The fifth longest-running play in Broadway history, Ira Levin's Deathtrap melds gasp-out-loud suspense with laugh-out-loud laughs, and continues to be one of the most-performed stage plays, with thousands of productions since its 1978 premiere attesting to its lasting audience appeal.
“I’d like people to leave DEATHTRAP feeling that they’ve had some thrills and some laughs and been well entertained.”
—Levin (New York Theatre Review, 1978)
Like much of Levin's work, Deathtrap broke new ground, with a unique comedy-thriller formula (then an essentially new conceit), openly-gay characters, and bone-deep meta-theatricality – the latter inspiring innumerable later works of the "So-you-see, what-was-really-going-on-behind-the-scenes-all-this-time-was..." school.
Levin self-ribbingly modeled lead character Sidney "four flops" Bruhl after his own four Broadway commercial misfires prior to Deathtrap. And though Sidney's often cast as a debonair Englishman, Levin wrote the part as an entirely different type: “John Wood . . . was not the way I had originally seen the role of [Sidney Bruhl] in Deathtrap. He was the producer’s suggestion . . . I thought we should have cast Rod Steiger – someone sweaty, you know? An actor on the ropes.” —Levin (Opera News, 1997)
Interestingly, Deathtrap is in one sense a furthering of Critic's Choice's central conundrum, i.e. one spouse writing a play the other wishes they weren't; only here, virtually every character is seeking to write the titular "Deathtrap."
The production's custom-fabricated prop crossbow needed to be replaced three times over the show's four-and-a-half-year run, due to string tension-induced wear caused by the number of times it had to be locked and "fired."
There's an undiscovered Stepford Wives Easter egg in Deathtrap – both are set in Fairfield County, Connecticut, with Deathtrap referencing the realtor "Buck Raymond" — the same as features in Stepford. (The implications of this would actually run quite deep...)
(Deathtrap TV Ad)
Deathtrap was one of the first Broadway shows to advertise on television, and the first to our knowledge to place ads (in this case, the logo's leering eyes) on the backs of NYC buses – quite a sight for tailgating traffic. When unable to find a satisfactory voice to narrate the TV ad, the show's lead producer Alfred de Liagre Jr. stepped in and provided his own – "Murderously funny!"
(Opening of "The Jerk")
Deathtrap has a movie cameo. In Steve Martin's comedy classic "The Jerk," the opening reveal pans down and across a production of the play, then appearing at Hollywood's Huntington Hartford Theatre (now The Montalban). (Note: Levin did not hate cans.)