Members of the American company of the British-created show were told May 3 that sales at the Little Shubert Theatre have been softer than expected for the macabre musical work and that it would close May 29, with ads indicating "last weeks" appearing shortly.
A rave from the New York Times followed by feature stories in its arts section couldn't save poor Peter from its premature demise.
Previews began Feb. 11 toward a Feb. 22 opening, featuring a British cast. In recent weeks, an American cast took over the roles, but the change was not thought to be the reason for a sales slump — the show is viewed as an ensemble experience, boasting subject matter that's considered a hard sell in any market.
In London, they liked it so much it won the 2002 Olivier Award. The show played engagements in the U.K., though not a conventional long run in commercial terms. The producers are exploring engagements in U.S. regional markets, perhaps as early as this summer, Playbill.com learned.
The show's world is a sort of Victorian haunted house where misbehaving children meet their gory and (perhaps) deserved ends. Created by Julian Bleach, Anthony Cairns, Julian Crouch, Graeme Gilmour, Tamzin Griffin, Jo Pocock, Phelim McDermott, Michael Morris, The Tiger Lillies (Martyn Jacques, Adrian Huge, Adrian Stout), Shockheaded Peter features 11 original songs written and performed by The Tiger Lillies, a trio from London's underground. Those tunes, played on drums, bass and accordion, and sung in an eerie falsetto, tell of such young ruffians as Johnny Head-in-air, who never looks where he's going; Conrad, who won't leave off sucking his thumbs; Harriet, a fiend for playing with matches; and Augustus, who forever cries "take that nasty soup away!" Invariably, the morality tales end with the terse lyric "He's dead," or "He died."
The whole is overseen by a ghoulishly attired narrator, who proclaims himself "the greatest actor that ever existed," and proceeds to take on roles include a large cat, the slovenly title baby, and Snip Snip, the flame-headed demon who cuts off the thumbs of naughty Conrad.
Shockheaded Peter is a musical staging of the 19th-century children's book "Struwwelpeter" (slovenly Peter), a volume of cautionary children's tales by Heinrich Hoffmann. The lyrics were adapted from Hoffmann.
The intermissionless production, which was briefly seen at New York's Victory Theatre in 1999, returned to Off-Broadway with its original cast. Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott direct the production.
The creative team comprises Julian Crouch and Graeme Gilmour (who created the distinctive one-dimension sets), Kevin Pollard (costume design), Jon Linstrum (lighting design) and Mic Pool & Roland Higham (sound).
The current cast includes Fred Berman, Candy Buckley, Luther Creek, Mark H. Dold, Manoel Felciano, Ritt Henn, Paul Kandel and Josie Whittlesey, with Kevin Townley, Paul Niebanck, Kate Nowlin and Shawn Gough.
This engagement is produced by Dan Markley, Alan J. Schuster, Pomegranate Arts, Shockheaded Media Ltd., Harriet Newman Leve, Sonny Everett, Michael Skipper, True Love Productions, Ded Harris/Morton Swinsky.
Shockheaded Peter is A Cultural Industry project originally produced in collaboration with West Yorkshire Playhouse and Lyric Theatre Hammersmith.
Shockheaded Peter plays Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 8 PM, Thursdays at 10 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM with matinees on Saturdays at 3 PM and Sundays at 2 PM.
Tickets, priced $49.50-$65, can be purchased by calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200. The 10 PM Thursday-night performances are priced at $25.
For more information, visit www.shockheadedpeternyc.com.
The Little Shubert Theatre is located in Manhattan at 422 West 42nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.