Need a Twisted Stage Musical Fix

I’m not a big Andrew Lloyd Weber fan. I wasn’t very engaged traveling to the big city with my seventh grade class to see The Phantom of the Opera. The flying, blinking chandelier didn’t do it for me either. On the other hand I immediately connected to musicals like Hair, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the Lars von Trier directed film Dancer in the Dark. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

Musicals, whether in a movie theatre or live on stage, can have a strike against them from the get-go for many, but when one does connect with an audience the musical’s originality and production can astound.

I like my musical a little darker with hippies singing about hash or dancing transvestites from outer space. Here are two I suggest taking a summer trip down to New York to enjoy.

Shockhead Peter – If you are amused by Edward Gory’s drawings of children dying in various gruesome ways, like N is for Nelville who died of ennui, then this show is for you.

Shockhead Peter is a newborn so hideous that he’s banished beneath the floorboards, but emerges years later, slightly cranky, with overgrown fingernails and a shock head of hair. In other sketches children meet gruesome ends while playing with matches or sucking a thumb.

An emcee dressed like a circus barker who’s had a very bad night provides narration and a lot of jokes, while British cult trio The Tiger Lilies act as a Greek chorus to the morbid dramatizations on stage. On the Broadway stage, The Tiger Lilies appear in funeral clothes and smeared clown faces, while the lead singer matches his falsetto with an accordion.

This is one dark fair with lots of puppets, grim moments and chilling, upbeat music. It’s so grim in fact, sometimes you will feel a little bit guilty for giggling – or maybe not, depending on how you like your musicals.

Grey Gardens – This opened in November 2006 and quickly became one of Broadway’s darlings. It is based on the cult documentary of the same name, which follows mother and daughter Big and Little Edie Beales who live in squalor, with many cats in an empty, dirty 29-room mansion in East Hampton. The two notorious recluses also happen to be the aunt and cousin of Jackie Kennedy.

It all begins in the former glory of their past as socialites and talented, headstrong beauties with some peppy songs undercut by eerie foreshadowing. Every element of the production is top-notch but the real power comes from the unusual and daring musical numbers of the second act, including a cat-induced acid trip sung by the dead and ghosts. If it sounds depressing, it’s not: it’s full of manic charm.

For information on both shows visit

If you’re unable to get down to New York City this summer to check out one of these great shows, try Famous Puppet Death Scenes May 31 to June 3 at Monument National, presented by Festival Transamerique. There are no musical numbers but there are morbid puppets!


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