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Curtain Up: Nightmare with Music


By Jack Feuer

Published Apr 1, 2010 8:00 AM

In 1946, author William Lindsay Gresham published Nightmare Alley, a disturbing, bestselling novel about a brilliant man whose tragic decisions plunge him into the very bottom of the show business barrel: the seedy world of carnies, cons and clairvoyants.


Illustration courtesy of the Geffen Playhouse.

A year later, the rise and fall of con man Stanton Carlisle was made into a film noir from 20th Century Fox starring Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell (and, weirdly, produced by comedian and "Toastmaster General of the United States" George Jessel).

The twisted story of a misguided grifter brought low by the one person smarter than he is was even made into a graphic novel adapted by Spain Rodriguez and published in 2003. But this April, the unsettling tale will be sung as well as told, as the Geffen Playhouse presents a musical version of Nightmare Alley, directed by movie and TV icon and Geffen Producing Director Gil Cates.

"I love what this story is all about," says Cates, who knows a little about the world of Nightmare Alley from his early career working circuses and ice shows. "A guy who has all the talents to be very successful, but always picks the wrong thing to do. We all have an opportunity to change our lives and do better things — the only thing stopping us is ourselves. It's a great story for our times."

With a score as wild as a funhouse and as evocative as a beautiful tightrope walker, this world premiere musical, featuring book and lyrics by Jonathan Brielle, is sure to grab you and not let go. Enter the world of carnies and cons, but beware. When it comes to traveling circuses and their tawdry ilk, nothing is ever what it seems.

Nightmare Alley. April 13-May 23. Geffen Playhouse. Tickets available by subscription only. Call (310) 208-2028 or visit



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