A Charles Manson musical is actually a pretty good idea. The bloodthirsty would-be messiah moonlighted as a songwriter while plotting America’s destruction; he heard instructions for murder in the Beatles’ White Album. Pondering Manson’s love affair with pop music could reveal the seamy side of the counterculture’s yen for radical utopias.
Unfortunately, Manson: The Musical!—originally created by Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre, now revived by EndTimes Productions under the direction of Russell Dobular—settles for puerile provocations instead. In numbers set to jangly psychedelic tunes, the company sings Manson’s exploits: shacking up on a ranch with a coterie of runaways; the ritualized Tate and LaBianca massacres; his trial’s bizarre spectacle. Lampooning Hair, performers trip around beatifically; the Tate murders become a finger-snapping Fosse-style sequence.
The piece relishes Manson’s orgiastic lifestyle: The Manson Family—the guru’s harem and death squad—is portrayed as a tittering coven of bimbos in halter tops, alternately chirping lascivious banalities and shrieking satanically. Here, Manson is a lusty goofball: “Put my dick in your hand,” he croons to a new initiate, before receiving mimed blowjobs from successive disciples.
Manson creates a parodic free-fire zone, content to hit anything that moves. But who really wants to laugh at a dumb-blonde caricature of Sharon Tate? Far from illuminating the ’60s’ apocalyptic undercurrents, or Manson’s enduringly scary myth, the musical simplemindedly laughs him off as one more hippie relic.