Theatre is a hard art form to pull off. If done well, it comes off as enjoyable and masterfully done. Then there's the examples which wouldn't meet the standards of the least competent high schools, and are of such bad quality that you'd think the main characters of The Producers had created them as intentional flops to cash in on money-making schemes.
- A production can still be running, but that doesn't mean it doesn't belong here. As long as they draw universal hatred from critics and audiences alike, they belong here.
- 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. (If you're unsure whether it belongs here or not, visit the discussion page and give us your input.)
- It isn't horrible because a caustic critic panned it. There has to be legit reason for it being too awful to even exist.
Examples (more-or-less in alphabetical order):
- Bill & Ted's Halloween Adventure is part of Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights theme event. The play typically features Bill and Ted going on some comic adventure that's ostensibly in line with either Halloween or the Universal stable; for the 2013 production at the Hollywood park, this was Bill and Ted being whisked away to Oz.note It was also outstandingly horrible. The humor involved would be one level of it, as most of it is made up of tired pop-culture references the likes of which might make Seltzer and Friedberg feel some modicum of shame.
What truly pushed it over the edge, however, was how it dove into material that could be deemed ridden with Unfortunate Implications if one thought the writers had the subtlety to "imply" anything. It included: Superman getting hit with "pixie dust" and turning into a Camp Gay stereotype, making Bill and Ted uncomfortable before he leaves 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 making comparisons between Munchkin Land, "a very colorful place full of lots of unemployed people who barely speak English," and Van Nuys (a working-class, mostly Hispanic neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley); and the strong implication that Wreck-It Ralph is going to rape an unconscious Nicki Minaj. Vice magazine wrote a scathing article about the production, and coincidentally enough, Universal decided to pull the show a few days later. While the Orlando park continued to host its own version of the Bill & Ted show until 2017, it had never returned to the Hollywood park since.
- In the wake of the huge success of the Breakfast at Tiffany's film, a musical adaptation was put into production. It seemed to be a slam dunk, complete with the promising casting of Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain as Holly and Paul. Instead, it earned the historic status of the first stage musical to be such an obvious disaster that it was never released to the public. Actually, the original version could have worked, but the producers got cold feet upon numerous reviews calling it pure So Okay, It's Average and brought in the legendary Edward Albee to rewrite the show. Unfortunately, this frothy romantic comedy was very far from Albee's usual wheelhouse of dark, absurdist social satire, and he turned in a bizarre story in which Holly is a fictional character in a story Paul's writing, and he grows more and more frustrated with how she seems to take on a life of her own, which is never explained. Luckily, the crew's reputations survived the debacle as everyone greatly respected their integrity in not subjecting the public to something they knew would be horrible.
- The surviving creators of Bye Bye Birdie tried their hand at a sequel twenty years later with Bring Back Birdie. 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 We're Still Relevant, Dammit!, and the ending involved a ridiculous Ass Pull of the original's highly popular character Mae actually being Spanish despite being played by the Russian-descended Maria Karnilova. 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!"
- 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 sixteen previews and five performances, making it among the most notorious flops in Broadway history. It was bad enough that it was seen for years as the benchmark for a truly Horrible musical; 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. This version didn't exactly do that well either, but 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...
- In the wake of their success with their seasonal production Wintuk in New York City, they made a stab at an off-Broadway resident show. The result was Banana Shpeel, a production 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 humour, and promised a mix of slapstick and acrobatics. Instead, the show consisted of an annoying Jerkass running around shouting nonsense, lame bathroom humour, 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 even after a substantial retool opened to condemnation from audiences and critics in New York. Hoping to spark interest, a tour was attempted, but it made it only to one stop in Canada before being shut down for good. With the initial version of Criss Angel BeLIEve getting panned hardcore, ZAIA struggling to sell tickets in China, and OVO and Viva Elvis getting mixed receptions in North America, this further ran Cirque's reputation into the ground. Thankfully the company managed to make a comeback creatively with 2010's Totem, and even made a happy return to the Big Apple with Zarkana in 2011.
- The current version of Criss Angel BeLIEve. The first version was poorly received, but it has its fans. In 2010, he dropped the acrobatics and storyline, and reduced it to a lame-ass stand-up comedy show with one dance act and lame tricks that can be seen at an elementary school talent show — doves appear from his jacket and so forth. Worse, there's still a hideous amount of Special Effects Failure (wire harnesses visible, trapdoors obvious), and he often makes racist remarks and embarrasses people in the audience (but not in the traditional Cirque way, where the poor bastard still has fun regardless). It's baffling that it bears the Cirque namesake now; it only continues to run because of the 10-year contract Angel signed with the Luxor resort.
- One would think that a stage musical based off of The Lord of the Rings would be a recipe for success, right? Not so, if the 2006 production was any indication. After being unable to find a suitable British theatre to mount the production, the producers (who had spent an estimated $27 million on elaborate effects, licensing fees and rotating sets) decided to stage a test run in Toronto, Canada. The reviews, however, were scathing. Despite being scored by the film's composer Howard Shore and featuring a cast of heavyweight dramatic actors, the musical was a plodding, confusing mess that haphazardly cut out large chunks of the source material (even though the musical was almost four hours long). The rest was filled with overwrought narration, hammy performances and ridiculous effects (the Balrog is represented by a large tissue-paper blow-up doll that is backed by wind blowing into the audience's faces). The producers promised Toronto's mayor that "The Nerds Would Come" - in the end, the show was panned by audiences as well as critics, closed down after five months (despite the producers promising the show would run much, much longer) and resulted in a financial loss for both the producers (who opened the show in London a year later, to the exact same result) and the city of Toronto.
- Joe Brooks' In My Life was a mercifully short lived Broadway musical. It was his first work after a 15 years 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 bike-riding dead sister and a guardian angel, who was a transvestite. The show was rife with Unfortunate Implications and disgustingly corny boy-band ballads, painful dialogue and disgusting attempts to turn the subject matter into a happy-go-lucky matter (a sample lyric: "Here's a little rumour/Someone's got a tumor"). To make things worse, there were 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" list, and no one was sorry when it was closed down due to disastrous reception after a month.
- Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera had quite a few mockbusters in the wake of its success, but a 1991 Florida production (which even used a similar poster design to the Webber production) was actually videotaped and made it to DVD at the Turn of the Millennium, preserving its painfully bad writing, predictably bad songs, and ridiculous ending. Musical Hell tackled it, though she sees it as more So Bad, It's Good due to extreme camp.
- Moose Murders is known as one of the biggest flops to ever disgrace Broadway. The show had, amid other things, an incest scene and a scene where a mummified paraplegic rose from his wheelchair and kicked an intruder in a moose costume in the groin. Reviews of the show were scathing, with a writer for the New York Times calling it the "worst play Ive ever seen on a Broadway stage". The result of this trainwreck? The show was only shown on Broadway ONCE.
- The first version of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The second version of the show opened to a lukewarm reception in mid-2011 and fits on the other end of the spectrum. The original version, which went into previews in the fall of 2010, suffered from severe bouts of Adaptation Decay and Critical Research Failure, glacial pacing, craptacular music, and terrifyingly wooden acting. It also had a most cringeworthy example of a Greek Chorus: a "geek chorus" of teenagers writing a comic book. Audiences routinely condemned it and it didn't fare much better with critics who chose not to wait for the constantly postponed official opening and instead reviewed it during this preview period. The majority of the previews also had massive technical issues (one incident caught on video involved Spider-Man's wire harness breaking and the performer falling a considerable height). Director Julie Taymor was fired and songwriters Bono & The Edge threatened to disown it unless it was retooled considerably. The result was much better received by audiences. Critics still hated it, but not as much, and it garnered a small fanbase before closing in January 2014. Sesame Street, of all shows, mercilessly parodies it here.
- Possibly the worst act in the history of show business was the Cherry Sisters, who created a routine of morality skits and songs intended to be variously patriotic and uplifting, called "Something Good, Something Sad". The sad part, to which the sisters were oblivious, is they had no talent whatsoever. While their neighbors in Marion, Iowa, received them politely, the rest of Iowa and the Midwest thought otherwise, and hurled voluminous amounts of rotten produce and eggs, plus the occasional hard object, at the sisters. After one of them was sprayed in the face with a fire extinguisher, theater managers interposed a wire mesh curtain between the Cherries and their audience.
Despite universally bad reviews, the sisters firmly believed that the fault was neither in their stars nor themselves, but in their detractors, whom the sisters thought could not appreciate wholesome entertainment. In 1896, Willie Hammerstein, son of Oscar the First and father of Oscar the Second, booked the sisters to play his new Olympia Music Hall in New York City, which was not doing well due to poor location. According to Variety, he did so because he reasoned that if he couldn't draw crowds with the best acts, he would try his luck with the worst. It worked: for several weeks, the Cherry Sisters played to packed houses. They continued to ignore bad reviews (which now included The New York Times, who called them the "Four Freaks from Iowa") and thrown objects, declaring that if so many people came to see them they must be the best act in the country.
After this engagement, the sisters returned to Iowa and to savage audiences and reviewers alike. After newspapers all over Iowa reprinted a particularly nasty item from the Odebolt Chronicle in 1898 which began by describing the Cherry Sisters' physical appearance in unflattering terms, the sisters sued that paper and the Des Moines Register for libel. note The trial included a performance of the act, and judgment was given in favor of the defending newspapers. Undaunted, the sisters appealed, and on May 28, 1901, the Iowa Supreme Court delivered a stinging rebuke to the sisters. This ruling is cited to this day as a major precedent in cases involving theatrical and other critics. Despite losing their suit, the Cherries continued to perform until one of them suddenly died in 1903. Variety described them as "the worst act in America". None of the sisters married or had children, and the only sound recording of one of the sisters was lost decades ago. For the next fifty years, vaudevillians and others would describe a bad act as "a road company of the Cherry Sisters".
- They were hardly the only ones. In vaudeville theaters, a person expected to be allowed to sit through as many acts as they liked, meaning that periodic room-clearing acts had to be used to keep ticket sales up. These acts were some of the cushiest in vaudeville. George Burns felt he was cursed throughout his vaudeville career because he could never come up with anything bad enough to be a room clearer and wasn't famous enough to be a real draw.