The Broadway Thriller

Does anyone remember the Broadway thriller? It was a popular genre around the middle of the 20th century, with entries that were both good and bad. Audiences would be thrust into a situation that was as terse and tense as the most popular Hitchcock film. One of the most popular was the British import Angel Street, which famously ran on Broadway for 1295 performances, about a woman in a fog-bound Victorian London being driven to madness in her own home. It’s best remembered from its Oscar winning adaptation Gaslight, which was also the play’s original title (and was the second major film adaptation in four years).


In 1966, Lee Remick starred in one of my favorites: Frederick Knott’s Wait Until Dark, about a blind woman who is terrorized by drug smugglers. She is unknowingly in possession of a doll that is filled with heroin and they torment her viciously. However, the woman uses her strengths and instincts to put up a valiant fight. In the Broadway production and in its subsequent film adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn, as the story progressed to its climax, the lights in the theatre were brought down to the lowest legal allowances, allowing the audience to further understand the protagonist’s plight. I was rewatching the film recently and there is one really, really BIG scare toward the end of the film. Even though I’ve seen it before, it still got me!


London is currently seeing a revival of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap about an author who is desperate for another hit and considers murdering another writer to steal his play. The original production was a Broadway blockbuster. The show ran for four years on Broadway, with featured star Marian Seldes appearing in every single performance. A 1982 film adaptation followed.This was slightly different as it mixed elements of dark comedy with the suspense and plot twists.


There have been others, of course. Kind Lady, Sleuth, Dial M for Murder and The Bad Seed are some others that have played on the audience’s fears. (On the other end of the spectrum there was Children! Children! starring Gwen Verdon in her only non-musical outing on Broadway. That one opened and closed the same night). But it seems that nowadays that there isn’t much place for suspense on Broadway. I’d like to think this isn’t the case, but have there been any successful plays in recent memory that have also been notable thrillers? A revival of Wait Until Dark bombed in 1998 due to the miscasting of Quentin Tarantino as the main villain. Angel Street was last seen on Broadway in a 1976 revival. But perhaps the London Deathtrap may transfer to NY? I personally wouldn’t mind having the bejesus scared out of me at a Broadway show. How about you?