Top 10 Broadway Behind-the-Scenes Controversies

Top 10 Broadway Behind-the-Scenes Controversies
VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Tal Fox
These musical controversies shocked Broadway. Our countdown includes Scott Rudin steps down, "Hair" goes to the Supreme Court, #CancelHamilton, and more!

Top 10 Broadway and Musical Controversies

Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Broadway and Musical Controversies

For this list, we’ll be looking at times that drama hit the Great White Way or the musical theatre world, and no, not as part of the show.

Did you follow any of these controversies? Let us know in the comments.

#10: “Beetlejuice” Closes Unexpectedly

Before Covid-19 forced theaters to go dark, “Beetlejuice” had broken box office records three times over. So you can imagine everyone’s shock when its closure was suddenly announced in April 2020. The Winter Garden Theater’s landlords, Shubert Organization, decided to replace the show with a revival of “The Music Man” starring Hugh Jackman. They knew that the actor was very profitable and even though “Beetlejuice” had positive box office sales, their minds were made up. This was super disappointing for everyone from the cast and crew to the fans. Fortunately, in September 2021, it was announced that the show will return to Broadway in April of 2022, with casting yet to be announced.

#9: #CancelHamilton

Despite being one of the most popular musicals of the twenty-first century, even “Hamilton” hasn’t managed to evade controversy entirely. Remember when they ruffled a few feathers after a former VP stopped by? Anyway, after the show became available on Disney+ in 2020, some viewers criticized its seemingly blasé approach in addressing slavery. This was during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests happening across the United States. Audiences began to voice concerns about the way history was being told. Lin-Manuel Miranda addressed the criticisms on Twitter, calling them “valid”, while also retweeting Tracy Clayton, who voiced support for this much-needed conversation.

#8: “Hair” Goes to the Supreme Court

You don’t become the show that changed the face of theater without creating some friction first. “Hair” gave audiences a full-frontal view of a myriad of so-called taboo subjects, as well as of their actual cast. Not everyone was feeling the “love-rock” musical vibes though, and in some places, things got pretty violent. They also faced legal challenges, even reaching the Supreme Court twice. Once for the desecration of the flag and obscene language and a second time for nudity. Ultimately, the First Amendment supported the show’s right to go on. Meanwhile, across the pond, the musical marked the end of censorship in British Theatre.

#7: Patti LuPone Sues Andrew Lloyd Webber

Following her West End run of “Sunset Boulevard,” Patti LuPone expected to transfer to Broadway with the show, at least that’s what her contract read. But Webber decided to fire her and give the role to Glenn Close instead. In her 2010 memoir, LuPone recalled her furious reaction when she read the news in a gossip column. This ignited a two-decade-long feud between the actress and composer. She successfully sued him for $1,000,000 for breaching their contract. LuPone used the money to build a pool in her backyard which she named, “The Andrew Lloyd Webber Memorial Pool.”. Don’t mess with Patti LuPone.

#6: “Jesus Christ Superstar” Upsets Religious Groups

When the show opened in the 70s, it upset Christian and Jewish groups for a plethora of reasons. Christians disapproved of Jesus being portrayed as just a man, Judas being shown as a complex individual, Jesus and Mary Magdalene's relationship, and the lack of recognition for the resurrection. The BBC banned it for being sacrilegious. It was also banned in South Africa for being “irreligious” and in the Hungarian People’s Republic for “distribution of religious propaganda.” Supposedly though, Pope Francis was a fan. Meanwhile, Jewish groups were concerned by how Jewish characters were villainized using harmful anti-semitic tropes. Lyricist Tim Rice responded to their concerns, inadequately.

#5: “Jagged Little Pill”: Nonbinary Erasure (& Backstage Mistreatment)

Shows tend to change from inception to when they make the leap to Broadway. When “Jagged Little Pill” opened at the American Repertory Theater, one of the characters, Jo, was written as nonbinary, but had a cisgender woman, Lauren Patten, in the role. While issues of representation understandably came to the forefront, once the show hit Broadway, what changed was… the character. When questioned, not only was it not addressed, it was denied outright. Several nonbinary members of the cast, including Iris Menas, Jo’s understudy, and Nora Schell, left the production on grounds of mistreatment, with other members of the cast exiting in solidarity. The show won 2 of its 15 Tony nominations, one for Best Book, and another for Featured Actress for Patten.

#4: Asian Appropriation in “Miss Saigon”

Jonathan Pryce was cast as The Engineer, a Eurasian character, in the 1989 original West End cast. He was set to reprise the role on Broadway but this was opposed by members of the US Actors' Equity. They called the choice to cast a white actor, “an affront to the Asian community.” However, some within Equity opposed this view arguing that since The Engineer is part-French, it would be discriminatory to limit the role to just Asian actors. That doesn’t really explain why they then used prosthetics to alter his appearance. Eventually, Equity bowed to pressure and Pryce even won a Tony Award for the role.

#3: Complicated Casting Issues for “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812”

After Josh Groban finished his run, Okieriete Onaodowan was cast in the role of Pierre. However, sometimes when a show is losing money, they’ll rely on celebrity castings to bring in wider audiences. This backfired when Oak was ushered into the wings while Mandy Patinkin was given the spotlight. Until now, the show had been praised for its diverse cast, but now fans were outraged that a Black actor was getting eclipsed and created #MakeRoomForOak in protest. As a result, Patinkin decided to drop out, shortly followed by Onadowan. Dave Malloy took over until the show burned out a month later and closed down.

#2: Scott Rudin Steps Down

Rudin’s behavior was hardly an industry secret. But it wasn’t until The Hollywood Reporter’s explosive exposé in April 2021, that he was finally being held accountable for his actions. The allegations made against the producer were harrowing, chronicling various outbursts, including one that ended with a staff member in the E.R. In response, Karen Olivo quit “Moulin Rouge!,” Sutton Foster threatened to pull out of “The Music Man” and Equity pushed to add him to the “Do Not Work” list. Rudin didn’t deny the allegations. He also said that he’d step back from his role so as to not overshadow Broadway’s reopening in September 2021.

#1: So Many Red Flags Behind “Rebecca the Musical”

Drama, mystery, deceit, and shock, all before a single day of rehearsals. Despite having over $1,000,000 in advance ticket sales, this musical never made it to Broadway. Producer Ben Sprecher was approached by the FBI after a potential fraud alert linked to his investors. Sprecher had never seen or spoken to the so-called investor, who turned out to be a con man called Mark Hotton. He’d invented various personas - one of whom mysteriously died of Malaria. Somehow only the show’s publicist was alarmed by the countless red flags. Plot twist: He was the one who alerted the authorities. You simply can’t make this stuff up!