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Perfect Crime Celebrates 25 Years Off Brodway

The longest-running play in recorded New York theatrical history, Perfect Crime, a complex romantic black comedy and thriller by Warren Manzi, reached another milestone recently: its 25th anniversary Off Broadway. The occasion was its 10,233 performance. That night’s audience was treated to a pre-show champagne reception and a post-show buffet complete with 25th anniversary cake. The play has often been compared to Agatha Christie’s long-running champ on London West End, The Mousetrap.

The indefatigable Catherine Russell has starred in the play as psychiatrist and murder suspect Margaret Thorne Brent since its first performance and has never taken a sick day or vacation day. She says there have been subtle changes. “We’ve had to adjust with the years. Time doesn’t stand still, so my age keeps getting changed. Pop culture and technology have changed immensely, so there’s social media and cell phones. The TV is now a flat screen.” In addition, references to long ago talk shows have been changed to references about Oprah. The net worth of the husband has increased from $1 million to $600 million. “That’s something worth killing for!” she laughs.

Asked how she keeps focus after appearing in the play for a quarter century, she replies, “I have to credit that with our audiences. You can almost hear them absorbing the clues we throw out. It’s great when you hear laughter at the dialogue zingers. Each audience is totally different. Warren’s play really plays off the audience.” She also points out that her featured actors have changed over the years, “and with each cast change you get revitalized.”  

She’s shot -- or did she? --  89 different men and kissed 57 others. To date, Perfect Crime has employed 237 actors. Manzi finished the play in 1980 while playing Mozart in Amadeus on Broadway. He was the youngest American to have a play optioned for the stage. The play was to have starred Mary Tyler Moore, then it was rumored Elaine Stritch would play Margaret. The script sat in Manzi's drawer seven years. He went West to write screenplays. Then, in 1987, the play, directed by Jeffrey Hyatt, had a month-long engagement. Reviewers noted the novelty and complexity of the play. There was also word of mouth. And the rest is, as they say, history.

Current co-stars of Perfect Crime include John Hillner, who portrayed Georges in the 2004 Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles, and who’s appeared in Mamma Mia!, among numerous musicals; and Richard Shoberg, who played Tom Cudahy on ABC’s All My Children for 24 years. 

Russell can often be found not only in the box office and making repairs, but also, as the show’s general manager, recording ticket sales and paying salaries. She’s a producer and general manager of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s classic and acclaimed romantic musical comedy The Fantasticks, another long-running champ, which soon celebrates its 52nd anniversary. The current star is triple platinum recording artist Aaron Carter. TV star and recording artist John Davidson will return to the stage in the show on June 1.

Tickets for Perfect Crime are available at the Snapple Theater Center box office, Broadway and 50th Street, or by calling (212) 921-7862 or TicketMaster.com at (212) 307-4100. Student rush tickets,  $26, are available at theatre on a cash-only basis. For more information, visit www.perfect-crime.com.

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