'Dead Outlaw' review — new musical tells a larger-than-life-and-death true story

Read our review of Dead Outlaw off Broadway, a new musical written by Itamar Moses and David Yazbek and directed by David Cromer, the team behind The Band's Visit.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

Dead Outlaw has one of the most fascinating premises of any Off-Broadway show this season: It is the true story of a low-level thief whose abused, mummified corpse was traded and displayed across the country over several decades. The new musical follows both the life and death of Elmer McCurdy (Shucked’s Andrew Durand) as he robs banks, steals hearts, and then lies motionless as the world decides what to do with him.

Despite the hook, Dead Outlaw can’t sustain itself for long. Promising subplots fizzle out within minutes. The dramatic effect of lighting tricks from designer Heather Gilbert dampens with constant use. Durand’s mummy poses become distracting as the poor man stands rigid onstage for ages, clasping a rifle and likely exerting as much energy as the players singing and dancing around him.

Some songs, like “Somethin Bout A Mummy” and the rhythmic “Blowin’ It Up,” are memorable, but many fall flat or feel unnecessary (Julia Knitel, who plays all the women in the show, is frequently stuck singing meandering numbers that don’t give her much time to shine). Despite the accolades of the writing team known for The Band's Visit — composer/lyricist David Yazbek, who conceived the story, and librettist Itamar Moses — Dead Outlaw feels like a rough draft of a musical that hopes its too-good-to-be-true premise can make up for a lack of fleshed-out material.

Dead Outlaw summary

McCurdy was an actual outlaw whose life of petty crime was more fabricated than famous. After some failed robberies, McCurdy was killed by Oklahoma sheriffs in 1911 (as the title suggests, this is not a spoiler). The orphaned, penniless McCurdy had no family to claim his body, so a coroner (Eddie Cooper) preserved him with arsenic and eventually decided to cash in on McCurdy’s misfortune.

Over the decades, McCurdy’s mummy was displayed at carnivals, sideshows, wax museums, and funhouses. McCurdy was missing his ears and multiple fingers when a television crew setting up a shoot at a California amusement park discovered him in 1976, believing him to be a dummy. Yazbek, who wrote the music and lyrics with Erik Della Penna, has been working on Dead Outlaw for years, and it’s the first musical to play at the Minetta Lane Theatre under the ownership of Audible Theater.

What to expect at Dead Outlaw

In addition to toe-tapping numbers, the musical features frank discussions of alcoholism and violence – why people are driven to commit it and what it feels like to get away with it. Dead Outlaw also features multiple gunshots as actors display prop firearms. Additionally, there are explosions and flashing lights in an against-the-clock sequence in which McCurdy tries to use his Army Corps of Engineers training to blow up safes with nitroglycerin. (It does not go well!)

If you’re squeamish, know that Dead Outlaw shows off an incredible dummy of McCurdy’s abused corpse from props designer Faye Armon-Troncoso. It's graphic, but it’s one of the most amazing pieces you’ll see on stage this season.

What audiences are saying about Dead Outlaw

Dead Outlaw has a rating of 89% on Show-Score, putting it in the excellent category from audience members at early performances.

  • One Show-Score user says Dead Outlaw is a good musical to see if “you want bop along to some killer music.”
  • Writer Brent Cox called Dead Outlaw “the best fuckin play I’ve seen in a whole lotta years” via X.
  • Another Show-Score user points out that Dead Outlaw is a good choice “if you like new musicals that are band-centric” – Jeb Brown doubles as a narrator and leader of an onstage band that sometimes gets in on the action.

Read more audience reviews of Dead Outlaw on Show-Score.

Who should see Dead Outlaw

  • Fans of last season's Broadway musical Shucked and Durand’s whiskey-sweet voice will be thrilled to hear him sing again – or even just stand there.
  • Fans of the Tony Award-winning musical The Band’s Visit should check out this new collaboration from Yazbek and Moses, whose play The Ally is also running off Broadway this spring.
  • If you love a good Western or the musical version of Bonnie & Clyde, you’ll enjoy Dead Outlaw’s brazen band and frontier ensemble.

Learn more about Dead Outlaw off Broadway

Though the musical is a little rough around the edges, Dead Outlaw is still a good time, with plenty of humor sprinkled throughout the macabre show. With an award-winning team ready to take the show to the next level, seeing Dead Outlaw off Broadway may give you a chance to say you saw it first.

Learn more and get Dead Outlaw tickets on New York Theatre Guide. Dead Outlaw is at the Minetta Lane Theatre through April 7.

Photo credit: Andrew Durand and Jeb Brown in Dead Outlaw. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Originally published on

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