Buying a physical compact disc in 2016 is such a rare, antiquated transaction it almost seems newsworthy in and of itself. One particular sale last year, though, instantly became the most surreal CD-purchase in history, and it will now be immortalized in theater.
It all started two years ago when combustible hip hop crew Wu-Tang Clan announced they were producing just a single copy of a long-gestating album, and auction it off to the highest bidder. Cut to last December, when the group announced they’d found a buyer. The Internet’s collective mind exploded upon learning that the world’s deepest pocketed '90s rap enthusiast turned out to be none other than pharma-bro supervillain, Martin Shkreli. That’s right: Martin Shkreli, a guy who seems to model his media persona after a coterie of esteemed wrestling heels, and always looks like he just got kicked out of a Tampa Bay strip club. He paid $2 million to have a handsomely embossed box’s worth of secret Wu-Tang music all to himself. But now lucky theatergoers will have the chance to hear some music inspired by the music they may never get the chance to hear—or at least the most interesting aspect of its purchase.
Somewhere in the record books for all-time most egregious burying of the lede would be this (fake) clause in Wu-Tang Clan’s contract:
The buying party also agrees that, at any time during the stipulated 88 year period, the seller may legally plan and attempt to execute one (1) heist or caper to steal back Once Upon a Time In Shaolin [the album], which, if successful, would return all ownership rights to the seller. Said heist or caper can only be undertaken by currently active members of the Wu-Tang Clan and/or actor Bill Murray, with no legal repercussions.
Although the clause was quickly confirmed as a joke, stemming from a viral tweet, the idea of Wu-Tang and Bill Murray teaming up against Martin Shkreli proved irresistible to the public imagination. The already strange tale had become the stuff of legends. It also spurred Lauren Gundrum into action. The NYC-based musical theater composer/lyricist was so enchanted by the entire story that she wrote a musical about it.
"It's just so hilarious," she tells me over email. "It makes no sense that Martin Shkreli and Wu-Tang should be associated, but here they are. Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes. Toss Bill Murray in and it's even better."
The lyricist wrote the musical with composer Joel Esher, whom she met in he BMI Musical Theater Workshop. The two had been looking for material specifically to write a musical about together, and when the Shkreli story emerged, they knew right away what they had to do. Now, if all goes according to plan, Martin Shkreli’s Game: How Bill Murray Joined The Wu-Tang Clanwill make its debut at New York’s Midtown International Theater Festival in July. (Gundrum has launched an Indiegogo page to secure funding for her vision.)
Neither lyricist nor composer were very familiar with the music of Wu-Tang Clan, but since news of Once Upon a Time In Shaolin's sale broke last December, they dove in head-first, sampling a catalog that spans several group and solo efforts going back to the early '90s. Despite the phenomenon of Hamilton, though, this will not be a full-on hip hop musical.
"There are a variety of different musical styles tailored to the different characters' voices," Gundrum says. "Wu-Tang may have some hip-hop."
When Martin Shkreli’s Game debuts, it will be the second time Bill Murray and Wu-Tang Clan cross paths in a fictional context, after the actor’s conversation with RZA and GZA in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes. But that film didn’t involve a counter-Shkreli caper, so this musical is the meet-up to remember.