Twelve years ago, a shame was visited upon Seattle called Hunchback—an interminable, wince-inducing musical with a rumored million-dollar budget by producer/composer/writer/director/star C. Rainey Lewis. You can see where this is going, right? Nobody should be the producer/composer/writer/director/star of anything. Unless they're Orson Welles. And sometimes not even then.
Actors, dancers, and the rest of the crew initially thought they were going to Broadway, but soon realized they were caught in a vanity-project cyclone of legendary size. The musical opened to scathing reviews ("Of all the indignities Quasimodo has suffered," wrote the Seattle Times, "Hunchback... may be the cruelest yet"), played to audiences of 14 in the 800-seat King Cat Theater, and became a local benchmark of badness. When theater people are grasping for something nice to say about the worst shows, they murmur, "Well, at least it wasn't Hunchback..."
Luckily, two young film freaks snuck into the closing-night performance with video cameras hidden under their coats to record the debacle for posterity. Those film freaks turned out to be Shane Wahlund and Michael Anderson, the duo that corrals bizarre video scraps for Dina Martina shows and hosts Collide-O-Scope, a twice-monthly evening of weird found footage at Re-bar. They devoted this past Monday's Collide-O-Scope to the Big Pig—as the cast members nicknamed it—with footage of the musical and survivors of the stage catastrophe sitting in the front row to give running commentary. Wahlund and Anderson introduced the Hunchback survivors, the audience applauded, and somebody in the front row joked: "That's the loudest applause we ever got."
But even a bar full of people making jokes at its expense couldn't resuscitate Hunchback from its own tedium: too-long rock song after too-long rock song, something about the hunchback, something about a deacon, something about ladies dancing by a fountain, something about a bunch of pickpockets. "What's happening?" one of the cast members asked. "I was in this scene and I don't know what's going on." The camera found cast members briefly making out upstage, prisoners in dungeon cells gyrating and doing pole dances, dancers briefly flashing their asses. "You gotta understand this was the final performance," one cast member explained from the front row. "The hate was so thick by this point. The ass and whatever? That was just us going, 'It's closing night and this bitch is going down.'"
Twelve years later, the pathos was still dense and painful. People winced at the screen and talked ashamedly during intermission. One cast member asked not to be identified in any writing about the evening. "Rainey still lives around here, on Whidbey Island," she said. "After all this misery, there's no need to hurt anybody's feelings. There's just no need."