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Satirical musical about indicted pharmaceutical executive Shkreli premieres

Patrick Swailes Caldwell rehearses his character of “Martin Shkreli” for the Manhattan premiere of the musical “Martin Shkreli’s Game: How Bill Murray Joined the Wu-Tang Clan”
Source: Silvia Saponaro and Philip Lee
Patrick Swailes Caldwell rehearses his character of “Martin Shkreli” for the Manhattan premiere of the musical “Martin Shkreli’s Game: How Bill Murray Joined the Wu-Tang Clan”

There's a bunch of absurd things in the new musical about notorious ex-drug company exec Martin Shkreli — and a lot of them happen to be true.

The satire, "Martin Shkreli's Game: How Bill Murray Joined the Wu-Tang Clan," premiered Tuesday night in New York to a packed — albeit small — house, which included both fans and foes of the brazen pharma bro'.

Shkreli, who is under criminal indictment on federal securities charges, didn't show up at Manhattan's Workshop Theater to witness the fast-paced spoof of the dada-esque aspects of his real life, which have given even Donald Trump a run for his money when it comes offending lots of people in the past year.

But he had seriously considered attending, according to three friends who were there — and who didn't very much like the show, which continues its run this month.

So Shkreli missed out on seeing an imagined version of a (real-life) internet hoax that suggested (falsely) that "Ghostbusters" actor Bill Murray would somehow be legally empowered to help the hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan with aid of the (probably not real) ghost of Wu-Tang's deceased Ol' Dirty Bastard to steal back a (real) one-copy-only double-album that the group (really) auctioned off online for (really!) $2 million to their (actual) regret to a young man who had (really) sparked public outrage after he (really) hiked the price of a drug used by HIV patients by more than 5,000 percent (real) while being investigated by the FBI (real) for allegedly looting his former drug company to pay off people who (really) suspected his former hedge funds had defrauded them.

All while Shkreli routinely (he really does this) live streams various aspects of his life over the internet.

"We really were going for the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction vibe for the show," said Joel Esher, who wrote music and some of the lyrics for the show, directed by Jono Hustis, with book and lyrics by Lauren Gundrum.

Martin Shkreli (C), former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, departs following a hearing at a U.S. federal court in New York City on June 6, 2016.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Martin Shkreli (C), former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, departs following a hearing at a U.S. federal court in New York City on June 6, 2016.

The musical starts with a recording of a phone conversation (possibly real).

"I would not care," Shkreli's voice coolly replies when Esher asks what he would think if someone did a play about him.

The audience's big laugh to that line was echoed when they saw the hoverboard-aided, deadpan entrance of actor Patrick Swailes Caldwell, playing "Martin Shkreli." Caldwell has more than a passing resemblance to the real Shkreli, particularly when he smirks, which is often.

Caldwell told CNBC his research for the role included watching Shkreli during his hearing in Brooklyn federal court last week, when a trial date was set for June.

Rehearsal for “Martin Shkreli’s Game”
Source: Silvia Saponaro and Philip Lee
Rehearsal for “Martin Shkreli’s Game”

As he campily glides around stage, Caldwell's "Shkreli" luxuriates in his loathsomeness, bragging about the possessions his millions of dollars have helped him acquire, and making it clear he cares not a whit if his antics offend anyone — or everyone.

"I'm filthy f----- rich, and I do whatever the f--- I want to do!" proclaims "Shkreli."

He shows off a 4-pound truffle worth $60,000, a large bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Scotch whisky gifted "from the president," and a "leather-bound gold-leaf Bible — it is signed by the pope."

"What do they have in common? They're mine!" Caldwell crows about the gaudy items in the song "Capture All the Pieces."

So is, soon enough, Wu-Tang Clan's single-copy "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin."

Wu-Tang's RZA, GZA and Ghostface Killah quickly develop seller's remorse when they realize their album has fallen into his clutches.

"You're a fake-a-- super-villain!" spews Ghostface Killah at Shkreli. That's the same line the real Ghostface Killah directed at Shkreli earlier this year, when the two men engaged in dueling online videos.

Wu-Tang soon join forces with "Bill Murray" in a half-baked effort to pull off a "heist" to recover the album.

Actor Jon Bander introduces himself through the ditty "I'm Bill Murray," which has a lot of fun with the "Groundhog Dog" star's real-life habit of unexpectedly showing up in public places, such as house parties, kickball games, and engagement photos, and getting to do things just because he's "Bill Murray."

What happens after Murray ambles bemusedly onto the scene? A lot, including snarky references to Shkreli's alleged newfound hobby of collecting rare and valuable playing cards from the game "Magic: The Gathering," a number of songs featuring the "F-word" in their title, and Shkreli being confronted, as in real life, with the power of the legal system.

Shkreli also gets a final word in about his current legal predicament, quoting directly from the tweet that is pinned to the top of his actual Twitter feed: "I am confident I will prevail. The allegations against me are baseless and without merit."

After Tuesday's performance, three of Shkreli's friends said the show inaccurately portrayed their pal, whom they said is a good guy who has gotten a very bad, and unfair, rap.

"I didn't really enjoy it," said Adam MacLaren, a Canadian who is visiting Shkreli this week.

MacLaren and the others, who have become friends with Skreli after interacting with him during his live streams, said the media, the musical and others have ignored Shkreli's multiple philanthropic acts, including helping cancer patients, setting up a charitable foundation and making sure that patients who need the drug Daraprim are not denied access. Daraprim is the antiparasitic medication whose retail price Shkreli raised from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill last summer as then-CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals.

Another friend, North Carolina resident Lisa Whisnant, said, "I feel he's been very misrepresented."

Kelly Marsh, a New Hampshire resident and Shkreli friend, sighed: "Everybody wants a villain, and they found one in him."

Shkreli himself chimed in, via MacLaren's smartphone, after being told reporters were talking to his friends.

"Just let them know that you came all the way from Canada ... [and] I'm a good person," Shkreli messaged, MacLaren said.

Despite that claim, Shkreli couldn't resist firing a shot Wednesday via Twitter at the show's lyricist Gundrum.

"Heard the play sucked. Sorry that you are liberal and poor," Shkreli wrote Gundrum.