Nonfiction November Week Three: Expertise

It’s Week Three of Nonfiction November—a celebration of all those totally true and fact-filled books out there. This week’s question comes from Katie at Doing Dewey, and it has me playing the expert while writing about a subject I love.

Week 3 (Nov. 11 to 15) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Broadway Flops

I love theatre, and there’s no theatrical location more iconic than Broadway. Almost every night of the year, Broadway stages are filled with performers expertly translating the texts of plays and musicals into fully realized productions for sold-out audiences.

Yet not every show that crosses The Great White Way is destined for greatness. Unfortunately, Broadway is both an art form and a business, and there are plenty of shows that close without recouping their initial monetary investment—they’re ‘flops’. And if you’ve ever been interested in learning about these varied and fascinating productions, here are a few titles to start with:

Not Since Carrie: 40 Years of Broadway Musical Flops by Ken Mandelbaum

Often cited as the book about Broadway musical flops. From the actually great Dear World, to the awful Merlin, to the money-grabbing Annie 2, Ken Mandelbaum dishes on them all, giving detailed synopses and brief production histories from shows up to the early 1990s.

Song of Spider-Man: The Inside Story of the Most Controversial Musical in Broadway History by Glen Berger

With an initial cost of $75 million, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark is the most expensive Broadway show ever produced. After a tumultuous preview period, it played over three years before eventually closing at a near-total loss. Co-book-writer Glen Berger explains his experiences working on the show in this memoir.

Everything Was Possible: The Birth of the Musical Follies by Ted Chapin

There’s an assumption that if a show flops, then it must be unpopular, or even ‘bad’. Yet Stephen Sondheim’s Follies seems to break that conclusion. Routinely cited as one of the best musicals ever written, the original 1971 production closed at a loss. Ted Chapin, a college student and production assistant, chronicled the show’s evolution from its out-of-town tryout to its opening in journals he crafted into this memoir.

Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 by Frank Rich

Once upon a time, The New York Times Chief Theatre Critic’s opinion could make or break a show. And during his thirteen year reign, Frank Rich was one of the most influential in Broadway history. Here, the bulk of his reviews are compiled—the good and the bad—providing unique insight into some of the biggest flops of the time.

Diary of a Mad Playwright by James Kirkwood

Some of the biggest flops never even make it to Broadway. Playwright James Kirkwood thought he had struck gold with Legends!, a play focused on two fading stars. And after signing actual legends Mary Martin and Carol Channing, he knew he had a hit … until egos, infighting, and a disastrous national tour scuttled plans for a Broadway production, as Kirkwood recounts in this diary from the period.


  1. This is such a fun and interesting topic, I love it!!

    I lived in NYC when Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark came out, or was trying to get off the ground, as it were, and it was so funny because like, every other day there would be a new news story about what fresh disaster had befallen that show. It was seeming almost slapstick at some point. I don’t really follow Broadway shows too closely but I read every story about it because it was so unbelievable, you had to wonder when they were just going to close and lock the door on that one. I had no idea there was a book about it, that sounds so interesting!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was such a disastrous preview period—every day seemed like a constant stream of bad press. Either injuries or firings or major rewrites. You’re right, though. It really did start feeling like slapstick! I was in college at the time, studying theatre, so it was the only show anyone wanted to talk about. Berger’s book is really fascinating, because it feels very honest about what happened—he takes responsibility for some of the problems, and there’s an interesting exploration of working with big names like Bono and Julie Taymor. It was seemingly a remarkable descent into pure chaos.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love musical theatre but know nothing about it except for being able to identify what I do or don’t like, so these seem like great recommendations for me to expand my knowledge! Everything Was Possible sounds particularly interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny, for some reason flops tend to get a lot of attention. I think it might be because, since theatre’s live, once a show closes, that’s it. There’s hardly ever a filmed version or some other preservation of the production. So I think there’s a lot of, ‘Was it really as bad as I heard it was?’ that leads to these books.

      Liked by 1 person

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