The Perfect Crime Was When They Took My Money
December 8, 2017 9:18 AM   Subscribe

"Perfect Crime" is the longest-running play in New York, and its star, Catherine Russell, is in the Guinness Book of World records for playing the same lead part since its premiere in 1987. And by many, many accounts, it's awful.

Despite its Broadway longevity, availability at the tourist-favorite TKTS discount booth, and comparisons to the longest-running play in the world, Perfect Crime has garnered worse reviews than the jail on Rikers Island.

Even besides criticism of the stiff and rushed acting, the hokey production value, and the confusion of it appearing to be farce when it's not, the plot, while it may have made more sense in descriptive form, is thoroughly convoluted -- even prompting the producers themselves to provide a cheat sheet answering questions like 'Who Killed Whom & Why?' at the play's conclusion.

Part of its secret to success may be astute and low-budget business practices, including attracting guest stars like Gary Busey and the fact that the actors sometimes rip tickets in the lobby.

Catherine Russell, the woman behind this 'worst play in America', doesn't really care. "It's a confusing play. Some people really like it, some people don't. What else can I say? You can't live your life trying to make everybody happy."
posted by knownassociate (21 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
> "... comparisons to the longest-running play in the world ..."

The Mousetrap is also pretty bad, frankly. I have always found its success baffling.
posted by kyrademon at 9:21 AM on December 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


I've seen a lot of New York theater and I haven't seen this. Not sure I'll ever get around to it, but there's something charming to me about its endurance.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:23 AM on December 8, 2017


I just saw this in October! Yep, it was mediocre. I got the impression that the lead actress does the play entirely by muscle memory -- it's like two hours of her evening just don't exist.
posted by zeptoweasel at 9:29 AM on December 8, 2017 [11 favorites]


Catherine Russell, is in the Guinness Book of World records for playing the same lead part since its premiere in 1987

I'm certain that there are actors in Théâtre de la Huchette's La Cantatrice Chauve that have far surpassed her. That play has been running continuously since 1957. Some of the current performers are the descendants of the original performers.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:53 AM on December 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


leotrotsky, I should have included this link to Guinness itself. For this specific record, she's the holder.
posted by knownassociate at 9:58 AM on December 8, 2017


I don't doubt that's what's in Guinness, I just think that they're wrong.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:00 AM on December 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


This is amazing. The "sometimes rip tickets in the lobby" link has some interesting information about the finances (speculation that it was, at the time, largely financed by the theater sponsorship deal). It's hard to imagine that there isn't something else going on, financially-speaking, if nobody's heard of this and they can't fill the theater on a Friday night.

I got the impression that the lead actress does the play entirely by muscle memory -- it's like two hours of her evening just don't exist

I have sung the same three songs to my daughter nearly every night for the last 3+ years. So, more than a thousand "performances," which is nothing like what professional performers do. And it's absolutely become muscle memory; I can put together the week's shopping list or menu and the only time I'll lose my place or miss a word is if I'm thinking about other music (which I guess is too much for one brain to handle). And it is indeed, some nights, like those ten minutes or so just don't exist. It's a really strange feeling.

I can't even imagine what it's like to have performed the same play so many thousands of times.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:01 AM on December 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


As knownassociate posted above with the last link, the Reply All podcast about this is pretty good. :)
posted by bitterkitten at 10:02 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


this "then and now" photo is sort of fabulous.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:04 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


How have I never heard of this? It's so far up my alley it should be paying me rent!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:06 AM on December 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


I got the impression that the lead actress does the play entirely by muscle memory -- it's like two hours of her evening just don't exist

I read a memoir by, IIRC, a violinist who played in the orchestra for The Lion King for a really long time. The orchestra was hidden under the stage, and she reported musicians being so familiar with the score they read magazines while they played.
posted by Orlop at 10:15 AM on December 8, 2017 [12 favorites]


I read a memoir by, IIRC, a violinist who played in the orchestra for The Lion King for a really long time. The orchestra was hidden under the stage, and she reported musicians being so familiar with the score they read magazines while they played.

That could have been the original book of Mozart in the Jungle, where oboist Blair Tindall describes how some people read magazines, did crossword puzzles, even studied languages. She read her math textbooks this way, and also at least once showed up drunk at the last minute.
posted by Melismata at 10:26 AM on December 8, 2017 [5 favorites]


The Reply All episode is great but the interviewers come across as a little shitty. Perfect Crime isn't a piece of art, it's a small business, and she's kept it going for decades.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


In the "reviews" link above, in the midst of the one-stars on Yelp, there is a four-star review of the evening as an experience. My favourite bit:
By the end of the play, I definitely still had a few questions, and the FAQ provided ("Perfect Crime Answer Key") did clear up the harder to grasp plot points.
There is something perfect about leafing through the pages while walking down the stairs.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:40 AM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


I get this, but how do you do this for 30 years and not just make it better at some point, just for your own sake?
posted by bongo_x at 10:42 AM on December 8, 2017


The Mousetrap is also pretty bad, frankly. I have always found its success baffling.

Mulls this while fiddling with a lock of hair.
posted by chavenet at 10:47 AM on December 8, 2017


The Fantasticks is also pretty terrible. I’m not surprised they’re in the same theater.

I feel like I should hand it to her for being an older woman who’s hung on to a role in a way that (outside of opera) actresses aren’t generally allowed to do. But this still sounds like a tourist trap.

... and now I kind of want to see it. But I also kind of want to see The Moose Murders, too, or at least a script.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:49 PM on December 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


I remember reading once -- my Google-fu is failing me at the moment -- about a dancer who had been in nearly the entire run of Cats on Broadway, and the resulting gig had permitted her to buy several houses. Eighteen years as a professional dancer is impressive but to spend them all dancing around to the Rum Tum Tugger ... The mind boggles at how much muscle memory must have been acquired.
posted by sobell at 4:28 PM on December 8, 2017


this "then and now" photo is sort of fabulous.

And I love that that blog post is from 2009.
posted by bunbury at 8:54 PM on December 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


this still sounds like a tourist trap.

At any given moment, a solid 60% of Broadway is tourist traps. Hard to begrudge this one, which at least lacks pretensions.
posted by praemunire at 11:29 PM on December 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


At any given moment, a solid 60% of Broadway is tourist traps. Hard to begrudge this one, which at least lacks pretensions.

One of my favorite bits in Forbidden Broadway is “The Be-Littled Mermaid.” Ariel the little mermaid is draped across a piano like a lounge singer, singing a lament about how so many Broadway shows have become commercial tie-ins to existing movie properties. It's set to the tune of “Part of Your World,” and each chorus ends with a line about Broadway being “part Disney World.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:54 AM on December 9, 2017


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