Rumor has it Benjamin Walker is racking up a high body count in American Psycho over at the Schoenfeld Theatre, but he’s not the first madman to bloody up the Great White Way. From women with powers to men with blades, the New York stage has seen its fair share of mayhem. Playbill takes a look at some methods of murder in these killer musicals.
Loosely based on Medea, Michael John LaChiusa plops his woman scorned, Marie Christine, among the world of voodoo in turn-of-the-century New Orleans. Armed with spells of paralyzing fear and cursed gifts that burn rivals alive, Marie causes quite a bit of damage wherever she travels. She may not have laid hands on all of her victims, but she definitely has a hand in every murder in this musical—even casting spells causing others to do her bidding. Though she’s responsible for fewer deaths than some of Broadway’s more notorious butchers, she is perhaps the most wicked. Just ask her kids.
Stephen King, Master of Macabre, is responsible for the next massacre, but unfortunately not at the box office. Carrie’s notoriety stems less from her number of victims, and more from being one of the shortest runs in the history of Broadway musicals. . The tuner tells of a girl with telekinetic powers who literally ruins the prom when she shuts off the exits and sets it on fire, killing everyone there, all because they threw a little pig's blood on her new dress. It ran a total of five performances and 16 previews in its original 1988 run, but a 2012 Off-Broadway production breathed new life into Carrie...right up until her mom stabbed her to death.
The doo-wop comedy by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman introduces audiences to Seymour, a geeky florist who comes to own a man-eating, alien plant. Sure, sure, the first death is an accident when Broadway’s favorite sadistic dentist accidentally offs himself with a little too much laughing gas, but Seymour doesn’t stop him. Is it a murder? When Seymour feeds The Dentist to his bloodthirsty plant...umm...maybe? The trick that kills Seymour’s boss, Mushnik, definitely pushes Seymour into the killer category. Even though he does exhibit some remorse, it isn’t enough to save Seymour and Audrey from falling prey to the carnivorous Audrey II. The plant’s final victim tally relies completely on the size of the house, as the ending implies Audrey II devours the audience.
Sondheim turned to the Victorian penny dreadful era to create his “Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Sweeney Todd returns to London and to his former profession after 15 years in exile to exact revenge on the shady judge who had banished him years before. With a little help from his “friends,” Sweeney slits his customers’ throats. His accomplice, Mrs. Lovett bakes her victims into meat pies and soon has a booming business. No bad deed goes unpunished in this tale. Everyone gets it in the end in a flurry of revelations and razors.
Eating Raoul, Off-Broadway 1992
Paul Bartel turned his 1982 cult movie fave into an Off-Broadway musical ten years after its screen premiere, with Adrian Zmed in the unfortunate titular role. The black comedy about a couple of “Bland” aspiring restaurateurs-turned-killers, who murder swingers to steal their money, features a frying pan as the main murder weapon. The show ends with a woman deciding whether or not to kill her husband or her lover with “One Last Bop.” (Also, is that a hat-tip to Sweeney with victims winding up in cans of dog food?)
Jekyll is the attractive doctor. Hyde is the stringy-haired madman. Of course, they are the good and evil incarnations of the same person from the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale brought to lyrical life by Frank Wildhorn. Spurred by the desire to cure his father's mental illness, Dr. Jekyll sets out to separate the evil from the good in the human soul, thereby creating his own monster alter-ego, Mr. Hyde. Armed with a swordstick (you know, like a cane that has sword hidden inside of it), Hyde exacts his revenge on those he feels wronged Jekyll in the doctor’s attempt to seek funding for his research—plus a few others. In the end, Jekyll goes all harikari and kills Hyde (himself) at his own wedding. Famous J&H’s include David Hasselhoff, Jack Wagner, Sebastian Bach and Constantine Maroulis.
Sondheim and Lapine don’t shy away from the inherent violence of fairy tales in Into the Woods. In this fable, a baker and his wife work to lift the infertility curse set upon their family by the Witch next door. To reverse the curse they must travel into the woods to gather ingredients for a potion. It's here they meet Cinderella, Little Red and Jack, each on their own adventure. It’s difficult to point to one bad guy in this story mash-up, but there are several killings: a royal steward clubs a mother, a giantess tramples a princess, a baker slits the stomach of a wolf. In fact, it can be said that there isn’t really a bad guy at fault. After all, “nothing's all black, but then nothing's all white.” It’s worth noting that the Witch doesn’t kill anyone.
It’s in the title. After the death of his mother, the poor Monty Navarro learns that she descends from a long line of wealthy D'Ysquiths, and he is ninth in line to inherit the earldom. The audience bears witness to two love stories and eight murders as Monty Navarro works his way through the family line, killing for his own title: Lord Montague D'Ysquith Navarro, Ninth Earl of Highhurst. With some of the more...creative...deaths on Broadway, Monty leaves a trail of carnage using bees and barbells as his accomplices. He’s also one of the few killers to get away with everything, thanks to those two loves.
The John Kander and Fred Ebb musical starts with a bang when Roxie Hart shoots her lover (because he was walking out on her!), sending her straight to the Cook County Jail. There she meets Velma Kelly—who killed her husband and sister—and the other five merry murderesses on the cell block. After a few attempts to steal the spotlight from each other—and an interruption from a new high-profile murderess on the scene—Roxie and Velma eventually team up to turn their scandals into vaudeville fame, proving that they do “let ya get away with murder,” as long as ya “razzle dazzle ‘em.”
Heathers, Off-Broadway 2014
Another cult movie turned killer musical, Heathers ran Off-Broadway in 2014 with Barrett Wilbert Weed s Veronica, the only non-Heather in the rule-the-school Heathers clique. Veronica meets J.D., the dark and dangerous new classmate, and the two plot to kill all the cool kids that are ruining their lives. The musical follows the same plot as the movie and includes all your favorite murderous moments: a drain-cleaner cocktail, double homicide shooting, a large bomb...all under the guise of teen suicide. For fans of the film who aren’t familiar with the cast recording, “I love my dead gay son!” has, indeed, been set to music.