“It’s a hit. It’s a hit. It’s a palpable hit.”
OK, I know that’s from the wrong Stephen Sondheim show but it seemed appropriate, so sue me. (And that’s from Guys and Dolls…someone stop me.) Producers of the acclaimed revival of Follies announced that last week’s gross of $1,122,778 is the best tally ever for a Sondheim-scored show on Broadway. While one might quibble about the exclusion of West Side Story and other score collaborations in order to make the claim, it is nonetheless an impressive take for a show that has a long history of breaking hearts but not box-office records.
It also got me wondering about the comparative success of other shows in the Sondheim canon. Given that dollar figures are hard to compare given inflation and ticket prices (and my status as a Theater and not a Math major), let’s take a look at which of his shows (again, among musicals with his score and lyrics) have had the longest and shortest runs. Quick guesses? Drumroll please…
Longest Run: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
At 964 performances, this giggly tumble of a show inspired by ancient comedies and with a punchline exploding book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart proves one thing: Make ‘Em Laugh. (Oy. That’s from Singing in the Rain.)
Shortest Run: Anyone Can Whistle
Holding on to the title against strong competition from Merrily We Roll Along, this seriously 60’s counter-culture musical about escapees from the loony bin and a miracle rock only lasted nine performances on Broadway. The recent City Center Encores presentation, while not dispelling the notion that the show is an odd duck indeed, did highlight how fun a lot of the score is, how interesting it is to see artists like Sondheim and bookwriter Arthur Laurents attempt to stretch the form, and how Donna Murphy knows how to walk the line brilliantly between character work and music theater showmanship.
For more Sondheim facts (and the source for these numbers), check out the comprehensive Sondheim.com.