Previously: “Pale Luna.”
As someone who worked in the theatre for many years, I have a soft spot for theatrically-minded creepypastas. “The Puppetmaster’s Regime” is one of them, and before you ask, no, it has nothing to do with the Puppet Master movie franchise. This one is about an ill-fated stage production allegedly mounted on Broadway in 1934, and while it’s got its issues (more on those in a bit), it’s still fascinating in a weird sort of way.
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The choice to place the pasta’s titular musical as having been performed in 1934 is an interesting one; although of course things like operettas had existed for quite some time (as fans of Gilbert and Sullivan will know), a musical produced in the early ‘30s would have occurred during one of the most notable periods of modern theatrical history: The time at which musical theatre first began to resemble that which we think of it as being today. Beginning with 1927’s Showboat and continuing for the next several decades (1943’s Oklahoma! is typically pinpointed as Showboat’s corresponding bookend), song, book, and staging came together during this period in a way they never had before; moving away from the revue-style shows which had hitherto been the norm, pieces of musical theatre began, finally, to work towards telling one, single, cohesive story.
The musical at the heart of “The Puppetmaster’s Regime” is therefore perhaps a little ahead of its time — it appears to have been the sort of show that likely wouldn’t have been around much before the mid-‘40s.
But then again, maybe that’s the point.
There are a couple of sequels to this pasta, by the way; as is often the case, though, I think the original story stands best on its own. Part of it is due to the fact that a number of details provided in the followups make the story much less believable from a purely practical standpoint. For example, the rehearsal process described in the third installment would never have happened; the Actor’s Equity Association, the labor union of actors and stage managers, absolutely would not have allowed it to (and the same probably goes for all of the other unions that regulate theatrical employment, too — Local One, you name it). AEA was founded in 1913, and thus had already been around for 0ver 20 years by the time “The Puppetmaster’s Regime” would have been produced; this means that the rules laid out by it would have definitely applied to this particular production. And given that the point of a union is to regulate the conditions in a workplace… well, let’s just say that there would have been so many violations in “The Puppetmaster’s Regime’s” rehearsal process that the show would likely have been shut down long before it had even reached previews, let alone opened.
There are a few other factual issues brought up by the sequels, too. There are some inconsistencies between the three installments; the original story, for instance, states that the Broadway production occurred in 1934, while one of the later ones dates it to 1935. Furthermore, the theatre the show was staged in according to the sequels is referred to as the August Wilson Theatre, but while this Broadway house does exist, that’s not what it would have been called in 1934 — it wasn’t christened with that name until after the death of playwright August Wilson in 2005. The space was originally opened as the Guild Theatre in 1925, with its first name change occurring in 1981, at which point it was dubbed the Virginia Theatre.
Also — and perhaps more importantly — there’s this: I am a firm believer in the idea that what we don’t see is far more frightening than what we do see. I’d rather be left with unanswered questions that keep me guessing than having everything neatly tied up with a bow. The second two followups attempt to answer all the questions brought up by the original story, which ultimately, I think, weakens the tale. That might just be me, though; if you want to see the other stories in the series, head here and here.
In the meantime, though, here’s a good place to start.
Have you ever heard of the musical “The Puppetmaster’s Regime”? Most likely, you haven’t. In fact, most die-hard theatre lovers are often unfamiliar with this little production. It was a 1934 stage musical written by anonymous authors of the music, lyrics, and book. It starred upcoming performers such as Timmy “cutie-pie” Wright, Sally Wilkes, Henry Gregory, as well as many others. At the time, it was the most expensive show to date. It was said to be the biggest, most spectacular stage show to San Francisco and back.
From the testament of Tyler Warwick (1901-1983):
“I went to see the show about a week after I turned thirty-three. The ticket was a gift from my sister, who knew how much I loved the theatre. I remember the signs, they were huge and rather gaudy. Oh, and the playbill–it was just a single red dot with a doll-like face on it. It seemed a bit melancholy for what I assumed was to be a musical-comedy, but I didn’t pay much attention. I was going to see a Broadway show.”
From the testament of Georgina Long (1911-1984):
“The cast was made completely of ‘new’ people. Young children and adults alike who were longing to get back on stage after Vaudeville became old news–it was quite charming really. But I did take a bit of notice to that odd little playbill…all the playwrights and lyricists and everyone were all unnamed, and that design…it was a little red drop with a peculiar little face in it. Not even a title, just that little red dot. I had come to New York with my parents on an impromptu vacation after my grandmother had died…a Broadway musical seemed just like what we needed. (…)”
From the testament of Carl Hannigan (1920-1993):
“I do recall most of the first act. Then again, who could forget? The story was a little hard to follow at first. There was a little boy who lived in a puppet shop, or maybe he lived down the street–no, no, he worked in the puppet shop, but he was homeless, so they provided him with a home there. The kid’s name was Mori..Mortim…something weird…oh yes, it was Morietum…no, Morietur. Morietur, yes.
“Anyways, Morietur’s employer was this old man named Mr. Obcisor. I remember his name because his character was unimaginably unsettling — bouncing all around and getting angry and the little boy, all while keeping this nasal, gigglish voice. Anyhow, the production opened to Morietur and the odd fellow getting into an argument over the boy not doing his work, then two of them sang this peculiar number about puppets…it wasn’t a normal song…or at least, the musicality wasn’t normal. The lyrics were very enchanting, and the music did this odd flowing thing about the room…instruments would get very quiet without losing any power to it; maybe it was just the acoustics — I’m most likely explaining it all wrong. Oh well. But…in time, we got used to it, and the show progressed…”
[Photo via City of Vancouver Archives/Flickr]