The surprisingly successful world of Broadway musical reboots

The latest renditions of these classic musicals demonstrate just why they've had such long legs

Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff and Lindsay Mendez during the opening night curtain call for Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" on Broadway at The Hudson Theater on October 8, 2023 in New York City
Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff and Lindsay Mendez during the opening night curtain call for Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" on Broadway at The Hudson Theater on October 8, 2023 in New York City
(Image credit: Bruce Glikas / WireImage / Getty Images)

A Broadway hit is no small feat.

More uncommon still is when a musical returns to the Great White Way years or decades after its premiere and, with an able assist from hindsight and fresh direction, becomes a success. Sometimes a success for the first time; sometimes an even bigger success than its debut. 

This season's prime example: "Merrily We Roll Along," the legendary flop from the legendary musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim. But "Merrily" is just one of a group of musicals that have had new life breathed into them over time.

'Chicago'

This Jazz Age homage to the perils of celebrity was a modest hit when it debuted in 1975. It ran for more than two years and boasted star power from the likes of Gwen Verdon, Chita Rivera, Jerry Orbach, Liza Minnelli and Ann Reinking over the length of its run. And, of course, the bent-knee, spirit-fingered, dark-edged choreography of Bob Fosse was a powerful draw. No one would have guessed that 20 years later, in 1996, a concert revival would then move to Broadway — and still be running there in 2023. The current revival of "Chicago" is now the second-longest running show on Broadway, after "Phantom of the Opera." Being that "Phantom" closed recently, "Chicago" could knock the masked wonder from its first-place slot in the coming years.

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'Candide'

Leonard Bernstein wrote the rollicking, diverse score for this adaptation of Voltaire's satire by the same name. While Bernstein's "West Side Story" was a hit, "Candide" has always been a bit of a challenge to stage. But, oh, its fans have sure been trying to solve those problems with regular frequency since the operetta's debut production in 1956! The breathtaking finale of "Candide," "Make Your Garden Grow" is a fine example of Bernstein's sublime musicianship and why the show has long legs.  

'Cabaret'

Like "Chicago" and also featuring a score by that show's same crack composing team, John Kander and Fred Ebb, "Cabaret" had a successful run during its debut in the late 1960s. The life the show about a few intimates in Weimar-era Germany has had in the ensuing decades, though, would make the main character, Sally Bowles, blush. There have been three Broadway revivals of "Cabaret," and the last revival in 2014 was itself a revival of a production from 1998. Ouroboros much? In early 2024, yet another production will land on Broadway. This latest will be a mounting of the acclaimed London revival of 2021, with Eddie Redmayne returning to his award-winning turn as the Emcee. 

'Anything Goes'

This rowdy, clever show from composer Cole Porter was a modest hit in 1934. Blame the Great Depression for it only running for 420 performances. Nonetheless, "Anything Goes" has had quite the run over the last nearly 90 years: two Broadway revivals, four West End productions and three film adaptations. Seems audiences have an endless demand for the female lead Reno Sweeney, the show's romantic-comedy hijinks and the tap-dancing chorus numbers. 

'Merrily We Roll Along'

The score for this told-in-reverse tale of failed dreams and youthful idealism has always been one of the most beloved in the Broadway canon. By those who know, who were far too few, because the original production ran for a scant 16 performances. Until the 2023 Broadway revival, that is. Daniel Radcliffe, Lindsay Mendez and Jonathan Groff play the trio at the heart of the current revival, and director Maria Friedman's keen eye proves that every musical might have its savior in its very own DNA. This "Merrily" is a monster hit, giving the show the tear-inducing redemption it has always deserved.

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