Fredericton Playhouse “The Bricklin: An Automotive Fantasy,” a musical based on the failure of the Bricklin SV-1, will open at the Fredericton Playhouse in New Brunswick, Canada, at the end of July.
Vaulting ambition might have undone Macbeth, but as everyone from Henry Ford to Elon Musk knows, it is a hallmark of automotive entrepreneurship. Unflappable self-confidence, however, offers little defense against leaky windshields, crack-prone body panels or electrical fires.
Or against, as it happens, the playwright’s pen.
The Bricklin Safety Vehicle-1, a sports car built from 1974-76 in New Brunswick, Canada, commands a back story that could fill a four-part “Frontline” exposé, but a theater company based on the car’s native soil deemed it a saga ripe for the stage.
Slated for 16 performances at the Playhouse in Fredericton, New Brunswick, “The Bricklin” tracks the SV-1’s devolution from economic wunderkind to rueful punchline through a script and score developed by Allen Cole and Paul Ledoux. Indeed, “The Bricklin” is a musical.
“We’re going for a cabaret-meets-disco-meets-car-show vibe. It’s supposed to be fun,” said Tim Yerxa, the Playhouse’s executive director. Even so, the musical’s themes are hefty. “It’s a story about hopes and dreams, and at its heart are these two larger-than-life characters,” he said.
The American impresario Malcolm Bricklin, who in the 1980s established the equally star-crossed Yugo North America, found an enthusiastic backer for his first automotive gambit in Richard Hatfield, New Brunswick’s premier during the mid ’70s. Mr. Hatfield funneled cash and loan guarantees into Mr. Bricklin’s SV-1 venture, which were spent in a chain of suspect investment maneuvers. Build-quality issues plaguing the fiberglass-bodied car, combined with the company’s mismanagement, landed Bricklin in receivership by the end of 1975. Fewer than 3,000 complete SV-1s left the company’s St. John plant before production halted in 1976.
“Here we’ve got this audacious guy who wants to build a car, and this politician who recognizes an economic initiative and wants to do right by the people who elected him,” Mr. Yerxa said. “There’s a song called ‘High Risk Venture,’ and it’s during that number that Bricklin wins over Hatfield.”
The play might not manufacture pathos for the man who gave us the retractable front bumper, but it does strive to depict the Bricklin venture’s impact on workaday New Brunswickers. A couple, Gerard and Michelle, apply for jobs at the company’s new Minto, New Brunswick, plant, where the SV-1’s bodies were produced. As the play progresses, Gerard falls deeply in love with the car and drifts from Michelle.
Ultimately, theatergoers will most likely be engrossed by the protagonist at center-stage, a safety orange SV-1, whose gull-wing doors and headlights will operate — Mr. Yerxa hopes — during the show.
“We’ve outfitted it with a compressor so that the doors will open without much effort and the lights can run without starting the engine or draining the battery,” he explained. The theater’s SV-1 was bought for $9,000 on eBay from a collector in Florida and has been placed in service on a whistle-stop tour of New Brunswick to generate publicity for the show. So far, Mr. Yerxa says, it has been a drama-free road trip.
“It’s a 35-year-old car, so of course it’s got some issues, but the engine is a 351 Ford V-8, which is easy for any mechanic to work on,” he said.
And if “The Bricklin” should succeed where its namesake failed? “We’ll hopefully take the play on tour, along with the car,” Mr. Yerxa said.
“The Bricklin” runs from July 30 to Aug. 15 at the Playhouse in Fredericton, New Brunswick.