It was a rare misfire from director Hal Prince, whose towering career includes artists like West Side Story, Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera. The audience was simply baffled. Prince resorted to sweatshirts with character names to help viewers identify people. It didn’t help. Nor did the replacement of James Weissenbach by Jim Walton as Frank at the last minute.
The production lasted only 52 previews and 16 performances. It was such a notorious flop, ending Sondheim and Prince’s successful partnership, that it became the subject of a 2016 documentary, The Best Worst Thing That Could Ever Happened. The film follows the strange roller-coaster ride of the performers, from the thought that they won the lottery, to a Sondheim musical while still teenagers, to the terrible disappointment when the audience came out, reviews surged, and it all came shivering. a break.
Some persevered in the business, including Jason Alexander (aka George Constanza in Seinfeld), who recalls his dread meeting Prince and Sondheim for the first time. “Who else could have been in this room – Christ and Moses?” Others, however, have been psychologically scarred by such intense failure and are still coming to terms with it. This pathos is a moving match with the actual themes of the series.
But while the documentary is an unqualified success, the musical has had a rockier run. It has been pieced together with numerous script revisions, various songs cut or added, as the directors attempt to submit it.
Curiously, it is British directors who have come closest, from Paul Kerryson’s Leicester production in 1992 to Michael Grandage’s Donmar Warehouse in 2000, and finally the revival of Maria Friedman’s Menier Chocolate Factory in 2012, which has moved to the West End amid rave reviews and will be released soon. to play Off-Broadway, with Daniel Radcliffe.
Gone was the confusion between children and adults, and Friedman in particular brought the convoluted spectacle to life with impressive clarity. This allowed the audience to focus on the emotion, rather than being overly dazzled by the intelligence.