For today’s tale of the macabre, we’re not merely digging deep into the darkest corners of the web; we’re also rummaging through the vaults of musical theatre’s golden days, and drawing back the curtain on a mysterious musical whose author remains unknown to this day… a show which was allegedly performed only once, at New York’s long-abandoned Binion Theatre in 1934.
That play is known as The Puppetmaster’s Regime, and while its origins are still shrouded in mystery, the show’s first and only run at the Binion is the stuff of legend… and of horrifying nightmares.
According to the only known documentation and images from that show — mostly personal accounts from audience members, and images from a crumbling 1934 Playbill — the show starred some of the most prominent young actors of the day, including Timmy Wright, Sally Wilkes and Henry Gregory. Legend has it the show was one of the most elaborate and highly-anticipated musical comedies to premiere that year.
But this was no ordinary stage production. For many involved, it was the most horrifying night of their lives… and for a few, it was also the last.
The following excerpts reveal the horrific events that allegedly took place during Act I on the opening night of The Puppetmaster’s Regime, as described by multiple accounts from several audience members in attendance… at least those who lived to tell the tale.
From the Testament of Georgina Long:
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 circle with a peculiar little face in it.
From the Testament of Carl Hannigan:
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, giggly 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… maybe it was just the acoustics. I’m most likely explaining it all wrong. But in time, we got used to it, and the show progressed…
From the Testament of Gabriel Johnston:
This youngster, Morietur, or something like that, was quite insecure about his stay in the puppet shop — very paranoid that his boss would throw him out. I was an aspiring lyricist at the time, and I’d done the lyrics to a few original community theater projects, so I was fascinated with the wording in these songs. I scribbled down a few lyrics after I’d went home. Unless I’m remembering wrong, the little puppet-shop-boy and Mr. Obi-something had an introductory duet, and then Morietur went off and had a short lament in a different, much more somber tune:
If I stay, and do everything right, I can live in the day, and stay clear of the night
Out there in the night, in the dark, there’s a world of lies
I can hear them whisper…
I can see their eyes…
The “eyes” comment confused me for a moment, but then I assumed that he meant the stars. It seemed as though the number was unnecessarily tragic and poorly situated within the show, but it was a minor quibble.
Now, Morietur had a girl friend named Trahunt and a boy friend named Adolebit. After interrupting the final note in his lament, they all gushed about how much they loved puppets… but they couldn’t afford one from Morietur’s guardian’s shop. and so they transitioned into this vibrant little song about joining forces to raise money so they could afford to build their own puppets. After this, the three all headed for school, and the story took a sharp turn in a different direction.
Now… they had this really nasty teacher or headmistress named Madame Reperio, or something like that. They had a reprise of the song from before, and she overheard them, and at first her remarks about the children’s fantasies were somewhat comical… but then the light fixed on her and she sang this heartbreaking little song. What the song was about was up for interpretation. It was somewhat about love, but it had all these strange puppet metaphors. The only lyric that’s stayed with me is:
“Stroll through the wood-cracks, show them your pains/The hole in your throat and the strings in your veins…”
Then, she just went on this little breakdown… I assumed it was a poorly-conceived character trait. She started singing off-key and went to beat one of the kids. The curtain fell, and there was a scuffle heard onstage. People whispered to each other, but a rising new orchestra piece silenced us. The curtain rose again, and we were right outside the puppet shop.
From the Testament of Louis Roberts:
Morietur and his friends went into the town and sang a song about selling… dolls, I think it was. Because the little girl made dolls in her spare time, and she had to sell them. I remember those strange background characters. The company was so absolutely monotonous… they all wore some form of dark clothing, and each of them were very, very tall. I can remember how they all had their faces covered. None of them spoke. None of them even sang during the course of the show. They just walked in perfectly straight lines, as if they weren’t even part of the production.
Anyway, this strange song about buying dolls… it had absolutely no life. But for some reason, these children were putting their all into it. I could see the pain in their faces as they hit those high notes.
And something else… as the lyrics went on… they seemed to get… a little… it is so hard to explain. They all looked like they were… hurting a little. They looked so pale and nervous all of a sudden. Coming from a stage family, I convinced myself it was only stage-fright… but it still made me just a tiny bit anxious.
From the Testament of Carrie Laurie:
The kids all got their money from this strange man in cloak who sang a simple little tune…I still remember the lyrics:
Despite the fall of rain, little kiddies,
Everyone needs a little song,
Wooden dolls give you pain, little kiddies,
Go on, little kiddies, run along…
His character was never really explained. But I remember how truly gripping the melody was… so haunting, it got you right there in the gut. Even the little kid actors seemed a bit unsettled by the new turn of the show. They all kept stuttering over their lines as they spoke and sang… and then a light bulb over the stage went out.
Everyone kind of gasped, and one man I think even laughed. The noise it made really spooked the little girl… and the actors were stumbling across the stage… and the whole thing looked like a terrible flop.
When the children reentered the puppet shop, they presented Mr. Obcisor with the puppet pieces they’d acquired when the audience wasn’t looking, singing a bragging sort of chant:
“We done/we done/diddy-diddy done-done did it!”
It was obnoxious, but thankfully brief. After that, the light fixed on Morietur, and he began another tune. The song was a dud, and all I remember was that he flubbed the last line. The lyric had something to do with “the final stroke of light,” or some sort of long-winded, moon-based metaphor. All I know is that he forgot the words, and all that could be heard in that theater was the sounds of car horns outside the building.
The boy… he didn’t seem shocked or embarrassed or anything, but his posture improved out of the blue, and the orchestra stopped. He projected half of the word “sorry,” then suddenly he burst forth in wordless vocalization. The music resumed, and the other characters began to join him.
From the Testament of Marcus Edger:
So after that bulb went out, the whole set started falling apart. We, the audience, tried our best to ignore it, but it was nearly impossible. I saw two sets of very angry attendees get up and leave. The set-piece for the puppet shop screeched its way onto the stage, and we could see in the far back the paper sky background falling down. The lights went dim in what we assumed was an attempt to hide the malfunctioning set-pieces.
The kids, with the help of an oddly monotonous Mr. Obcisor, constructed the puppet… and this strange song played. To this day I don’t know what they were saying. It sounded vaguely like Latin, but I went on to study Latin in college the next year, and found that guess to come out flat. I remember how it enchanted me, though. It enchanted all of us. We all began to feel this… thing… course through us. I remember a few people around us who were humming in an attempt to rid themselves of the sound, and I could hear people in the front rows crying out in what sounded like pain.
The actors themselves sounded as though they were about to pass out at any moment. They were doing this odd sort of ballet, tripping all over themselves, and a few more lights started flashing and breaking. We all sat and waited for the song to end, when… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry… I can’t…
From the Testament of George Frank:
The lights were going on and off at random, and we were all praying the damn song would end soon. It had this force going with it… it was sucking us in. We could feel it. The little kids and the puppet man were dancing all around when… well, you see… I really thought I could do it. I thought I could do it… I was right there in the fifth row, so I saw… but I can’t…
From the Testament of Carolyn Mark:
The lighting was completely out of control. It was a mess. And that song… it was awful. But something about it… it was powerful. It had a force. I watched intently as the dancers began to skip around and… and we… I thought they were… the lights… but…
Apart from these increasingly disoriented accounts, almost no one has spoken out with conviction about the events that occurred during those final moments of Act I. Only one testimony is believed to have survived — from a man named Billy Prescott, who was only six years old on the night of the show’s premiere. His story is also fragmentary and often insensible, much like those we’ve shown above, but some excerpts cast enough light on the events to put together a partial account of the final minutes before the show collapsed into bloody chaos.
From the Testament of Billy Prescott:
I was just a kid, so I don’t remember much. All I can vaguely recall is that song… it was giving me a headache. I turned to my father to ask him if we could leave, when suddenly I saw the stage illuminate with this bright red light. The music stopped as one instrument after another died out, and swear I heard pounding underneath the stage.
Everyone was questioning what was happening… even the actors. I remember that teacher lady being pushed through the door of the shop… and then everyone else came flying in from offstage, toppling onto each other like rag dolls. There were people there who didn’t fit the design scheme of the production — stagehands and technical workers, I assume. I remember the little girl screamed at the audience, then ran behind the shopkeeper while other actors continued singing. A few people started crying right there on the stage when suddenly this… this kind of curtain came forward.
It’s hard to describe what it looked like; it was a clear plastic wall, and it came down from above. A bunch of set-pieces from earlier scenes came down on the sides of the stage, trapping all of the actors in the center. Then… chaos erupted.
The actors stopped singing, and were pounding on this plastic wall. Then, for some reason, they began to back away. As if some unseen assailants were coming towards them, they fled to the back of the stage — all except the little boy, who hadn’t stopped singing. Then, amid all that screaming and crying and shooting, the curtain flew out, and everything fell silent.
Due to that odd abruptness, the audience thought it was just a horrible ending to a terrible musical. We were about to get up when suddenly the curtain opened up again — revealing the stationary plastic wall, upon which was a single light fixed on the little boy, Morietur.
He had clawed his way through the plastic wall… we could see the blood on his hands. But… that wasn’t the worst of it. Not by far.
There were strings attached to every part of his body. We could all see his stomach… or lack of one, anyway. He was sobbing all over the stage, twitching and swinging around. It was a sight so unnatural, so painful and twisted and wrong to behold… even now, I can’t seem to wrap my head around how, but… everyone looked at him, not knowing what to do… and then he spoke.
“Help me… please… help me…” was all I could make out, and then he vomited and suddenly collapsed. The plastic wall lifted, and the rest of the lights came on, revealing what looked like the entire cast and crew.
They were all dead.
Every one of them looked exactly like the little boy; everyone had those strings attached… and we watched as all of them, even the little boy… as their strings were pulled on, their lifeless bodies rose on cue… and they bowed.
Theories continue to circulate among those who were there that night, as well as anyone who heard about the horrifying incident secondhand. Apparently, the NYPD and the Binion’s owners and management made a concerted effort to erase details of the massacre from the papers — and it seems they were mostly successful, as there is no other known information available beyond the testimonies listed above, and what few photographs could be found outside of the show’s promotional materials, a few preliminary designs and concept art.
Until recently, many people refused to believe the events of that horrible night even took place at all.
One theater archivist, whose name has not been released to date, claims to possess evidence from the first workshop of The Puppetmaster’s Regime, which allegedly took place in London in 1928. Among the materials this historian allegedly possesses is a recording of one song — “Get a Puppet” — performed by twelve-year-old singer Garris Creely. Others have claimed that one or more bootleg recordings from that single, violently interrupted live performance have been copied and uploaded to the Deep Web, along with scans of a few playbills and programs originally owned by historian Gladys Masters (all of which disappeared shortly after her death in 1994), but to date we have not been able to locate any such files, so we must assume this also to be an urban legend.
Early versions of costumes by designer Alice Lively are said to be on display at the Pickett-Dahny Theatrical Museum in Dover, England, but as of this writing, there is no evidence of this currently available.
The pervasive legend of The Puppetmaster’s Regime has given rise to a strange, macabre cult following in recent years, and rumor has it that an experimental theater group is planning to stage an off-Broadway revival of the show.
Time will tell if that rumor is also merely legend… but if it’s true, the curtain may actually rise again on the horrors of that bizarre and bloody night in 1934.