Let’s first address the flying superhero in the room: No, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark doesn’t (quite) make our list of the worst stage shows of 2011. (You can check out our Mormon-led best list here.) In the end, we decided Spidey’s aerial effects are pretty darned cool, though all too brief, and the retooled show isn’t as unwatchably overwrought as Julie Taymor’s original version. Instead, our evil eye is trained on the year’s even more offensive theatrical blunders like the misguided revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (pictured, with Jessie Mueller and Harry Connick Jr.). Did we miss a show that had you fleeing at intermission? Let us know your opinion in the comments.
10. Measure for Measure (Off Broadway)
The Public Theater’s uneasy, laugh-averse, and metaphor-heavy production in Central Park made the Bard’s problem comedy even more difficult.
9. Bonnie & Clyde (Broadway)
The first of composer Frank Wildhorn’s clunkers — and ho-hum scores — on the list. Bonnie has guns, sex, partial nudity, and fairly good singing, but absolutely nothing captivating or new to say about the famous young outlaws except that they really liked guns, sex, partial nudity, and fairly good singing.
8. High (Broadway)
Kathleen Turner’s tough-talking alcoholic nun and a homeless young addict share barbs and war stories in this heavy-handed drama that unfolds like an all-day Law & Order: SVU marathon with less humor.
7. King Lear (Off Broadway)
Stately Sam Waterston’s mournful miscasting as Shakespeare’s old mad dad was the first drop in the storm of bad choices — anachronistic costumes, a sparse and noisy set, blinding lights, mugging actors — that drowned the Public Theater’s production.
6. On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (Broadway)
What’s more awkward than a love triangle between a straight shrink, his gay male patient, and the patient’s jazz-singing female past-life alter ego? A misguided revival that assumes shoehorning a gender-bending twist into an already muddled book is both an update and an improvement.
5. Marie and Bruce / Burning (Off Broadway)
The New Group perpetrated two hard-to-sit through productions on theatergoers this year. First, there was a lugubrious revival of Wallace Shawn’s Marie and Bruce that squandered the talented Marisa Tomei and Frank Whaley. Then came Thomas Bradshaw’s preposterously overplotted Burning, which tried so hard to be “provocative” and “edgy” that it packed in more onstage nudity and simulated sex acts than a Cinemax marathon — as well as badly accented neo-Nazis, Marquis de Sade references, incest, and show tunes.
4. Wonderland (Broadway)
A bitter grown-up Alice must save her daughter from the evil diva Mad Hatter who lives underneath New York City in this charmless musical update of the Lewis Carroll classic. Frank Wildhorn’s cheesy, decade-too-late score — the White Knight sings in a boy band — is as easy to forget as Wonderland’s neon-drenched set is difficult to look at.
3. Relatively Speaking (Broadway)
This trio of one-acts by Elaine May, Woody Allen, and Ethan Coen proves that a meal of half-baked comedies soaked in too much borscht and peppered with stale shtick tastes awful — even if it’s cooked up by master chefs.
2. Baby, It’s You! (Broadway)
Remember the ’60s girl group the Shirelles? Well, this ain’t their story. Instead, we learn all about the middle-aged Jewish housewife (Beth Leavel) who managed them. The book is a ham-fisted mess, and the hit-filled score skips one of the group’s biggest hits (“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”).
1. The People in the Picture (Broadway)
Not unlike the show-within-a-show in The Producers, this was an actual Holocaust musical, with a ponderous book and lyrics by the author of Beaches and a surprisingly goyish cast led by Donna Murphy. (Thom Geier contributed to this post.)