Shahrazad, Heads or Tales?

Co-book: Stephen Oles; Lyrics & co-book: Noelle Donfeld; Music: Sandy Shanin



Magic leads to mayhem in this tragic-comic musical tale of love, lust, power and madness, adapted from the classic 1001 NIGHTS.

Fourteen year-old SHAHRAZAD, a renowned story teller, has been in love with the young SULTAN since earliest childhood.  When the Sultan’s wife betrays him, he becomes a maniac, wedding, bedding and beheading 45 virgins on 45 successive nights.  Hoping to cure his madness through the power of her love, Shahrazad weds him and is about to be beheaded herself, when her feisty fortune-telling sister, DINARZAD, pops up from under their bed.  She foretells of his death unless Shahrazad can save him through the power of her stories.  He gives her one night to convince him, while Dinarzad hides a dagger under the bedcovers for the unsuspecting Shahrazad to use to protect herself.

Shahrazad’s stories center on two rivalrous brothers, AMIR and a KING, who were also betrayed by faithless wives.   They interact with a succession of fantastic characters, including a powerful female GENIE, who keeps her lover imprisoned in a glass box.   Each story provides the Sultan with a magical item, including a sword that will kill his enemies.   The Sultan is convinced and besotted until he discovers the dagger left by Dinarzad.  Incensed, he attempts to kill Shahrazad with the magic sword, which freezes on his own throat, as he, not she, is his own worst enemy.   Telling the Sultan one last story, Shahrazad brings back the fictional King and a Maiden, whose love turns the mad King into a joyous lover.   When the Sultan is unmoved, Shahrazad enters the story and removes the fictional King’s “happy” heart, forcing it into the Sultan’s chest.   Immediately, the Sultan becomes a joyous lover who promises complete gender and religious equality for everyone in the Sultanate; however, the King in the story is now a heartless fiend, literally and figuratively.  When he is about to kill the maiden from his story, Shahrazad enters the story to stop him, only to discover her power doesn’t work on the heartless.  The King follows her out of the story and kills her beloved Sultan, starting a darkly humorous reign of terror.

Shahrazad decides she must get him to re-enter a story, in the hope that he will remain stuck in fiction.  She tells him a tale about his brother, Amir, who kills a Demon and is enraptured with his virginal wife’s exquisite lovemaking.  When the wife gives Amir a huge sack of diamonds, the jealous King stomps into the story plunging a sword into Amir’s chest.  Trapped in the story, the King threatens to torture and kill the wife, hoping that Shahrazad will re-enter the story so that he can follow her out again.   Instead, Shahrazad brings back the powerful Genie, who puts the King in her glass box, where he is destined to be her miserable love-slave for eternity.  Trusting that Dinarzad, who has a way with men, can bring  complete equality to the women of the Sultanate, she asks Dinarzad to watch and write down one more story as it happens.  Then Shahrazad enters the story herself, where she and the Sultan are reunited for all eternity.


SHAHRAZAD – a beautiful 14 year old storyteller

SULTAN – the handsome object of Shahrazad’s affection

DINARZAD – Shahrazad’s slutty sister

KING – a cuckhold ruler in Shahrazad’s stories

AMIR – King’s brother

GENIE – a domineering female with magical powers

ABDUL – Palace slave
COOK – Sultan’s cook
EUNUCH – Palace slave
HASSAN – man imprisoned by the Genie
MUTAR – King’s guard
MOON MAIDEN – sensual fictional virgin
DEMON – Moon Maiden’s frustrated husband
CYCLOPS – Demon’s brother

Right in Front of You. Shahrazad sings as an aside to the returning Sultan.
In Lahore. In Shahrazad’s first tale, Amir tells his brother, the King about the compliant women of his city. (Stephen VanHorn)
Keep Him in a Box. The Genie tells Amir and the King how she keeps her lover in Shahrazad’s next story.
I Want to Believe. The Sultan is touched by Shahrazad’s love for him.
No Heart. The King in the story reacts when Shahrazad removes his heart to shove into the Sultan’s chest.
Moon Maiden. In Shahrazad’s last story, Amir is seduced by a gorgeous woman and given diamonds to entice the King to enger the story.