly sum up a show’s shortcomings. Here’s a sampling of a few ageless gems along with some newer classics.
Two musicals that failed to keep audiences engaged prompted the following: “The Red Shoes” was caustically nicknamed “The Red Snooze,” while “Nick and Nora” became known as “Nick and Snora.” In 1990, British pop star Michael Ball recreated his role as the amorous Alex Dillingham when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Aspects of Love” transferred to Broadway. But the actor’s noticeable weight gain prompted many visitors to rename the show “Aspects of Love Handles.”
Some musicals never managed to find their audiences. The ill-conceived stage adaptation of James Clavell’s “Shogun” became known as “Show Gone” after its sudden demise, while the one-performance run of “Dance a Little Closer” was quickly dubbed “Close a Little Faster.” Ethel Merman, the legendary singer who created the role of Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” headed a celebrated revival two decades later. But at 57, Merman was considered by many to be too long in the tooth to play the celebrated sharpshooter. The 1966 revival was thereafter known as “Granny Get Your Gun.”
A regional production of the Irving Berlin classic featured a leading lady who was cast in spite of her rather large frame. That resulted in the production being called “Annie Weighs a Ton.” “Dreamgirls,” the six-time Tony Award winner from 1981, told a tale that closely resembled The Supremes’ rise to fame. But Jennifer Holliday’s powerhouse voice led many to call the show “Screamgirls.”
Even the legendary musical “Show Boat” has had its detractors. Based on Edna Ferber’s epic novel about three generations of theatrical performers who traveled the Mississippi, the musical has had to endure the titles “Slow Boat” and “Boat Show.” Frank Wildhorn’s “Jekyll & Hyde” recently returned to Broadway but the reviews for the 2013 revival were no kinder than those it received after its 1997 debut. In one production of this troubled musical, the leading man was a multi-personality kind of guy who also tended to be rather sarcastic. Some dubbed the show “Heckle & Jekyll & Hyde.”
It just proves that regardless of subject matter, star stature or the talents of the creative team, when it comes to humor in the musical theater, nothing is sacred.