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Famous Broadway Flops

Frankenstein - 1981
Moose Murders - 1983
Teaneck Tanzi - 1983
Carrie - 1988
Virginia Fields - 2005

According to Newsday, Virginia Fields' Tuesday night fundraiser at the Times Square Laugh Factory, infamous scene of Fields rendition of the Jefferson's theme song, "Movin' on up," was on course to attract less than 10 people. That's 10 people in a house that seats 300.

With the price of fundraiser's admission being $100, if lucky, the Fields campaign might have raised close to $1,000 and maybe even covered the cost of renting the room.

Almost makes one nostalgic for Moose Murders (here and here), which is perhaps, the perfect metaphor for the Virginia Fields candidacy.

For the Newsday report -- and a review of Moose Murders -- click below.

Fields fund-raiser flounders
Glenn Thrush
July 20, 2005

Money-challenged mayoral candidate C. Virginia Fields just can't seem to catch a break. Last night's fund-raiser at Manhattan's Laugh Factory, which was expected to draw about 50 people, was on pace to garner fewer than 10, according to a person close to Fields. Campaign officials had no comment on the event's outcome.

Fields' supporters were still working the phones all afternoon to fill the vacant seats for the 6:30 p.m. event, according to the source who witnessed several of the calls.

A Fields spokeswoman had no comment on the fund-raiser. But the campaign fiercely denied an allegation that some workers delayed their salaries so a recent filing with the city Campaign Finance Board would show an artificially inflated $312,000 cash on hand.

"There's just no truth to that," said Fields spokeswoman Kirsten Powers, who said consultants were paid based on when they submitted invoices. "I got paid, we all got paid, when we submitted invoices," she said.

Unlike all other candidates, Fields employs consultants, not salaried staff, saving on health insurance and other fringe benefits.

Moose Talk
By: Peter Filichia

You know what today is, don't you? It's Washington's Birthday, of course...but I'm talking theatrically. And every theatrical savant worth his salt can tell you that, 19 years ago today, Moose Murders opened at the Eugene O'Neill. (Today is also, of course, the 19th anniversary of Moose Murders' closing at the Eugene O'Neill).

Moose Murders, by Arthur Bicknell. Directed by John Roach (though somehow I remember Norman René's name originally attached.). Starring Eve Arden--for one preview, anyway, before Holland Taylor took over. Kent Shelton was credited not with providing "stage combat" but "stage violence." The musical supervisor was Ken Lundie, who must have wished that he were Mr. Lundie in Brigadoon so that he wouldn't have to show his face for the next 100 years.

I attended an early preview of the show, weeks before the opening-slash-closing. I opened the program to discover that the characters I'd meet included Snooks and Howie Keene, Joe Buffalo Dance, Nurse Dagmar, Hedda and Stinky Holloway. Who could ask for anything more? Well, I could, as soon as the curtain went up on a rustic lodge in which several moose heads were mounted. "Though the heads may be hunting trophies," Frank Rich of the New York Times would later write, "one cannot rule out the possibility that these particular moose committed suicide shortly after being shown the script that trades on their good name."

The show began with Howie, a blind man, playing an electric piano as his wife Snooks shook her tush at us while she sang "Jeepers, Creepers"--a song which, incidentally, my Catholic school nuns urged us not to sing because it mocked Jesus Christ. (Who knew? Well, my nuns always believed they knew everything.) The next character in was someone who, perhaps, agreed with the nuns, for he pulled the plug on the piano...but not the show. It wasn't long before I pulled the plug--soon after Joe Buffalo Dance, a Native American dressed to look the part, spoke in an Irish brogue, and immediately following a totally bandaged quadriplegic's being rolled on stage in a wheelchair.

So when people ask me if I saw Moose Murders, I have to answer: "Yes and no." For I lasted--I mean this--11 minutes, still the shortest time I've ever spent at a show. Had I known the play would become infamous and not just another quick closer, I might have stayed on. But I'd been on a business trip, had schlepped my luggage to the theater, was sweaty and hungry and not in the mood to have my intelligence insulted any more than it had to be. So I missed the second-act scene that I heard about later, where the quadriplegic magically bolted from his wheelchair and kicked a moose-suited man below the belt.

Moose Murders has now and forever become an idiom for atrociousness. When Chess opened on Broadway, critic Joel Siegel of ABC called it "the Moose Murders of musicals." Michael Musto of The Village Voice compared the dull opening night party of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle to the show; he was probably reminded of it because Bullwinkle is, after all, a moose. Glenn Loney of the New York Theatre Wire wrote three seasons ago, "The wonderful, admirable Judith Ivey has made a return to Broadway in Moose Murders. Actually, her rickety vehicle is titled Voices in the Dark." Robert Hofler in Variety, who didn't like Ivo Van Hove's revisionist look at A Streetcar Named Desire, said it was "for those who missed Moose Murders and Carrie." And speaking of Carrie: When that legendary disaster opened, Frank Rich said, "Only the absence of antlers separates the pig murders of Carrie from the Moose Murders of Broadway lore."

Frankly, Frank Rich's best observation about the show came in June of 1983, when he did a season wrap-up. It was the same semester that Noises Off triumphantly opened on Broadway, and Rich smartly noted that Nothing On--the very silly play-within-the-play in Noises Off--was pretty much analogous to Moose Murders in its ineptness. Of course, Noises Off was winking at incompetence while Moose Murders was playing it for real.

Still, those who were involved with Moose Murders have a sense of pride in having survived it. Casting agents Stuart Howard and Amy Schecter still list it in their bios. Lisa McMillan, who played Nurse Dagmar, and Mara Hobel, who had a minor role, do the same--adding for extra cachet that they appeared with Eve Arden. Production stage manager Clifford Schwartz refers to the show as "the blockbuster Moose Murders" in his credits.

Recently, I interviewed June Gable, who brought up out of the blue that she'd been Snooks in the show. "Eve Arden was a lovely woman," Gable remembered, "but it was very hard for her at the time to memorize lines. You'd be on stage, you'd wait for her to deliver her line, you'd see her eyes widen, and you'd go, 'Oh-oh.' But the whole thing was such a disaster, I've dined out on it for years--especially at Joe Allen's, where the poster has a central place on the Wall of Flops."

I mentioned the quadriplegic who came on totally bandaged. Gable did not remember him. "You know, thank God, I have very little memory of the show," she confessed. "It was an outrageous experience and it was one reason why I left the business shortly afterwards. I actually went to India and spent a year there searching for the meaning of life." (She's done better since; she has made several appearances on Friends as Estelle Leonard, Joey's tough agent. At the moment, Gable is at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick where she's portraying Dr. Gorgeous in The Sisters Rosensweig and is tearing down the house.)

I asked Gable if she knew that Moose Murders stunk by the time she got to page four. "I knew it was very weird," she conceded. "I didn't want to take the job, but my agent at the time said to take the money and run. They offered me so much--a real Broadway salary! Those were the days when I made decisions on a more superficial basis. Money?!" she growled, not unlike the way Lonny Price growled the word in "Franklin Shepard, Inc." "Awright! Okay! I took the job. As I was going through the [rehearsal] process, I did wind up thinking, 'What is this? What can this be?' I even wrote an article on Moose Murders for Esquire magazine." Gable promised to send me a copy but she hasn't yet; if she does, I'll let you know what it says.

Moose Murders may not have had as many lives as a cat, but there have been other productions. Whippany (NJ) Park High School did the show in 1990 and proudly advertised it as "'Broadway's ultimate disaster'--Frank Rich, The New York Times." Youngstown State University revived it, too, as did the Canyon Theatre Guild in Newhall, CA; the Kent Trumbull Theatre at Kent State University; the Ardmore (OK) Little Theatre; and my personal favorite, the Blue Slipper Dinner Theatre in Livingston, Montana.

And every year, in his suburban New Jersey home, Simon Saltzman--drama critic of a newspaper called US-1 that serves people who live near that highway--invites a bunch of friends to his house to read the script of Moose Murders to a number of head-shaking attendees.


New York Times
February 23, 1983

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.

The play begins in the exact manner of ''Whodunnit'' - itself one of the season's drearier offerings, though at the time of its opening we didn't realize how relatively civilized it was. There's a loud thunderclap, and the curtain rises to reveal an elaborate, twolevel, dark wood set. Amusingly designed by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, the set represents a lodge in the Adirondacks and is profusely decorated with the requisite stuffed moose heads. 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.

The first human characters we meet - if ''human'' is the right word - are ''the singing Keenes.'' The scantily clad Snooks Keene bumps her backside in the audience's face and sings ''Jeepers Creepers'' in an aggresively off-key screech while her blind husband, Howie, pounds away on an electric hand organ. Howie's plug is soon mercifully pulled by the lodge's beefy middle-aged caretaker, Joe Buffalo Dance, who wears Indian war paint and braids but who speaks in an Irish brogue.

This loathsome trio is quickly joined by a whole crowd of unappetizing clowns. The wealthy Hedda Holloway, the lodge's new owner, arrives with her husband, Sidney, a heavily bandaged quadriplegic who is confined to a wheelchair and who is accurately described as ''that fetid roll of gauze.'' Sidney's attendant, Nurse Dagmar, wears revealing black satin, barks in Nazi-ese and likes to leave her patient out in the rain. The Holloway children include Stinky, a drug-crazed hippie who wants to sleep with his mother, and Gay, a little girl in a party dress. Told that her father will always be ''a vegetable,'' Gay turns up her nose and replies, ''Like a lima bean? Gross me out!'' She then breaks into a tap dance.

For much of Act I, this ensemble stumbles about mumbling dialogue that, as far as one can tell, is only improved by its inaudibility. Just before intermission, Stinky breaks out a deck of cards to give the actors, if not the audience, something to do. The lights go out in mid-game, and when they come up again, one of the characters has been murdered. Such is the comatose nature of the production that we're too busy trying to guess which stiff on stage is the victim to worry about guessing the culprit.

Even Act I of ''Moose Murders'' is inadequate preparation for the ludicrous depths of Act II. I won't soon forget the spectacle of watching the mummified Sidney rise from his wheelchair to kick an intruder, unaccountably dressed in a moose costume, in the groin. This peculiar fracas is topped by the play's final twist, in which Hedda serves her daughter Gay a poison-laced vodka martini. As the young girl collapses to the floor and dies in the midst of another Shirley Temple-esque buck and wing, her mother breaks into laughter and applause.

The 10 actors trapped in this enterprise, a minority of them of professional caliber, will not be singled out here. I'm tempted to upbraid the author, director and producers of ''Moose Murders,'' but surely the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will be after them soon enough.

Paging the A.S.P.C.A.

MOOSE MURDERS, by Arthur Bicknell; directed by John Roach; scenery by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg; lighting by Pat Collins; costumes by John Carver Sullivan; sound design by Chuck London Media/Stewart Werner; dance coordinator, Mary Jane Houdina; stage violence by Kent Shelton; associate producer, Ricka Kanter Fisher; production stage manager, Jerry Bihm. Presented by Force Ten Productions Inc. At the Eugene O'Neill, 230 West 49th Street.

Snooks Keene ...............................June Gable
Howie Keene ................................Don Potter
Joe Buffalo Dance ........................Jack Dabdoub
Nurse Dagmar ............................Lisa McMillan
Hedda Holloway .........................Holland Taylor
Stinky Holloway ...........................Scott Evans
Gay Holloway ...............................Mara Hobel
Lauraine Holloway Fay ................Lillie Robertson
Nelson Fay ...........................Nicholas Hormann
Sidney Holloway ........................Dennis Florzak

By Frank Rich
New York Times
March 20, 1983

Like everyone who caught the theater bug at an early age, I always made a point of saving Playbills. Not just my Playbills, mind you, but the entire world's: between a matinee and evening performance during adolescence, I would skip dinner in order to tour Times Square garbage cans and scoop up the programs of all the plays I had not seen. People who share this affliction surely know how near and dear those Playbills become as the years pass by. That's why we weep unabashedly over the scene in Moss Hart's memoir ''Act One'' in which the author's angry father torments his elderly, theater-loving aunt into ''dropping her beloved programs from trembling hands all over the floor.'' It's as if Hart's father had sacked a holy shrine.

But there comes a time in adulthood when one must either break this acquisitive habit entirely or rent a warehouse. I quit cold turkey, not to be overly exact about it, on Sept. 14, 1967. Or almost. There are still rare occasions when the old urge takes over and a Playbill simply must be tucked away for posterity. These exceptions are not the ones you might expect. I now realize that there's no point in saving programs from great nights in the theater. Those nights become part of history and will be profusely documented forever; it's always possible to dig up a Playbill from ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,'' after all, if really necessary. The Playbills that are truly worth saving are the rarest: those from the worst nights in the theater. And not just any worst night, either, but the very worst - those of the legendary bombs.

What makes certain bombs into legends? It's hard to say, precisely - they don't wear fur coats. Once it was a mark of distinction for a play to close in one night, but in these troubled times even that phenomenon is a sad commonplace. Some theater people define legendary bombs by the amount of money that went down the drain, or the high caliber of talent expended, or the extravagant foolhardiness of the esthetic mission. Others let Joe Allen, the theater district bistro, be the final arbiter: that restaurant has a whole wall bedecked with posters from a select group of famous turkeys. Whatever the definition, it can't be quantified - a flop just must have a certain je ne sais quoi to rise to legendary status. But what I do know is this: the only Playbill I've saved thus far in this decade is the one from ''Moose Murders.''

''Moose Murders,'' for those with short memories, was a catastrophe that reared its ugly stuffed head, complete with antlers, last month. Let's not review its contents here except to say that it was a comedy whose climax consisted of a gauze-wrapped quadriplegic rising from his wheelchair to kick a man wearing a moose costume in the groin.

In any case, I come not to bury ''Moose Murders'' again, but, in a fashion, to praise it. A legend it most certainly is. Those few of us who saw ''Moose Murders'' will always look back at it less with anger than with guilty pleasure. Indeed, since reviewing this show, I have received a near-flood of mail from ''Moose Murders'' audience members who, while detesting the play, were glad to have seen it, for reasons I'll explain. (You can bet that these correspondents are saving their Playbills, too.) Other letters have arrived from jealous folk who sorely resent not having made it to ''Moose Murders'' just to experience for themselves how atrocious it was. (These correspondents, no doubt, were frantically searching through Broadway trashcans for the Playbill the morning after the openingclosing night.)

Why the regret about having missed a dreadful play? Why the guilty pleasure in having seen it? The crazy thing about a ''Moose Murders'' is that it does remind one, however backhandedly, of the particular excitement of witnessing live theater.

If a great play unites audience and actors alike into a transcendent emotional or intellectual journey, so a truly wretched one can band audience and actors together into a shared nightmare. As passengers will always remember an ecstatic trans-Atlantic journey on the France, so will survivors always remember the camaraderie of their ill-starred crossing on the Titanic. A communal, we're-all-inthis-together feeling takes over, sink or swim.

It's not an experience available at run-of-the-mill flops, which are just boring and conventionally wasteful, or at the movies: while the audience at ''Heaven's Gate'' may draw tightly together, the actors making fools of themselves on the screen are not there to share in the collective embarrassment - they're already back sipping white wine and getting tan in Malibu. In my theatergoing years, the Broadway show that best illustrates the special allure of seeing a legendary flop - and diehard theatergoers' ravenous hunger for that adventure - is a musical called ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom and Don't You Ever Forget It!'' Does anybody remember it? It never exactly opened. After a few preview performances at the Broadhurst in December 1973, a discreet announcement appeared in the Saturday papers that the show would close, prior to its premiere, that night. Happening to be in the vicinity of the Times Square half-price ticket booth that day, I bought a pair in the mezzanine for the musical's farewell performance. Arriving at the Broadhurst just before 8 P.M., I was startled to discover that the sold-out sign was up and that strangers were waving $50 bills in the air for any available ticket. Not for a second was I tempted to clear an $80 profit on my pair and miss out on this spectacle. Inside the theater, the atmosphere was so heady you'd think you were at a Tony Awards gala. There were celebrities from all the arts, ranks of standees in the back of the orchestra, paparazzi and autograph hounds pushing and shoving. When the lights dimmed, a voice came over the loud-speaker to announce that ''Tonight 'Rachael Lily Rosenbloom' will be played without an intermission.'' These words alone were enough to prompt the audience to break into a prolonged, punchdrunk ovation.

What followed was a musical fantasy of surpassing lavishness that made no sense, at any level, from beginning to end. The majority of the crowd fell into a sullen, open-mouthed stupor like that with which the audience greets the opening scenes of ''Springtime for Hitler,'' the fictitious Broadway flop within Mel Brooks's film ''The Producers.'' But no one walked out: ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom'' became an existential test which everyone was determined to pass. The cast, many of whom were dressed in silver lame g-strings, attacked their tasks as if they were performing ''Guys and Dolls.''

After the show, I ran into an acquaintance and asked him why the house was packed for the closing night of such a fiasco. He surveyed the lobby and said, ''These are all the people who didn't see 'Breakfast at Tiffany's.' '' He was right. To this day, there are thousands of theatergoers, me included, who regret having missed that legendary, 1960's bomb -a big-budget musical starring Richard Chamberlain and Mary Tyler Moore, adapted by Edward Albee from the Truman Capote story, that the producer David Merrick folded in previews at the Majestic. We weren't going to make the same mistake twice.

It was also at ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom'' that I learned the answer to the eternal question that always follows in the wake of such theatrical disasters. That question, of course, is, ''Why didn't anyone realize how hopeless this show was before risking all the trouble and expense and public ridicule of putting it on?'' Some people speculate that the creators of a ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom'' or ''Breakfast at Tiffany's'' or ''Moose Murders'' are suffering from temporary insanity. Others postulate that such shows are tax gimmicks or maybe clandestine pranks hatched by foreign agents out to undermine the American way of life. But the real answer is more benign and simple than that. Theater people, like all people, would always rather believe good news than bad news, especially about their own work - and someone is always willing to give them encouragement, no matter how ridiculous the project at hand may be.

If a musical on its way to Broadway gets terrible reviews and audience catcalls in Boston, it's often said, that musical's creators will ignore those omens entirely and instead choose to believe the opinion of the Ritz-Carlton waiter who confides, while waiting for a tip, that he found the show superior to ''My Fair Lady.'' At ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom,'' one could see this process in action: in scattered pockets throughout the otherwise shell-shocked house were claques of theatergoers who sang along with the musical numbers and gave mini-standing ovations at the end of most of them.

These partisans had clearly seen earlier previews of the show and adored it; they were in tears when the final curtain rang down. No doubt there were other such ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom'' fans at every stage of the show's development. There will always be somebody who loves a bomb, no matter how deadly, and there will always be at least one person connected with the production who will grab on to the straws of hope that these cheerleaders provide.

This myopia can afflict all theater artists, however mighty. It has happened to nearly everyone. But when the turkey finally rests in its grave, its perpetrators often bounce back. Pulling out my cherished Playbill for ''Rachael Lily Rosenbloom,'' I find that its co-producer went on to produce ''Evita''; that its co-librettist went on to write ''Dreamgirls''; that its female leads have recently found acclaim and stardom in ''Nine'' and ''Little Shop of Horrors''; that three of its chorus people were later leads in ''A Chorus Line'' (one winning a Tony Award) and another was a star of ''Ain't Misbehavin'.'' They probably look back and laugh, too, by now.

I can't promise that all will end so happily for the cast and crew of ''Moose Murders.'' We'll wait 10 years and see. In the meantime, I'm holding on tightly to my rare Playbill. It's a remembrance of a genuine theatrical occasion, and just possibly, given my correspondents who would kill for it, an annuity for my old age.