|Contemplating a new fall season, the late Times critic Walter Kerr once wrote, "plus ça change, plus c'est la même shows."
Point taken: in the theater as in other arts, you mostly experience middling work. Those incandescent shows that you never forget—they're relatively rare and all the more precious for it.
That's also true of the theater's underbelly, the musicals and plays that are so excruciating, so insanely off-the-rails that they can offer their own perverse enjoyment (provided you're not depending on that show for a paycheck or hoping for a return on your investment).
Probably the most notorious was Moose Murders from 1983, for which Frank Rich began his review this way:
From now on, there will always be two groups of theatergoers in this world: those who have seen "Moose Murders," and those who have not. Those of us who have witnessed the play that opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theater last night will undoubtedly hold periodic reunions, in the noble tradition of survivors of the Titanic. Tears and booze will flow in equal measure, and there will be a prize awarded to the bearer of the most outstanding antlers. As for those theatergoers who miss "Moose Murders" - well, they just don't rate. A visit to "Moose Murders" is what will separate the connoisseurs of Broadway disaster from mere dilettantes for many moons to come.
That gallows humor, very much part of the theatrical tradition, has a beloved shrine at Joe Allen, 326 W. 46th [8th/9th] 212.581.6464. Among the reliable pleasures of Joe's (which include the La Scala salad) is scanning the framed window cards on the brick walls to ponder the best laid schemes of mice and men (itself a quick flop in the 1974 revival starring Kevin Conway and James Earl Jones).
Joe Allen has now put these window cards online, which you can view in their Flop Viewer. Moose Murders gets pride of place but spend some time here and you can work up a good flopsweat.
Bette Davis in a musical. Got Tu Go Disco (nicknamed Got Tu Be Kidding). The Leonard Bernstein/Alan Jay Lerner musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (which was as much fun as it sounds). The musical version of Carrie, a ghastly farrago so absurd that it prompted us into an uncontrollable laughing fit many years ago during one preview—for which we tender our belated apologies to Betty Buckley et al.
Sifting through the remains, you find lots of major talents who've gotten caught up in a bad situation. Then there are those who've simply gotten caught: Garth Drabinsky, a Canadian producer who worked frequently on Broadway, has been convicted of defrauding investors. While the case is on appeal, you won't find him at Joe Allen (except on the wall) since he'd be arrested if he tried to enter this country.
Then there's Adela Holzer, who was convicted in 1981 of stealing money from investors, plus being involved, according to the Times, in a "bogus Toyota dealership." Holzer memorably, though incorrectly, claimed at one point to be the secret wife of David Rockefeller. She will have served out her minimum sentence on a later conviction for swindling immigrants and be paroled, at age 82, next month.
More recent shows have included Pirate Queen, In My Life, Glory Days—all dead and soundly buried. But the undead have generally not done well on Broadway either—witness Lestat as well as the dire, batsh*t-crazy Dance of the Vampires.
And, speaking of the undead, Arthur Laurents created a version of The Thin Man called Nick & Nora (for which MUG's publisher bears some responsibility). It has been said (probably by us) that Mr. Laurents has battery acid in his veins. If so, it's apparently a preservative, since he's still working at age 91. We check the obits daily. [Update: Arthur Laurents died on May 5, 2011.]
Today on Wish You Were Here:
Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum
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