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What Could Have Been: Theater
  • W. S. Gilbert:
    • The author wrote an early draft of Patience in which the object of the twenty lovesick maidens' affections was not an aesthete but the mystic Revd Lawn Tennison.
    • Probably the best libretto Gilbert wrote after The Yeomen of the Guard was His Excellency. It has a clever premise, some superb lyrics, fantastic characters, including two of the best female characters Gilbert ever wrote... and Sullivan rejected it because Gilbert wanted to cast the woman he was to adopt as his daughter, Nancy MacIntosh, as one of the leads, and, while there's a couple good tunes in it, most of them are pretty dull, making it unperformable.
    • Oh, and there was also talk of Gilbert and Sullivan doing a version of Frankenstein.
  • Jerome Robbins originally pitched West Side Story as a story about antisemitism and strife between the Italian-American Jets and the Jewish-American Emeralds. The Maria character was to be a holocaust survivor, and the story would have taken place over the Easter-Passover season.
  • Cirque du Soleil's 20th anniversary book 20 Years Under the Sun (2004) mentions several shows and concepts that didn't come to fruition as originally conceived; there have been more such cases since:
    • Eclipse was planned as Cirque's first tour after their breakthrough Le Cirque Réinventé (1987), reaching the workshop stage. But many Reinvente performers wanted to be in it while Cirque co-founder Guy Laliberte wanted to cast a new lineup. Plus, the company's artistic director Guy Caron objected to Cirque becoming a for-profit organization and parted ways with it (he'd return to direct Dralion in 1999); several performers followed suit, and financing fell through. After some regrouping, ideas developed and performers recruited for Eclipse were incorporated into 1990's Nouvelle Experience, and "Eclipse" is the title of one of its underscore numbers.
    • Cirque's first Las Vegas show, Mystere (1993), was originally pitched to Caesars Palace in 1990 and had a Greco-Roman mythology theme to fit the locale. The show was finally staged at rival hotel-casino Treasure Island, absent the original theme.
    • Casino mogul Steve Wynn wanted Cirque to stage a giant outdoor aquacade stunt show for his new Bellagio Hotel and Casino — they quickly scaled it down into the show that became "O" (1998). Initially, it was to have given equal time to both water and fire-based acts. (Notably, the later Vegas production KA (2005) has a fire motif.)
    • Plans for a Variety Show variant to set up residency in Macau, China were scrapped after the "traditional" show ZAIA (2008) opened there to weak ticket sales.
    • Early press releases for Criss Angel Believe (2008) had Criss playing an "enigmatic Victorian noble" and no mention of the All Just a Dream framework of the finished show, which (when it opened) started as a conventional magic show until a stunt "went wrong" and the setting changed to a dream unfolding in his head. (Perhaps Cirque worried that Criss's fanbase would feel cheated if he wasn't his usual stage self?)
    • Banana Shpeel (2010) was originally going to be a hybrid of the company's house style, Vaudeville, and The Musical. The third style was dropped when the storyline threatened to overshadow the different variety/comedy acts intended as the show's backbone, and among the characters (and performers) dropped were a romantic couple. This happened so late in development that one of the dropped musical numbers, led by the axed couple, had already been featured in a preview on the 2009 season finale of America's Got Talent. Details here. In the wake of the poorly-reviewed Chicago tryout, enough changes were implemented to the point that the New York opening was delayed three-plus months. It wound up closing early and an aborted tour confirmed the show as a Dork Age.
    • While Viva Elvis (2010) made it to the stage of the Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the plans for a similar European tour based around Elvis Presley's work never panned out, possibly due to the Great Recession. That could also explain why a Dubai resident show was cancelled around the same time.
    • Viva Elvis closed in 2012. Cirque and MGM Mirage Resorts considered restaging Tokyo Disneyland's ZED in the Aria's theater as a replacement (the original production closed after the post-earthquake tourism slowdown in 2011). But its format was too similar to that of their first, still-running Vegas show Mystere, and the theater would have to be remodeled for it. Instead they moved the tour Zarkana, which had neither problem, into the Aria and incorporated two ZED acts into Mystere.
    • MGM Mirage wanted Cirque to develop a show for yet another of their Vegas hotel-casinos, Excalibur, possibly one specifically for kids as a counterpart to the adults-only Zumanity across the street at New York-New York. But the established showroom — a small arena built on an underground level of the property — couldn't be refurbished and expanded on the scale that a Cirque show would require. Instead, the arena's established Long Runner Tournament of Kings enjoyed a refreshed physical production in 2012.
  • Annie Get Your Gun was originally supposed to have a score composed by Jerome Kern, with co-librettist Dorothy Fields providing the lyrics. It was only after Kern died that Irving Berlin was hired to write the score, considered by many his greatest.
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber originally sought Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady, Camelot, etc.) to write the lyrics for The Phantom of the Opera, but Lerner was too ill to do so. Similarly, he also tried to recruit Jim Steinman as the lyricist, but that too came to naught.
    • Lloyd Webber initially had an entirely different tone in mind for Phantom, conceiving it as a campy rock musical with Steve Harley in the title role. (The remnants of this idea can still be heard in the drum-and-electric-guitar laced title song.) After Lloyd Webber read the original novel, the musical's style shifted towards romantic melodrama, and Colm Wilkinson played the part in a "proto-staging" at Sydmonton and was considered for the lead (and would eventually play it in the Toronto cast) — but he was busy with Les Miserables at the time, ultimately leading to the successful against-type casting of Michael Crawford.
    • Phantom has a long and storied production history, which include robotic mice with glowing red eyes, an animatronic horse and live doves. A live elephant was briefly considered!
    • The 2010 Phantom sequel Love Never Dies originally was to open in London, New York City, and Shanghai at the same time — an absolutely unprecedented idea that was just too big to pull off. (Later plans to open the Broadway production just months after London's were scuppered thanks to poor critical and audience response.) Lloyd Webber was working on a sequel from 1990 onwards; Frederick Forsyth's novel The Phantom of Manhattan was derived from collaborative work he did with Lloyd Webber on its storyline late in The Nineties. Originally, the showpiece song was to be "The Heart Is Slow to Learn", previewed at a Lloyd Webber tribute concert in the late '90s; after its melody was recycled for a song in The Beautiful Game/The Boys in the Photograph, it became the basis for the title tune of Love Never Dies.
  • Follies was originally planned as, in Sondheim's words, "a kind of murder mystery, a who'll-do-it rather than a whodunit." The authors eventually decided to cut out the part where Sally, Ben, Phyllis and Buddy would try to kill each other for the wrongs done by their past selves.
  • The list of incomplete and planned-but-never-composed operas is huge, but probably no "what could have been" is more intriguing than a King Lear by Giuseppe Verdi.
  • Many musicals have at least one song that got cut during the development stages.
  • Disney Theatricals could-have-beens:
    • Tarzan was originally planned as a Cirque du Soleil-style tour in a tent (it was eventually staged in a circus format in Europe).
    • Matthew Bourne was originally tapped to direct and choreograph The Little Mermaid.
    • Hoopz — a musical about the Harlem Globetrotters.
    • When You Wish was effectively a "Disney's Greatest Hits Album" for the stage. It was reworked into On the Record, a U.S. tour that was intended for Broadway (and even had a cast album recorded and released) but died on the road.
    • For a long time, there was talk of a stage version of Pinocchio that would have been helmed by Julie Taymor.
    • After the success of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, Disney started looking at other films in their arsenal to adapt to the stage. One was Pocahontas, although it was fairly quickly shot down — long stretches of Pocahontas running, diving, and canoeing were integral to the story and they weren't sure how to adapt those to a stage.
    • A stage adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a huge success in Germany in 1999, and for a time there was talk of getting a Broadway production or TV movie adaptation mounted for U.S. audiences. However, according to Disney insider Jim Hill (who reported on many of the above could-have-beens) the biggest booster of such projects was Michael Eisner...and he was forced out of his CEO position at the Turn of the Millennium, which might be a reason the plans fell into Development Hell. While Hunchback will finally receive an American production in 2014, it will have a new book by Peter Parnell, replacing the one James Lapine wrote for the German staging.
  • Lady in the Dark was to have had a fourth Dream Sequence, in which Liza and Randy Curtis are Married In The Future and living on a lush San Fernando Valley ranch. The third Dream Sequence originally depicted a minstrel show rather than a circus. Moss Hart originally conceived the scenario as that of a straight play (with one song), with Katharine Cornell as the intended star.
  • Lil Abner was originally supposed to have a book by Alan Jay Lerner, who would also have written the songs with composer Burton Lane (continuing their Royal Wedding partnership). Lerner later wrote that he had been "trying to turn Li'l Abner into a hillbilly 'Good Soldier Schweik' and came up empty handed."
    • After the death of Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers was approached by Alan Jay Lerner to compose songs for On A Clear Day You Can See Forever and Coco. The Rodgers-Lerner partnership was not to be, and both projects were ultimately finished with different composers.
  • The history of Starlight Express is a veritable gold mine of hypothetical possibilities and altered ideas.
    • As noted on its page, the show's original concept was a musical adaptation of The Railway Series. When this idea was scrapped, Lloyd Webber decided to base the stage show on the plot of an aborted animated television movie, a retelling of "Cinderella" starring a steam locomotive oppressed by his (or her; sources conflict on this point) diesel and electric rivals. The show was intended as a children's pantomime, but Trevor Nunn later took over as director and decided to make it into a piece of theatre equally enjoyable to adults.
    • Another inspiration for the original incarnation of Starlight Express was the song "Engine of Love," which Lloyd Webber composed for soul singer Earl Jordan in 1977. Peter Reeves wrote the lyrics; when Richard Stilgoe signed on as lyricist, he expanded on the Double Entendres already present in "Engine of Love" a hundredfold. Although the song was replaced with "Call Me Rusty" when Starlight Express premiered in London, the 1987 Broadway show used a shortened version of it as Rusty's "I Am" Song.
    • Even leaving aside the evolution of the concept, the sheet music for "Belle the Sleeping Car" reveals intriguing hints about the early drafts of Starlight Express. Belle's song initially had an extra verse; hence the incongruity of the line "...And worst of all, turn over and go straight to sleep," which was meant to rhyme with "They weren't the sort of gentlemen who liked it cheap." This verse was cut by the time the show opened in 1984. The song's coda suggests that Belle was intended as a viable race partner who offered herself to the champion engines and may or may not have had any connection to Rusty. Moreover, the electric locomotive was named Elton, not Electra, which raises questions about his character design. The coda also contains a character named Smuts, who remains the most enigmatic element of all. Fans have speculated that Smuts was the prototype for both Rusty and Dustin, with the one character being split into two as the planning stages developed. This hypothesis would explain the phonetic similarities between the names and why Rusty and Dustin race together at the show's climax.
    • Pearl's aerobics instructor-style outfit did not survive beyond the preview periods. By the time the show opened, her costume had been quickly overhauled into a pink tutu-based dress. Electra's original unitard had a white motif rather than a blue one.
    • Studying the multitudinous different versions of Starlight Express is an excellent exercise in "What Once Was." From removed subplots to changed, deleted, and added songs to differing costume designs, no one could list all the alterations made over the years.
  • Anything Goes was originally supposed to have a subplot in which the Victor Moore character helps spreading rumors about a bomb on board (thereby providing a cue for "Blow, Gabriel, Blow") and builds a fake bomb for the William Gaxton character to discover and throw overboard in a feat of Engineered Heroism, but things go awry and they get thrown in the brig for intermission. The details differ, as did the character names: in one surviving draft, Moore's character was a refugee from Horrible Hollywood named Elmer Purkis.
  • One Touch of Venus was originally conceived of as a star vehicle for Marlene Dietrich, and the original librettist, Bella Spewack, apparently was going to keep the Victorian setting of the source story ("The Tinted Venus" by F. Anstey). Ultimately, Dietrich lost interest, Spewack was written out in favor of S. J. Perelman, and the setting was updated.
  • The second act of Gypsy was originally supposed to have Rose's breakdown take the form of a Dream Ballet (as one might expect for a show whose director-choreographer was ostentatiously credited for the "entire production" of both this musical and West Side Story, hit of the previous season). Fortunately, the ballet was never choreographed, and "Rose's Turn" was written instead. Legal threats from June Havoc almost resulted in June being renamed Clare in the show. The famous overture originally included the "Cow Song" and "Together We Go" after "You'll Never Get Away From Me"; Jule Styne, who complained that the overture ran too long, suggested they be replaced with a timpani roll.
  • There was a Batman musical in the works with songs written by Jim Steinman, who is best known for writing many songs for Meat Loaf. Meat Loaf would then cover two of the songs in Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose.
  • In Carousel, originally the judge Billy meets in heaven was not the Starkeeper but a New England minister and his wife.
  • Lost in the Stars was not originally an adaptation of Cry, the Beloved Country. Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson began work on the show in 1939, before Paton's novel was even written. It had the Working Title Ulysses Africanus, and was being adapted from Harry Stillwell Edwards' novel Eneas Africanus. The title role was offered to Paul Robeson, who declined it.
  • On the Town was originally supposed to have a How We Got Here prologue, with the three sailors each recalling the events that landed them in night court.
  • Anthony Warlow, who is beloved by Jekyll & Hyde musical fans for singing the title roles on the 1994 album, once mentioned that he had been asked to star in the Broadway production but declined because he felt that the endless script rewrites badly hurt the show.
  • The popular European musical Tanz der Vampire had an infamous Broadway debut characterized by Executive Meddling that turned the show into more of a raunchy comedy, and composer Jim Steinman has spoken out against that production. Perhaps things might have been different if Steve Barton had gotten to star in the production, as originally intended.
    • According to Wikipedia, actors sought for the role of Krolock for the Broadway version included "David Bowie, John Travolta, Richard Gere and Placido Domingo". For the record, that's one rock musician, two movie stars, and an opera singer.
  • In Damn Yankees, "Those Were The Good Old Days" was originally a duet for Applegate and Lola, and the number was still a duet when it was orchestrated.
  • A musical version of The Man Who Fell to Earth, which would have been closer to the original novel than its 1976 film adaptation, was announced for Broadway at the turn of 2000, and had a dedicated website with song demos and costume designs. The project never got further than the song demo stage. Curiously, there were unrelated plans for a new film adaptation of the book for 2009, but that project never made it further than an IMDb page. Both projects may have suffered for the fact that the story has a Downer Ending that would be hard to soften without throwing away the work's point.
  • The Leslie Bricusse Songbook, a sheet music collection, includes introductions by Bricusse that reveal behind-the-scenes stories of his work, as well as information about — and even songs from — productions that didn't pan out.
    • Hollywood Wives (no relation to the Jackie Collins novel) was a project from the turn of The Nineties that would have been a sendup of Tinseltown.
    • He was working on a Screen-to-Stage Adaptation of The Pink Panther at the time of the latest edition's release (2007), and one of the songs he'd written for it put lyrics to the series' iconic theme tune. (No, it doesn't appear in the book.) Nothing has been heard of this project since.
    • An earlier book had songs Bricusse wrote with Henry Mancini for a musical version of Major Barbara which might have starred Julie Andrews but was abandoned because obtaining the rights from the Shaw estate was an uphill battle.
  • The Turn of the Millennium Broadway revival of The Elephant Man starring Billy Crudup attempted Stunt Casting by asking David Bowie, who famously played the title role during the show's original Broadway run, to play the doctor who becomes his caretaker; Bowie turned it down.
  • Oklahoma!: The now-famous "II Special Chorus" vocal arrangement of the title song replaced yet another ballet sequence. This resulted in the dismissal of Eric Victor, one of the dancers formerly involved, who had remained in the production even after fracturing a wrist in New Haven.
  • Allegro was originally supposed to tell the full life story of Joseph Taylor, Jr. from his birth to his death. Hammerstein only finished the second act under time pressure, by which time he decided the show was "about a man not being allowed to do his own work because of worldly pressures."
  • The opening scene of The Most Happy Fella was rewritten to run shorter with fewer people on stage. The early version included the cashier asking the waitresses out in song and apparently succeeding with one, and several more waitresses besides Cleo gathering around as Amy/Rosabella reads the love letter and identifies its author as "the meatballs and macaroni" by licking gravy off the menu.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2013):
    • As discussed in this article, director Sam Mendes first tried to get the stage rights to the novel in the late 1980s. He tried again at the Turn of the Millennium, but the rights were with Warner Bros. by then, and they were busy with what became the 2005 film. It was another two years after its release before the go-ahead was given for a new stage adaptation. From there the show went through fifty drafts over a five-year period!
    • Before going with the conceit of adult actors in trick costumes (ala how Lord Farquaad was handled in the stage version of Shrek) to play the Oompa-Loompas, the creators considered either using puppets or casting children in the roles.
    • According to Douglas Hodge (who originated the role of Willy Wonka), "It Must Be Believed to Be Seen" was almost a Cut Song, as the songwriters came up with a far more bombastic number to take its place. That song made it to the readthrough stage, but Hodge wasn't happy with it and wanted something cheekier...so the writers, who felt much the same way by that point, played "It Must Be Believed to Be Seen" for him, and with further tweaking, the song was back in the show.
    • Initally there were no plans to incorporate songs from the 1971 film adaptation into this show; it was Executive Meddling that led to one of them, "Pure Imagination", serving as The Eleven O'Clock Number. (Arguably a positive example of meddling, given how well the sequence goes over with audiences.)
  • Shortly before his death, Michael Jackson's people announced plans for a Broadway Jukebox Musical that would have incorporated songs from his albums Off the Wall and Thriller.
  • P. G. Wodehouse wrote a musical adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster with Guy Bolton (Wodehouse's sometime collaborator for fifty years) as co-librettist and Robert Wright and George Forrest to write the tunes. Betting on Bertie, however, failed to attract a producer, and the rights were ultimately sold to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
  • In George Carlin's sortofbiography, Last Words, his final chapter mentioned that he had enough material to construct a Broadway play or musical based on his life. He would have entitled it New York Boy. Unfortunately, Last Words was published posthumously.

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