Back to the Future – the Musical has been a big hit in London. The show opened last month in New York to mixed reviews. However, everyone – from critics to audience members – agrees that the star of the show is the flying DeLorean.
That got me thinking about other shows where an automobile was one of the stars. Here are a few. How many have you seen? Which musicals would you add?
Grease – opened on February 14, 1972
My first Broadway show without parental accompaniment. Grease is still one of my all-time favorite shows and cast recordings. While the entire body of souped-up Greaased Lightning doesn’t appear on stage – just the grille, hood and headlights – it is an iconic part of the show, along with one of the best numbers from the score. For a number of years, it was the longest running musical in Broadway history, notching 3,388 performances.
Sunset Boulevard – opened on November 17, 1994
A March 19, 1995 article about the show’s full-scale fiberglass copy of Norma Desmond’s Isotta Fraschini (pronounced ee-ZOH-tah frah-SKEE-nee) proclaimed “Driving Miss Desmond: The Car’s a Scene-Stealer.” The town car had an open chauffeur’s compartment and a convertible top over the rear seat. It is a faithful replica of the Isotta used in the original “Sunset Boulevard,” the 1950 Billy Wilder film starring Gloria Swanson. The show ran for 977 performances.
Ragtime – opened on January 18, 1998
The replica of a working Model T appears on stage and its desecration becomes a central plot point of the show. Three songs about the automobile appear in the score – “Henry Ford,” “Wheels of a Dream,” and “The Trashing of the Car.” Ragtime ran for 834 performances and won four Tony Awards including Best Book, Best Score and Best Featured Actress for Audra McDonald. It lost out to Lion King for Best Musical.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – opened April 28, 2005
The stage adaptation of the beloved film – that starred Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes – was a big hit on the London stage, running for 3 ½ years. On Broadway, just 285 performances. I personally loved the show and thought it should have run much longer. I sat in the 10th row, center orchestra and when the car started flying, I was in awe. Never figured out how they did it.
Hands on a Hardbody – opened on March 21, 2013
The musical is based on the true story of an endurance competition at a Texas dealership where contestants try to keep their hands on a truck the longest to win it. All the character’s personal stories, choreography, everything revolved around the red pick-up sitting center stage. Crazy idea that didn’t resonate with audiences. After 28 previews and 28 performances the musical closed. The show had music by Trey Anastasio, the singer, songwriter, and lead guitarist of the rock band Phish.