When it comes to Broadway musicals, we try to accentuate the positive. We love to celebrate a genius breakthrough such as Hamilton. We get misty-eyed when the Tony Awards hand out prizes. We curate a list of the best Broadway shows because we want to share our enthusiasm. But anyone who enjoys song-and-dance spectacles has a dark side where they keep a list of the tackiest, dumbest musicals they’ve ever seen. Yes, there’s a flop vulture inside each of us, secretly hoping that musical X, Y or Z coming down the pike is going to be as crappy as it looks. Truth is, there are bad musicals which are merely mediocre and forgettable, and then there are dumpster fires aboard trains that are speeding toward the edge of cliff. Hence this list, a chronological reckoning of the worst Broadway musicals we’ve seen since 2000, a mix of horribly awkward outsider art, crimes against literature, bottom-feeder jukebox trash and deeply misconceived film-to-musical adaptations. They represent about 50 hours of agony, boredom and embarrassment in the theater. Yet today, we present them and say: Enjoy!
RECOMMENDED: Find every musical on Broadway right now
Worst Broadway musicals
Thou Shalt Not
Director Susan Stroman was on fire after the runaway success of 2001’s The Producers, but she doused her momentum in shallow water later that year at the helm of Harry Connick Jr.’s musical tragedy, set in 1940s New Orleans.
Opening date: October 25, 2001
From Jason Zinoman’s review: "Lincoln Center’s vulgar adaptation of Emile Zola’s Thérèse Raquin violates the first commandment of theater: Thou shalt not start slowly. What follows, if you need to know, is a misguided laughingstock of the variety that only Broadway can produce. Thou Shalt Not is a story of murder, green and sin—with a little tap dancing thrown in.”
Dance of the Vampires
Michael Crawford sucked hard as an aristocratic neck-biter pursued by a vampire hunter somewhere in the Carpathian Mountains. The bombastic, campy score was by Jim Steinman, including his hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
Opening date: December 9, 2002
From Jason Zinoman’s review: “Subtle, this ain’t. The overamped Vampires doesn’t just preach that bigger is better. Louder, brighter and hammier work too. Why have one dancing vampire, when you can crowd the stage with half a dozen Draculas kickin’ up their heels?”
A Texas honky-tonk with a mechanical bull (stay on it and win a cash prize) was the main setting for this country & western rom-com about a woman who has to choose between an ex-con and a hardworkin’ good ole boy.
Opening date: March 27, 2003
From David Cote’s review: “When not relying on pop-country classics and bump ’n’ grind line-dancing extravaganzas, the flimsy book veers between dumb jokes and pathetic stabs at character development. Woe betide anyone hankering for a well-crafted musical. You’d be looking for art in all the wrong places.”
Hoping to reproduce the success of his awful but long-running Jekyll & Hyde, composer Frank Wildhorn returned to Broadway with a synth-heavy, ultrabombastic musical fright fest that had critics running for rhetorical garlic.
Opening date: August 19, 2004
From Adam Feldman’s review: “Dracula plays like the longest and drippiest Meat Loaf video over, a dunderheaded pseudoromance that travesties Bram Stoker’s novel. (A Dracula who emerges from his coffin to sing ‘It’s hard to make each moment count when you’re alone / Maybe that’s all I need to know’ is unlikely to strike fear into anyone, except those with taste in lyrics.)”
A cast of five wore garbage, and sang it, in this loud and bizarre musical, presented as a play-within-a-play by homeless musicians under a bridge. Somehow it all ended with a sing-off between a French convent girl and an evil black diva at Madison Square Garden.
Opening date: October 21, 2004
From David Cote’s review: “The latest example of urban blight is Brooklyn, by far the biggest eyesore, earsore and brainsore on the Great White Way. An infantile urban fable periodically pierced by American Idol–style bellowing, Brooklyn wallows in trash of every kind. What it deserves from any self-respecting inhabitant of the five boroughs is a loud Bronx cheer.”
More than 30 Beach Boys songs were crammed into this story about a geeky high-school graduate and her three friends on a cross-country sojourn to California for surfing and romance.
Opening date: February 2, 2005
From David Cote’s review: “It’s the kind of embarrassing fiasco that only a committee of gutless and tasteless Broadway producers could foist on the public. The deformed hate child Mamma Mia! and Movin’ Out, it aspires to the ditsy hit-parade nostalgia of the former and the aerobic dance appeal of the latter.”
Another jukebox-musical misfire, this one with songs by visionary ex-Beatle John Lennon. A diverse nine-member ensemble trudged its way through Lennon’s hits in an abstract, high-concept staging.
Opening date: August 14, 2005
From David Cote’s review: “A ’70s-nostalgia wallow and peacenik hagiography implicitly pegged to the war in Iraq. Advance hype on this show was misleadingly dire. It’s not the car crash that flop vultures have hoped for, but that’s only because its engine never starts.”
In My Life
Joseph Brooks was best known for the treacly pop ballad “You Light Up My Life” when he wrote, directed and produced this gobsmacker about a young man with Tourette syndrome and a brain tumor. In the show’s takeaway number, a swishy angel sang “There’s a little rumor / Someone’s got a tumor,” then danced with a skeleton.
Opening Date: October 20, 2005
From David Cote’s review: “Delusions of grandeur clearly attended the clueless construction of this musical, in which people fall I love with undetectable chemistry, suffer without arousing pity and die with no other consequence than relief. Those who decry shows made by committee should be careful what they wish for: In My Life is the sound of one man flopping.”
An African-American twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Red Shoes” and Michael Powell’s 1948 movie, scored to pop hits by Earth, Wind & Fire. Maurice Hines choreographed and directed this flat-footed fable about a young dancer mixed up with a satanic impresario.
Opening date: April 30, 2006
From David Cote’s review: “This overamped, overacted eyesore barely sustains interest beyond the morbid kind: What new terpsichorean travesty will they foist on us next? In seeking to force the Faustian moral into a modern-day African-American context, Hines displays either flagrant ignorance, cynicism—or both.”
After the Dance of the Vampires and Dracula fiascos, Broadway hardly needed another bloodsucker musical, but it got a third anyhow in this Anne Rice adaptation, with a score by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. This one put the nail in the coffin—for now, at least.
Opening date: April 25, 2006
From Adam Feldman’s review: “Like any bogeyman in a B-grade fright flick, the vampire musical won’t stay dead. Just when it seemed safe to go to Broadway again, Lestat has swooped into the Palace. Is Elton John’s undead musical much better than its predecessors? The short answer is: no. The long answer is: no, no, no. Episodic and maudlin, the show is bound together by crimson kitsch."