By the end of the first scene of the first-ever revival of “Moose Murders,” which attained legendary status as the worst flop in Broadway history, I thought to myself: This is really not any worse than many shows you can see in the neighborhood. Playing at the John Connelly Theater in the East Village near Avenue B, The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective’s production of this arch comedy/mystery features outlandish characters doing outrageous things, sprinkled with pop culture references. Doesn’t this describe many of the shows at the Fringe Festival?
At the end of the first act, however, I walked out – the first show I’ve left during intermission literally in decades. This was not because it was so terrible. If anything, it was not terrible enough. It’s not even that I was bored. It’s that I suddenly realized that my curiosity had been sated and I could leave with impunity. Who was going to complain that I had walked out of “Moose Murders,” a play that closed on Broadway the same day in 1983 that it opened? Even its playwright, Arthur Bricknell, has written a memoir entitled Moose Murdered, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Broadway Bomb.
How many shows issue press releases that highlight how terrible the reviews have been?
“Critic Frank Rich called it ‘A show so preposterous that it made minor celebrities out of everyone who witnessed it.’ John Simon, writing for New York magazine, said it seemed as if the play were staged by ‘a blind director repeatedly kicked in the groin.’ The legacy of Moose Murders is so notorious that the New York Times has called it ‘the standard of awfulness against which all Broadway flops are judged.’”
Even the program of the revival seems to engage in a kind of self-parody putdown. Ok, yes, there’s a note in the program from the artistic director Steven Carl McCasland that promises “no mocking here. No camp. Just a moose, a mystery and lots of history!” But then the Who’s Who bios include some suspect phrases…
“….was born and raised in Munchkinland…”
“….is making his first NY stage debut” (Does anybody make a second NY stage debut?)
“….has appeared in Community Theater Productions of Oliver…holds a degree in Interior Decoration.”
“….now resides in Washington Heights, where he sells drugs and mugs little old ladies to supplement his income as a writer.”
Surely some of this is meant to be funny, although, since none of it is, maybe it’s part of some kind of Andy Kaufman happening.
I had the exact same thoughts once the play began, and we in the audience were introduced to the Wild Moose Lodge in the Adirondacks where caretaker Joe, dressed in an Indian headdress, berates the talentless duo of Snooks and her blind husband Howie. All three are being kicked out by the new owners the Halloways – Hedda, her three children, her daughter’s husband, and her own husband, Sydney, who is wrapped like a mummy in a wheelchair. He is taken care of, not very well, by Nurse Dagmar. Over the course of the play, which (I’m told) lasts about two and a half hours, each of them is killed one by one.
It was shortly during the first act that I came to a startling revelation: What makes “Moose Murders” entertaining — legendary!* — is not the show, but the reviews.
“So indescribably bad that I do not intend to waste anyone’s time by describing it.” — Clive Barnes, the New York Post
“I will not identify the cast pending notification of next of kin.” — Associated Press.
In Frank Rich’s review, he talks, for example, about the many stuffed moose heads on the set (The set at the Eugene O’Neill Theater on Broadway sounds as if it were a lot more impressive than the current low-budget one Off-Off Broadway.): “Though the heads may be hunting trophies, one cannot rule out the possibility that these particular moose committed suicide shortly after being shown the script that trades on their good name.”
I asked Frank Rich whether he’s tempted to see the revised version of Moose Murders downtown?
He replied: “Prefer to keep my fond memories!”
At the Connelly Theater, 220 East Fourth Street
By Arthur Bicknell; directed by Steven Carl McCasland; sets and costumes by Dennis DelBene; sound by Mr. McCasland; lighting by Chris D’Angelo; fight choreography by Christopher Stokes; production manager, C. J. Thoms. Presented by the Beautiful Soup Collective., , beautifulsoup.showclix.com. Through Feb. 10. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission
Cast: Brittany Velotta (Snooks Keene), Steven Carl McCasland (Howie Keene), Orlando Iriarte (Joe Buffalo Dance), Noelle Stewart (Nurse Dagmar), Anna Kirkland (Hedda Holloway), Caroline Rosenblum (Gay Holloway), Jordan Tierney (Stinky Holloway), Ali Bernstein (Lauraine Holloway Fay), Cory Boughton (Nelson Fay) and Dennis DelBene (Sidney Holloway).
Ticket prices: 25 – $30) can be purchased at http://beautifulsoup.showclix.com/.
“Moose Murders” is scheduled to run through February 10.
Update: One little-remembered fact: Holland Taylor, who is about to star in a one-woman show on Broadway about Ann Richards, played Hedda Holloway 30 years ago in the Broadway production of “Moose Murders” — and never appeared on Broadway again, until now.