NEW YORK — The real Martin Shkreli was nowhere to be seen Tuesday night when the actor playing him burst out onto a Manhattan stage riding a hoverboard.
The brash entrance came during the opening number of an irreverent musical about the notorious former pharma executive. The show, titled “Martin Shkreli’s Game,” premiered Tuesday to a sold-out crowd of about 65 people.
The star of the show, Patrick Swailes Caldwell, spent the vast majority of his time on stage gliding around on his hoverboard in a hoodie, smirking and hurling expletive-laden insults. (He did a fair amount of livestreaming, too.) With his dark hair draped over his forehead, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Shkreli.
“Got a million stupid gadgets that you can’t afford / I ride into my kitchen on a hoverboard,” Swailes Caldwell sang in one of his rare lines without too much profanity for STAT to print.
Shkreli’s career as a former pharma executive took a backseat to the musical’s focus: an imagined heist centered around Shkreli’s purchase last year of a one-of-a-kind hip-hop album. The show tells a fictional story about a scheme by the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan and the actor Bill Murray to steal the album back from Shkreli.
But there were a few references to the career moves that made Shkreli famous, particularly his decision last fall to hike by 5,000 percent the price of Daraprim, a drug used to fight an infection that can develop in patients with AIDS or cancer.
“I don’t care how many cancer patients have to die,” Swailes Caldwell barked into his cell phone in one scene. “If they can’t afford $750 bucks a pill for Daraprim, they shouldn’t have gotten cancer in the first place.”
In another scene, when an actor playing a police officer asked whether the audience wanted to see Shkreli go to jail, the crowd in the packed theater responded with a resounding “Yeah!”
Shkreli will face trial next summer for securities fraud charges unrelated to the Daraprim price hike. He has said the allegations are unfounded. (During the musical, Swailes Caldwell also called the charges “baseless” while a cast member beside him ferried a sign saying “Free Shkreli.”)
Although the real Shkreli, who lives in Manhattan, didn’t make an appearance Tuesday night, he had emissaries there in his stead. Three of his friends, all of whom had traveled from out of state to see the show and visit Shkreli, told reporters outside the theater that they didn’t like how he was portrayed. The Shkreli they know, they said, is invested in advancing research and generous to individual patients in need.
“I feel he was very misrepresented,” said Lisa Whisnant, a North Carolina resident who works in wealth management and has gotten to know Shkreli online.
Adam MacLaren, a Canadian who works in retail, said he thinks Shkreli was unfairly made a scapegoat, given that other drug companies have also sharply raised prices. “Everybody wants a villain,” MacLaren told reporters, during a conversation in which he said he was in the midst of exchanging text messages with Shkreli.
Swailes Caldwell, for his part, isn’t weighing in on whether Shkreli deserves his reputation. He tried to parse through “the nitty-gritty of the pharmaceutical debate,” he told STAT, but “failed miserably because I’m an actor.”
Five more showings of the musical are scheduled this month as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. As of Wednesday morning, tickets were still available for shows on July 22 and 24.
One of the musical’s producers, Lauren Gundrum, said they offered a free ticket to Shkreli, who has sounded off online both positively and negatively about the musical since the production was announced last month. He hasn’t responded to their offer, Gundrum said, but they’re hoping he’ll still take them up on it.