In addition to the truly horrific film mentioned above, Bag of Crushed Child
is also the name of a Musical that opened Off-Broadway in 1984 in the Sondegard theater. The music was composed by Jerry Lundquist
and the lyrics were written by Theodore Miles
, who took his own life three hours before the show opened on July, 7th. Lundquist was a dentist who had never mounted a theatrical production before; Miles was a troubled musician who had once played back-up for several Motown acts, and had only recently kicked a serious heroin addiction. The two had bonded over a midnight screening of the film and had come up with a basic outline of the musical over whiskey. Lundquist took out a third mortgage on his house and looted his savings, while Miles called in favors from minor recording industry figures who served as financial backers.
After workshopping the play in Lundquist's offices in Connecticut, the pair cast Louise Simone, a previously unsuccessful Northern Soul recording artist who had emigrated from Robin Hood's Bay, England to New York in pursuit of a recording contract that never panned out. Gordon Mays, a respected baritone who had received polite praise for his role as Isaac in Sing for Me, Boss Tweed, and who had been cast in Cats until a knee injury forced him to withdraw from the production, was cast as Luther. Bag of Crushed Child was a puppet performed by two people, Davis Lett, and Maria Lawson, and was also voiced by Lett.
The musical opened to a nearly full house on Saturday, July 7th. Critical reviews were mixed. Writing for the Times, Allen DeVore called it, "A stinking midden-heap of all the worst excesses of the modern musical... both mawkish and joyless." Whereas Lois Moreau, writing for Backstage praised it as "a breathtaking avant garde triumph" and concluded, "Despite Lundquist's sometimes leaden direction, Bag of Crushed Child both soars and breaks your heart." Despite the breathless enthusiasm from Backstage and good word of mouth, the musical closed after only eight performances, due to a fire that broke out shortly before a scheduled matinee performance on July 14th. The Sondegard burnt to the ground, and all six puppets used to portray Bag of Crushed Child onstage were lost. Arson investigators determined that the fire was accidental, but noted that there was evidence of embezzlement by the Production Manager, Ivan Kutozov, who had purchased sub-standard materials in set construction while billing Lundquist more than triple their cost.
The musical takes its basic plot from the 1979 film, but inserts a tragic love triangle between Luther, Carrie, and Bag of Crushed Child, which reaches its apex in the second act. Forced to choose between her burgeoning love for the rough and tumble, ruggedly handsome Luther, and her secret tortured desire for the hideously deformed murderous monster with the soul of a poet and the vocabulary of a dog choking on a banana, Carrie decides to run away with Luther in his pick-up truck in the lavish stage number "I'm running away with you to Reno in your Pick-up truck, Luther." Even more crushed by the betrayal of his beloved, Bag of Crushed Child exacts a terrifying revenge in the conclusion marked by the finale number "Grrrglaaargh!"
While never officially released, bootlegs of the original cast recording have been in constant circulation among certain sets of musical aficionados since 1984. I have heard the recording and can attest that despite the substandard quality of the audio, the act two opener, a duet between Carrie and Bag of Crushed Child, "Grrrglarrg means I love you" is quite touching. The score is in sensitive support of Simone's whisky-tinged soprano, while Lett's staccato cries of Grrrglarrg and Grarrglrr are heart-breaking in their intensity. Also of note is Luther's soliloquy "I'm gonna get me a hooker and a big-ass steak" which showcases Mays' excellent comedic timing and wry phrasing.
It's a shame that this quirky, ambitious bit of musical theater never received the fame and accolades that it deserved. Simone died a few years later of cirrhosis of the liver, and Mays' career never recovered after a sordid sex scandal involving two kilos of cocaine, three rent boys and several gallons of heated boysenberry jelly. Lundquist was financially ruined, and never returned to the world of theater. He still practices dentistry today in Connecticut and refuses any requests for information about the Musical. Still, if you can find a copy of the bootlegged cast production, you can hear the Magnum Opus of Theodore Miles' troubled career, and be amazed at the virtuosity of Louise Simone's voice.
Research from The New York Times, Backstage, Gaslamp, interview with Gordon Mays, and reviewing the cast recording.