Like the career of its subject, London's latest musical began in a blaze of publicity, set tongues wagging, and ended, prematurely, in disgrace. Oscar Wilde opened Tuesday at the 500-seat Shaw Theatre. It closed the next day after receiving excoriating reviews and selling just five tickets for its second performance. Written, produced, and directed by Mike Read, a radio DJ whose fame peaked in the 1980s, Oscar Wilde set out, according to its publicity material, to chart Wilde's "tragic descent from idolization to isolation." The script is written entirely in rhyming couplets. The Daily Telegraph declared the show "a pitiful vanity project." The Evening Standard judged it "a musical of exquisite awfulness." And the Times said Wilde would be "chewing his green carnation in dismay" if forced to watch the production.
The author of plays, poems, essays, and novels, Wilde was the epigram-spouting darling of 1890s London. But his career ended in disgrace in 1895, when he was sentenced to two years in prison for "gross indecency" following a failed libel suit against the Marquis of Queensberry, father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. Wilde died of cerebral meningitis in a Paris hotel room in November 1900 at age 46.
Read, who has written musicals based on Dickens's Great Expectations, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the life of crooner Cliff Richard, mounted the show to mark the 150th anniversary of Wilde's birth. Last week he told the Independent newspaper: "I would like to think it might still be performed in 100 years' time." That seems unlikely. Newspapers reported that only five tickets had been sold for Wednesday's performance when Read decided to pull the plug. "I am naturally devastated at the turn of events. We had a fantastic West End cast, and the reaction of the audience at the press night was terrific," Read said in a statement.
Oscar Wilde is not the only recent West End show that has struggled to fend off poor reviews and find audiences. Murderous Instincts--dubbed the "salsa comedy murder mystery"--closed last Saturday, a week after its opening night. Read, undeterred, is working on a new musical--a tribute to the campy 1970s disco act the Village People. The title: YMCA: The Musical. (AP)