The ‘Flop’ Musicals That Made a Comeback

LES MISERABLES UK TOUR. One Day More - The Company. Photo Danny Kaan
LES MISERABLES UK TOUR. One Day More - The Company. Photo Danny Kaan

In the fickle world of Broadway and beyond, not every show kicks off with fireworks and standing ovations.

Some, believe it or not, start as flops, only to whirlwind their way back to become full-blown phenomena. It’s like they say: It ain’t over till the fat lady sings…and then gets remixed, repackaged, and receives a Tony.
 

Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening, a rock musical about adolescent love, angst, and the pains of growing up initially made audiences and critics squirm in their seats. It took seven years of workshops and rewrites before finally making it to Broadway in 2006. Lo and behold, its raw energy, bold themes, and killer soundtrack eventually won hearts worldwide, earning it 8 Tony Awards. Talk about puberty hitting like a freight train.
 

Rent

rent no day but today

In the early days, Rent was just a little-known rock opera performed in a tiny workshop. It was the ’90s, and the world wasn’t quite ready for its gritty take on life, love, and AIDS in New York City. Fast forward, and Rent becomes a cultural milestone, running for 12 years and forever changing the landscape of modern musical theatre. Not bad for a show that started with the equivalent of couch change.
 

The Color Purple

Based on Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple faced its share of challenges when it hit Broadway in 2005. Critics were mixed, and audiences took time to warm up to its harrowing yet hopeful story. However, its 2015 revival brought fresh acclaim, shining a spotlight on its powerful music and storytelling, and earning it the 2016 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival.
 

Les Misérables

LES MISERABLES. One Day More.
LES MISERABLES. One Day More. Credit: Johan Persson

Initially, critics thought Les Mis was…well, miserable. Too long, too sad, they said. But the people? They couldn’t get enough of its epic tale of love, redemption, and revolution. From its shaky start in 1985, Les Misérables stormed the barricades of Broadway and London’s West End to become one of the most beloved musicals of all time. Who’s miserable now, critics?
 

Into the Woods

Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods mixed classic fairy tales with a dose of reality—and initially, not everyone was enchanted. It was complex, dark, and didn’t fit the usual musical mold. But as years passed, this intricate tapestry of stories found its audience, thrilling theatergoers with its wit, wisdom, and whimsy. Now, it’s a staple of both professional theaters and high school drama clubs alike.
 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Initially, audiences didn’t quite know what to make of Sondheim’s tale of revenge and meat pies. Yes, it was dark. Yes, it was bloody. But beneath the gore, there was genius. Over time, Sweeney Todd carved out its place as one of the most brilliant pieces of musical theatre, celebrated for its complex music, captivating story, and the way it pushes the boundaries of the genre.
 

Chicago

Chicago hit the Broadway scene in 1975, jazz hands a-blazing. But guess what? It initially got overshadowed by the disco fever of A Chorus Line. It took a revival in 1996 to show the world what it was missing: killer dance numbers, catchy tunes, and a satirical look at celebrity criminal culture. Now, it’s one of the longest-running shows in Broadway and West End history. Razzle dazzle ’em, indeed.
 

The Rocky Horror Show

rocky horror show

When it first appeared in the 70s, The Rocky Horror Show was too out there for many—a bizarre blend of science fiction, horror, and campy comedy. But what began as a cult classic in London quickly spread its fishnet-clad legs across the globe, becoming a beloved midnight movie experience and a staple of alternative theatre. Let’s do the time warp again!
 

Newsies

This show about the New York City newsboy strike of 1899 didn’t exactly scream hit musical at first glance. But after a lukewarm reception, Newsies reworked its act, tapping into the power of its energetic score and dynamic choreography. It quickly papered over its initial critiques, turning into a crowd-pleasing favorite that toured the world.

About the author: Rachel Wise

UK based freelancer journalist Rachel contributes regularly to Stageberry with features and interviews from the hottest new shows and stage stars.