Brutal 1973 "Goodbar" Murder Now Subject of Confused Musical
Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at email@example.com.
The 1973 murder of Roseann Quinn in New York City was one of the most vicious and well-publicized crimes in the city’s history. By day, Quinn was a meek, mild teacher at St. Joseph’s, a school for deaf children, but by night she was, police said, a sexual predator who grinded her way through bar after bar in search of rough men who treated her badly. One night things got out of hand and she was brutally slain after being stabbed eighteen times and then raped.
The slaying came at the height of an intense crime wave in New York and highlighted the murderous atmosphere of the city when the sun went down. The press turned the killing, and the subsequent investigation, into a long front page pageant of salacious stories (the suspect in the case hanged him self in jail). Judith Rossner’s 1975 novel based on the story, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, became a best seller and actress Diane Keaton starred in the popular 1977 movie.
Now, nearly forty years after the murder, Looking for Mr. Goodbar has been turned into the shaky Goodbar, a confused and loud—very loud—musical that is part of the annual Under the Radar Festival at the New York Public Theater. The purpose of the festival is to debut experimental new plays and hope that they work. Goodbar does not.
This is not a play but it is not a musical, either. It is, as its producers say, a ‘concert.’ In the concert, the stars of the show, Hannah Cheek as Theresa (the real life Quinn) and Kevin Townley as her different lovers, sing the story in a long train of very loud tunes. Some are good, some are bad, and most are repetitious. The character of the murder victim is built up in the first half of the play and her barhopping and murder highlighted in the second half.
The show is a visual carnival, with a splashy 75-minute-long series of movies and photos projected on to the back wall of the stage (keep an eye out for celebrities in the pictures). The last fifteen minutes or so, about the murder, are riveting.
In the festival brochure, the Goodbar producers write that the show “blurs the boundaries between music and theater.” It certainly does, and badly.
The problem with Goodbar is that it is a loud, hard to follow show that wrecks the savage story about the death of Quinn. The tale had all the elements of a riveting novel, which of course Rossner eventually wrote. Quinn was the graduate of a nice, quiet suburban Catholic high school (in the town next to the one in which I grew up, I learned in shock) and a small New Jersey college. She worked as a teacher, read endlessly in bars, and envisioned a productive life for herself as a teacher in the big city who lived on the Upper West Side. Things did not work out that way.
The show features members of the band Bambi as singers/actors. They stage a concert, not a play, and get a bit carried away (watch out for the gyrating guitarist). There is a thin plot to the concert and it is hard to follow.
The real trouble with Goodbar is that it ignores the history that made the murder of Roseann Quinn such a media and movie attraction. New York was practically out of control in the 1970s. It had one of the highest murder rates in the world, late-night comics joked about its crime sprees, the mob ran amuck, and people were afraid to drive through certain parts of the metropolis. The whole city seemed to be a war zone. The killing of Roseann brought all of that to a criminal boil. How bad would things get? People wondered. They would get so bad that innocent school teachers would be stabbed to death in their own bedrooms. On top of that, the history of the bar scene in New York had deteriorated badly and Roseann’s reported sexual manhunting in bars showcased that, too.
The writers of Goodbar should have worked harder to set the murder within the history of the times. That would have made the play more effective and driven home the historical shock of the killing.
Worst of all, in Goodbar, the incredibly loud music is what counts, not the story, and the story gets lost (the music is so loud that ushers hand out ear plugs to ticket holders when they take their seats). The music is so intensely, brain rattling loud that I am going to stand in the middle of Times Square at rush hour today because it’s much quieter than the show.
Don’t go looking for Mr. Goodbar.
Production: The Bambi band and Waterwell Company. Bambi: Hanna Cheek, Cara Jeiven, Jimmie Marlowe, Tori Parks and Kevin Townley. Video Design: Alex Koch, Sets: Nick Benacerraf, Costumes: Erik Bergrin, Lighting: Adam Frank, Sound: Gaby Savransky. The show is directed by Arian Moayed and Tom Ridgely.
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