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A musical based on the 1962 Alcatraz escape attempt is in the works

A musical based on the real-life 1962 escape from Alcatraz will hit the stage next year. The musical is not an adaptation of the movie ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ but rather an entirely new story that will precisely follow the facts of the escape as they are known.

Daniel Curtis
Daniel Curtis

With music and lyrics by Daniel Curtis (Grimaldi and Stop the Show). Daniel said “I was first told about the story of the escape when I was 8 years old, and I immediately became obsessed with finding out more. I remember searching video shops and car boot sales to find the famous Clint Eastwood movie. Since then, I have read every book and watched every film and TV show related to the escape and have contemplated this show for a long time. We all have our own opinions on if they made it to land successfully that night but for me, I think they did it. I cannot wait to bring this story to the stage.

Frank Morris along with brothers John and Clarence Anglin and Allen West hatched an escape plan which involved widening the ventilation ducts beneath their sinks using discarded saw blades found on the prison grounds, metal spoons smuggled from the mess hall, and an electric drill improvised from the motor of a vacuum cleaner. The men concealed the progress of their holes with walls of painted cardboard, and the noise of their work with the louder noise of Morris’ accordion on top of the ambient din of music hour.

Once the holes were wide enough to pass through, the escapees nightly accessed the utility corridor left unguarded directly behind their cells’ tier and climbed to the vacant top level of the cellblock, where they set up a clandestine workshop unbeknownst to prison staff. Here, with over fifty raincoats among other stolen and donated materials, they constructed life preservers, based on a design one of them chanced to find in Popular Mechanics, as well as a six-by-fourteen-foot rubber raft, the seams carefully stitched by hand and sealed by steam pipes’ heat. Having manufactured the raft, they inflated it with a concertina rigged to serve as bellows and furnished the necessary paddles from scrap wood and pilfered screws. Allen West was put in charge of painting above the cellblock. The floor of Alcatraz was always spotless. Allen West swept dust down onto the floor deliberately, this infuriated the guards and led to a key element of the escape in that Allen West convinced the guards to let him hang sheets to stop the dust. This kept West, Morris and the Anglin’s out of sight of the guards.

Finally, they climbed up a ventilation shaft bound for the roof, and, finding a ponderous fan-grille in the way, removed the rivets holding it in place. Dummy head found in Morris’ cell. The broken nose resulted when the head rolled off the bed and struck the floor after a guard reached through the bars and pushed it.

The men concealed their absence while working outside their cells—and after the escape itself—by sculpting dummy heads from a home-made papier-mâché-like mixture of soap, toothpaste, concrete dust, and toilet paper, and giving them a realistic appearance with paint from the maintenance shop and hair from the barbershop floor. With towels and clothing piled under the blankets in their bunks and the dummy heads positioned on the pillows, they appeared to be sleeping.

On the night of June 11, 1962, with all preparations in place, the men began their escape. However, the cement employed to shore up crumbling concrete around West’s vent had hardened, diminishing the hole in size and fixing the grill in place. By the time he managed to remove the grill and re-widen the hole to egress, the others had already left, as he was soon to discover; he busted out to the prison roof only to return to his cell around sunrise and go to sleep. West went on to cooperate fully with investigators and give them a detailed description of the escape plan, in consequence of which he was not punished for his role in it.

From the service corridor, Morris and the Anglins climbed the ventilation shaft to the roof. Guards heard a loud crash as they broke out of the shaft, but since nothing further was heard, the source of the noise was not investigated. Hauling their gear with them, they descended 50 feet (15 m) to the ground by sliding down a kitchen vent pipe, then climbed two 12-foot (3.7 m) barbed-wire perimeter fences. At the northeast shoreline, near the power plant—a blind spot in the prison’s network of searchlights and gun towers—they inflated their raft with the concertina. At some time after 10 p.m., investigators estimated, they boarded the raft, launched it and departed toward their objective, Angel Island, two miles to the north. Fascinating evidence in favour of their success has come to light but it has yet to satisfy authorities and they remain missing persons and wanted to this day.

The musical will premiere in London in 2022 with a further production of the show scheduled to take place in 2023. The musical is being produced in conjunction with Hundred Acre Productions.


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