In 1983, Debbie Harry made her Broadway stage debut in a comedy about love & wrestling

By on March 5, 2018

In this April 12, 1983 episode of “Radio 1990,” host Lisa Robinson gave us the low-down on Debbie Harry‘s then-upcoming Broadway stage debut in Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap, a comedy about love and wrestling, which — after three weeks of favorably-received preview shows — was later deemed a critical flop, closing after a single performance.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.


The play was staged over ten “rounds” — each terminated by the clang of a ringside bell — inside a full-fledged wrestling ring, transformed by designer Lawrence Miller inside New York City’s Nederlander Theatre, located at 208 West 41st Street.

An electric organ, the kind you might hear pumping up the crowd at a baseball game, accompanied all of the action.

Due to the strenuous nature of the real on-stage wrestling, Debbie Harry alternated playing the leading role of the female wrestler “Tanzi” with 28-year old veteran stage actress Caitlan Clarke.

The play — by Kenya-born British playwright Claire Luckham — was originally performed as Trafford Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap, named for the Trafford borough in Greater Manchester, England.


The plot follows that trials and tribulations faced by a female wrestler “Tanzi” whose name, depending on where the production was staged, is always preceded by a place-name beginning with a “T,” with Teaneck, New Jersey being the locale closest to Debbie Harry’s Broadway show.

During the course of the play, Tanzi grapples with those who want to make her into something she isn’t ever going to be.

She — as Lisa Robinson tells us — “settles all of her emotional scores” one by one, wrestling her mother, her father, her best friend, her school psychiatrist (“Dr. Grope”), and, finally, her husband, pro wrestler “Dean Rebel” (the loser agrees to do the housework).

The attending crowd is encouraged by the cast members and strategically-placed audience plants to cheer and heckle the characters onstage.


Read more about Debbie Harry and “Teaneck Tanzi” below.


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Night Flight fave Andy Kaufman also starred in the play as “The Ref.”

In an interview with People magazine in April of 1983, Kaufman estimated that he’d wrestled more than four hundred women in his nightclub act by that point.

In the past year he’d met his match in a bout against professional wrestler Jerry Lawler, which left him wearing a neck brace (read more here).

Debbie told People magazine she’d been a professional wrestling fan at that point for at least four years, and “a vocal supporter of such pros as George ‘The Animal’ Steele.”

The play’s director, Chris Bond, had brought over British wrestling god Brian “Godbelt” Maxine — in 1971, he simultaneously held two belts, being both the welterweight & middleweight wrestling champ at the time — to train the cast six days a week during rehearsals, which lasted eight weeks.

Debbie had been introduced to wrestling through her longtime boyfriend and frequent musical collaborator, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein.

Stein even told Spin magazine in 1986 that Debbie had become so good at wrestling that he thought she could beat Kate Bush in a wrestling match — we think he might have been kidding — but we don’t think Debbie was kidding when she added that she could beat Cyndi Lauper “anytime, anyplace.”


Despite the fact that Teaneck Tanzi was favorably received by audiences at fourteen previews before it officially opened on April 20th, 1983 — eight days after our “Radio 1990” preview, if you’re keeping score — the play closed the same night, after just one public performance.

In 2007, the Gothamist blog interviewed Debbie Harry, and asked her about her Broadway debut in Teaneck Tanzi: The Venus Flytrap.

Debbie Harry:

“…We did the show for about three weeks in previews, downtown in a nice sort of loft space Off Off-Broadway. And it was great; the audiences were loud and everybody was shouting at the wrestlers just like a real wrestling match. And then they decided they were going to open it on Broadway and it opened and closed almost instantly! So I guess it was a little bit premature for Broadway.”

Debbie also remembered Andy Kaufman:

“I just remember Andy being very quiet in those days. He had gotten into macrobiotics. In our rehearsal space there was a section in another room where we would all go eat lunch on these bleachers. And he would take out his macrobiotic food and eat it very quietly, in a very focused manner. I think he was aware that he had cancer at that time, so he was actually on the quiet side.”

Kaufman died of lung cancer the year after the play in 1984 and Debbie Harry’s alternating leading co-star, Caitlin Clarke, succumbed to ovarian cancer twenty years later, in 2004.

NYT critic Frank Rich actually thought that Andy Kaufman, who tried to pass himself off as one of the usher’s at the performance he attended, demanding ticket stubs and barking seated customers, threatening to eject theatregoers out into the street, was, in his words, “sadistic fun.”

Rich mostly hated the two performances he saw (with both leading ladies), however, even decrying how the wrestling, “though noisy, is less convincing than an average Three Stooges melee.”


Night Flight’s “Radio 1990” segment about Debbie Harry continues with Blondie’s video for “In The Flesh.”

Read more about Blondie in this previous Night Flight blog post.

Watch Night Flight’s “Radio 1990” episode from April 12, 1983 — which features videos by Culture Club, Gary Numan, Wall of Voodoo, and an epic Beat Club performance of “Honky Tonk Woman” by Ike & Tina Turner — on Night Flight Plus.

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.