It was a quarter before ten in a ritzy part of town. I’d just spent a couple of hours under cover with some well-dressed types, watching a bunch of crooners and hoofers in a new musical entertainment with the catchy handle of The Stripper.
This wiseguy O’Brien – Richard O’Brien – had taken a pulp fiction novel set in 1961 California, thrown a few jazzy numbers at it with a tunesmith named Richard Hartley, and put it up there on a stage for guys like me to spit at.
Like a dame in a Playboy centrefold, it looked good on paper. It had a pedigree longer than a Royal Corgi, some wisecracking one-liners with all the punch of a Smith and Wesson, and a central character played by Jonathan Wrather who could charm the pants off your maiden aunt.
And that was when it hit me: somebody killed the show. But who? And, more important for a dick like me, how?
I ran through the list of suspects. First up, the crooners. Nope – that Wrather kid was at the front of a queue of talent giving it all they’d got. Next up, the band. No dice: six crazy guys blowing their horns as tight as a strumpet’s corset.
The finger was pointing elsewhere. And there was a smoking gun in the hands of the technical crew. It had a smell. The cruel smell of conspiracy. The sticking set, the mistimed sound effects, the lousy vocal mix: it all added up to a lethal cocktail.
But still there was a nagging feeling at the back of my mind. Sure, these things were dangerous to a performer’s health, but were they really to blame?
Suddenly, from the shadows, a grinning figure stepped out. I should have known it all along – O’Brien. And right behind him came his director, Bob Carlton, waving the success of Return to the Forbidden Planet as his badge.
The show never stood a chance. Saddled with a lame plot, some painful lyrics besides the firecrackers, and a score full of almost great tunes that never quite made it out of the box, The Stripper was done for. It didn’t want to die – that was as plain as a bar of Bournville – but the heart wasn’t there.
I watched as the well-dressed types turned away and hurried off into the dark. It had been a sobering night. And I needed a drink.