Our story begins in Limbo, where Elmer McCurdy, a real-life, small-time Old West outlaw has arrived, “fresh” from his death on earth. Elmer is sure he will go to “the other place” because of his rotten life. While Elmer is waiting to be processed by Limbo’s Bureaucrat, two Singers volunteer to tell Elmer’s story (Demo 1: The Ballad of Elmer McCurdy).
As a young man, Elmers arrives in the Midwest (Demo 2: Iola, Kansas 1903) and meets LuluMae, (Demo 3: Do Right By Her), who returns his affection (Demo 4: Imperfect). They are about to begin a courtship when Elmer is cheated by a carny (Demo 5: Ballyhoo) and reveals unsavory information about his past life. LuluMae’s father banishes him from town. Elmer vows to return.
Elmer joins the Army and is inspired by a young Lieutenant Douglas MacArthur (Demo 6: Blow Things Up). After being discharged from the Army, Elmer meets with a lowlife friend, Amos, and they are thrown into jail on trumped up charges (Demo 7: The Right Amount of Wrong). It’s LuluMae to the rescue, vouching for Elmer, but making Elmer promise not to do anything illegal.
The lure of quick money is too much for Elmer as he begins a crime spree that results in little financial success for the robbers (Demo 8: Just Our Luck). Elmer is now on the run from the law when he receives a letter (Demo 9: The Letter) from LuluMae informing him of her pregnancy. Elmer heads to Iola (Demo 10: Do Right by Her Reprise) but is shoot and killed in Oklahoma in 1917. The Singers in Limbo have finished their story and Elmer is ready to move but there’s a problem… End of Act 1!
The Bureaucrat leaves before we can discover what the problem is. Elmer looks down to Earth and sees LuluMae waiting for him, expecting him to respond to her letter (Demo 11: Baby, On the Way.) She has not learned of his death. She goes into labor. The Bureaucrat returns with the news that Elmer is stuck in Limbo because his body has not been properly buried. Why? Seems the funeral home director has injected his body with a preservative and put the body on display (Demo 12: The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up).
As time passes, Elmer’s body is sold to the Patterson Carnival to be part of its sideshow. Elmer worries that LuluMae will either forget him or never find his body to give him a proper burial (Demo 13: Running Out of Time Blues). Elmer learns he can go back to Earth one time to appear in a person’s dream. He visits LuluMae (Demo 14: Nightmare Song) to encourage her to seek at his body. At the Patterson Carnival, LuluMae hears about Elmer’s past deeds as an outlaw. Instead of rescuing his body, she is incensed that Elmer has broken his promise to her. She allows Louis Sonney to buy Elmer’s body from Patterson.
Over the years (Demo 15: Crime Does Pay), Sonney makes money by showcasing Elmer in a Museum of Crime, allowing his body to be a transatlantic race in horror films. Concurrently, LuluMae’s son, Billy, is searching for his father. Billy finds Sonney but Elmer’s body is not around. However, Sonney gives Billy a letter that fell out of Elmer’s pocket. In 1967, Elmer’s body is sold to the Nu-Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California to put in the Laff in the Dark funhouse. Billy gives Elmer’s letter to LuluMae (The Letter, Reprise) and we learn the Elmer owned up to his deeds, vowed to pay his debt to society and hoped to raise Billy. LuluMae is not moved toward sympathy for Elmer.
Stuck in the funhouse, Elmer begs the Bureaucrat for a second trip to visit LuluMae in her dreams. Elmer visits a very old LuluMae (Demo 16: Last Laff in the Dark). He asks her for help, but stops, realizing that in his whole life and afterlife, he has been selfish. LuluMae wakes from the dream and releases her anger she sings (Demo 17: Forgiveness). She tells Billy to go to the funhouse.
Billy arrives at the funhouse as a film crew is setting up for the TV show, “Six Million Dollar Man.” A teamster finds his body and calls the police. The LA coroner uncovers the mystery of Elmer McCurdy’s strange afterlife. As a publicity stunt, the people of Guthrie, Oklahoma, bring Elmer’s body to their Boot Hill Cemetery, where it is “properly buried.” In Limbo, Elmer and LuluMae are re-united (Demo 18: A State They Call OK). Their redemptive deeds allow them to spend eternity together in “the good place.”