Theatre is a hard art form to pull off. When done well, it comes off as enjoyable and masterfully done. When done poorly, it's so bad that it wouldn't meet the standards of the least-competent high schools and you'd think the main characters of The Producers had created them as intentional flops to cash in on money-making schemes.
- Productions that have long runs aren't immediately good, and productions that had short runs aren't immediately bad - there needs to be evidence beyond the length of the production's run that proves it was detested by critics and audiences alike note .
- Merely being offensive in its subject matter or a flop is not sufficient. Hard as it is to imagine at times, there is a market for all types of deviancy, no matter how small a niche it is. It has to fail to appeal even to that niche to qualify as this.
- It isn't Horrible just because Musical Hell or any other Caustic Critic panned it. There needs to be independent evidence, such as actual professional reviews, to list it. Once it is listed, those critics can provide review(s).
Examples (more-or-less in alphabetical order):
- All In A Row was an infamous British play about a family living with an autistic child, and was so rife with Unfortunate Implications that it pissed off anyone who could plausibly relate. The family is portrayed as being so deeply unhappy that there's no real point in caring about anyone. The alcoholic mother constantly complains about having an autistic child, the pothead father pulls numerous horrible stunts and sets his son up to take the blame each time, and the child is a non-verbal, aggressive monster often compared to a housepet. But by far, the biggest point of contention is that the autistic son is played by a (rather terrifying) puppet, as their attempts at invoking Disabled Character, Disabled Actor failed miserably due to their poor understanding of both autism and child actors note . Connor Ward tears into it here, and Patchwork Heart rips it apart here. You can also read various reviews of it here.
- The 2013 Hollywood production of Bill & Ted's Halloween Adventure is one of several productions that form part of Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights theme event. This particular one saw them being whisked away to Oz, and it was outstandingly horrible. The humor was very underwhelming, mostly comprised of tired pop-culture references. But what truly pushed it over the edge was material that would be ridden with appallingly tasteless, but even more offensively unclever and tired bits:
- Superman getting hit with "pixie dust" and turning into a Macho Camp stereotype, coming on to Bill and Ted (much to their discomfort), and then leaving the stage to submit to the whims of a similarly fey George Takei.
- Kim Jong-un mixing up his "L"s and "R"s.
- Ron Burgundy comparing Munchkinland to the Hispanic-majority Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys, because both are "a very colorful place full of lots of unemployed people who barely speak English".
- The strong implication that Wreck-It Ralph was going to rape an unconscious Nicki Minaj.
- Vice wrote a scathing article about the production, while Cracked put it at the top of their list of Childhood Ruining Appearances from Famous Characters, and coincidentally enough Universal decided to pull the show a few days later after the Vice article. While the Orlando park (which had a different version that was much better-received) continued to host its own version of the Bill & Ted show until 2017, it hasn't returned to the Hollywood park since.
- The musical adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany's was launched in the wake of the film's huge success. It seemed to be a slam dunk, complete with the promising casting of Mary Tyler Moore as Holly and Richard Chamberlain as Paul. Instead, it earned the historic status of the first stage musical to be such an obvious disaster that it never played a single non-preview performance despite making it to Broadway. It didn't have to be this way: the original version was workable, but the producers were so put off by reviews calling it So Okay, It's Average that they brought in the legendary Edward Albee to retool it; only problem was that Albee specialized in dark, absurdist social satire, and Breakfast was a frothy romantic comedy. Albee turned in a bizarre story in which Holly is a fictional character in a story Paul's writing who starts to take on a life of her own, much to Paul's frustration - and without any explanation. Luckily, the crew's reputations survived the debacle, as the public respected their decision not to show them something they knew would be horrible.
- Bring Back Birdie is the sequel to Bye Bye Birdie, written 20 years after the original by the surviving creators. The result was described by theater critic Ken Mandelbaum in his catalog of Broadway flops Not Since Carrie (see below for how it got that title) as "the worst Broadway musical ever to be created by top-level professionals." The bright, colorful humor of the original show took a sharp turn to dark and vulgar, a character's journey into punk rock stardom came off as a pathetic case of Fad Super, and the ending involved a ridiculous Ass Pull of the main character's racist, anti-Hispanic mother Mae actually being secretly Spanish. It also unfortunately served as the Broadway debut of famous film singer and dancer Donald O'Connor, who suffered a Creator Breakdown in one of the last performances when he completely forgot a song's lyrics and ended up shouting to the orchestra "You sing it! I hated this song anyway!" When one of its stars openly denounces one of its numbers mid-performance, you just know you have a true lemon in your repertoire.
- The original 1988 production of Carrie: The Musical, based on Stephen King's breakout hit novel and its 1976 film adaptation, was at the time one of the most expensive productions in Broadway history, costing over $8 million. That money clearly didn't buy quality, as it was met with boos on opening night and scathing reviews. As explained in this article, it was a mess of bad music, garish costume choices, Special Effect Failure, and Carrie's powers being given barely any explanation. It closed after only 16 previews and five performances, making it one of the most notorious flops in Broadway history. It was so bad that it was seen for years as the benchmark for a truly Horrible musical, to the point that a book written in 1992 about Broadway disasters was titled Not Since Carrie. There has since been an off-Broadway revival of the show that was heavily retooled, with many songs being replaced and rewritten; this version is substantially improved over the original, and a far cry from its Horrible status. While the revival didn't do that well, it was still well-received enough for the crew to consent to licensing it out.
- Acclaimed company Cirque du Soleil are known for their usually well-reviewed productions, but when they stray too far from their comfort zone...
- Banana Shpeel was the troupe's first stab at an off-Broadway resident show, building on the modest success of their seasonal production Wintuk. The result was so bad it didn't even appeal to die-hard fans of Cirque, or even Guy Laliberte himself. The show was a twist on vaudeville humor and promised a mix of slapstick and acrobatics, but instead consisted of an annoying Jerkass running around shouting nonsense, lame bathroom humor, stupid slapstick gags about being spat on or slapped, and maybe two Cirque-ish setpieces. The show flopped in its 2009 tryout run in Chicago, and underwent a substantial retool; even then, it opened to condemnation from audiences and critics in New York. It was one of several flops that torpedoed Cirque's reputation, and it wouldn't recover until 2010's Totem and 2011's Zarkana.
- The 2010-16 version of Criss Angel BeLIEve. The first version was poorly received, but it has its fans. In 2010, Criss Angel dropped the acrobatics and storyline and reduced it to a stand-up comedy show with one dance act and lame tricks that can be seen at an elementary school talent show - like summoning doves from his jacket. There's still a hideous amount of Special Effects Failure (wire harnesses visible, trapdoors obvious), and he often made racist remarks and embarrassed people in the audience (but not in the traditional Cirque way, where the poor bastard still has fun regardless). It's baffling that it bore the Cirque name, until you learn that Angel had signed a 10-year contract with the Luxor resort. Thankfully, the show came to an end on April 17, 2016, and was retooled as Criss Angel MINDFREAK Live.
- Gettin' the Band Back Together, co-written and produced by Ken Davenport, was universally panned and only lasted 40 performances on Broadway, and for good reason. The story, in which the main character was forced to move back home with his mother after getting fired on his 40th birthday and reunite with his high school rock band for a battle of the bands to save his mother's house from foreclosure, was deemed juvenile and amateurish, with an unmemorable score and one-dimensional characters, especially the women, who were little more than love interests. Davenport employed no shortage of gimmicks, such as a scripted preshow where he, or one of his associates, would take the stage and hype up the show as "something rare on Broadway...an entirely original musical." Even more reeking of desperation, the reviews featured in the show's posters all came from social media posts rather than newspapers or magazines.
- Joseph Brooks' In My Life was a mercifully short-lived Broadway musical. It was his first work after a 15-year hiatus, and his last work before his 2011 suicide over rape charges. The show concerned a man with Tourette's Syndrome and a brain tumor. Supporting characters included his dead little sister (with a cute little bike) and a transvestite guardian angel. The show was rife with Unfortunate Implications, disgustingly corny boy-band ballads, painful dialogue, and disgusting attempts to turn the subject matter into something happy-go-lucky (a sample lyric: "Here's a little rumor/Someone's got a tumor"). And nonsensical amounts of Mind Screw, including a character who collects dolls made out of seashells and eats gummy bears for breakfast, and a finale featuring a giant lemon. Your head will explode trying to make sense of the thing. The show opened to critical and audience slamming, making it to the top spot of many "Worst Musicals of the Year" lists, and nobody was sorry when it closed down after just a month due to disastrous reception.
- The musical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. One would think it would be a recipe for success - and one would be wrong. The producers spent an estimated $27 million on elaborate effects, rotating sets, and licensing fees, only to be unable to find a suitable venue for it in London. So they turned across the Atlantic to Toronto, where they assured the mayor that "the nerds would come." Except it closed down after five months, leading to a financial loss for both the producers and the city of Toronto. The reviews were scathing; despite featuring a cast of heavyweight dramatic actors and being scored by the film series' composer Howard Shore, the musical was a plodding, confusing mess. It haphazardly cut out chunks of the source material and still managed to be almost four hours long. The gaps were filled with overwrought narration, hammy performances, and ridiculous effects (the Balrog is represented by a large tissue-paper blow-up doll backed by wind blowing into the audience's faces). Undeterred, the producers tried again in London a year later, with the exact same result.
- Moose Murders was a 1983 play that is known as one of the biggest flops to ever disgrace Broadway. Described by its creator as a "murder mystery farce", the show was lambasted for having a tone that was downright insulting the intelligence of its viewers, pacing that was overly frenetic and fast-paced, and a story so bizarre that many audience members couldn't tell you what the show was even about. Additionally, the play included some incredibly cringeworthy scenes, most notably an incest scene and a scene where a mummified paraplegic rises from his wheelchair and kicks an intruder wearing a moose costume in the groin note . Reviews of the show were scathing, with Frank Rich of the New York Times calling it the "worst play Iíve ever seen on a Broadway stage". It wound up being shown on Broadway a grand total of one time, and is frequently referenced in reviews of other awful media.
- Oscar Wilde: The Musical was written and directed by Mike Read (who, while having written several other musicals, is better known as a BBC Radio 1 DJ), and staged on October 19, 2004... and only then. No one who saw it in its only showing had anything kind to say about it, including critics from the Telegraph ("it is hard to feel anything other than incredulous contempt"), the Evening Standard ("cruel and unusual punishment"), and the Guardian ("you begin to wonder whether the sound system is being affected by the hefty rumbling of Oscar Wilde turning in his grave"). Noted for its incredibly cheap production (including the witnesses in the court scenes being played by one guy swapping hats), bizarre portrayals of its characters, and poorly thought-out book with insipid lyrics, it closed before its second performance after managing only to shift five tickets for a 500-seat venue. Read lost a rumoured £80,000 on this failure, and yet blamed the venue - clearly he was still confident that the show could still be staged in 100 years time, as he'd boasted prior to the opening. There's records of him putting on a production in New York and a revival in London, both with significant rewrites and a different director, and even with the large changes, neither of those is recorded as having made any positive buzz.
- An unofficial 1991 Florida production of The Phantom of the Opera is arguably the most notorious mockbuster of a Broadway show to ever exist. The reason? This production was one of the few to survive, thanks to it being videotaped and preserved on DVD, allowing its painfully bad writing, predictably-bad songs, and ridiculous editing to be seen by those other than the unfortunate souls who were fooled by the similar poster to the official Andrew Lloyd Webber production. Musical Hell tackled it, though she sees it as more So Bad, It's Good due to extreme camp.
- Something Good, Something Sad was a routine of morality skits and songs by the Cherry Sisters. Their aim was to create wholesome and patriotic entertainment as a counterpart to what they saw as the decadent and immoral fare of the time. They were so bad that audiences regularly hurled produce and eggs at them, and one of them was sprayed in the face with a fire extinguisher, which led theater managers to put a wire mesh curtain in front of the stage. However, they also drew a lot of Bile Fascination, which convinced Willie Hammerstein to bring them from the Midwest to New York City, as a means of drawing audiences to his struggling Olympia Music Hall. note And it worked - they played in front of packed houses, even as their critics now included the New York Times (who called them the "four freaks from Iowa"). The sisters declared that if so many people came to see them, they must be the best act in the country. When they sued one of their critics in Iowa for libel, they performed for the court - and lost at trial due to how awful they were. When they appealed it all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1901, the court delivered a stinging rebuke and set an important precedent in favor of theater critics. However, if you want to actually listen to one of their performances, you're out of luck - there aren't any sound recordings of them that exist today, so you're just going to have to take their contemporaries' word for it.
- The first version of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was an infamous disaster. It suffered from severe bouts of Adaptation Decay and Cowboy BeBop at His Computer, glacial pacing, craptacular music, and terrifyingly wooden acting. It also had a very cringeworthy "geek chorus" who are ostensibly writing a comic book. Audiences condemned it, and it didn't fare much better with critics, who chose to review it during the preview period (because its official opening was constantly being delayed). Said previews were plagued with technical issues; one incident caught on video involved Spidey's wire harness breaking and the performer falling a considerable height. It was considered a laughingstock, to the point where even Sesame Street made fun of it. Director Julie Taymor was fired and songwriters Bono and the Edge threatened to disown it unless it was retooled considerably, which it was in mid-2011. The retooled version opened to lukewarm reception, ran until 2014, and fits on the other side of the spectrum. Wait in the Wings discusses the musical and the Troubled Production behind it here, as does Cracked here. Lady Emily, Sarah Z's co-writer, did an in-depth analysis of the narrative-problems of the play. The co-author of the show, Glen Berger, wrote a book, Song of Spider-Man, chronicling the backstage decisions leading to the disaster.