Musings on Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator: The Musical

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Now on stage in Hollywood

In an age where anything that ever held any power in horror is deconstructed or remade or repurposed into silly YouTube video mash-ups or spoofed in one medium or another (in other words, bleeding the impact the original film had until it’s dry), I increasingly find it hard to get excited when someone takes a beloved film like Re-Animator and announces it has been turned into a musical. But when it’s the film’s own director overseeing the production, and when he’s pulling in talent he has worked with in the past, I think it’s an experiment worth looking at.

So, on a brisk, rainy Friday night, I ventured into Hollywood to take in a preview performance of Re-Animator: The Musical at the Steve Allen Theater – where Gordon and Jeffrey Combs enjoyed a successful run of Gordon’s previous stage endeavor Nevermore. By the end of the show, I was a grinning from ear to ear and slightly covered in blood from the wacky, wild, clever and incredibly wet production. I was joined by Devin Faraci, from BadAssDigest.com, and he actually walked away from the experience drenched in more faux blood than I was. You see, if you catch the show, the first two rows in the small theater are considered the “splatter zone” and you’re given makeshift plastic bag “ponchos” for protection from the flying viscera…as if you needed more incentive to get your butt in the seat.

I’m not going to pretend to be a critic of musicals, so I’ll simply speak as a fan of Stuart Gordon and as a fan of the original film.

Re-Animator: The Musical worked as a vicious and hilarious demonstration of Grand Guignol at its finest. When I wasn’t laughing about the over-the-top theatrics or music (“She’s dead, Dan! She’s really dead, Dan!”), I was applauding how they managed to pull off some of the visual challenges a film-to-stage adaptation poses, for instance Rufus the cat’s demise and his second chance at life, or, Dr. Hill’s decapitation. The production is super low budget with a bare stage and a metal door frame, but Gordon and his cast convincingly turn the stage into new environments (Dan Cain’s bedroom, West’s basement, the morgue, etc.) with a minimal amount of key props. John Buechler is joined by an FX team to pull off the especially grisly moments, like the ghoul-filled final act, and story-wise, every detail of Re-Animator remains intact.

Swimming in this sea of spilled blood and body parts is an excellent cast. Gordon calls on his King of the Ants stars Chris McKenna (as Dan Cain) and George Wendt (as Dean Halsey) while slipping Graham Skipper, Jessie Merlin and Rachel Avery into the roles of Herbert West, Dr. Hill and Megan Halsey, respectively. McKenna’s got the well-intentioned charisma of Dan down fine and Skipper is appropriately smarmy and driven as West. Merlin channels his best inner David Gale – with the assistance of a salt ‘n pepper shaded wig – and really shines as Hill; plus, you’ve got to hand it to the guy for singing and moving about the stage while trying to pull off the effect that he’s holding his own head.

Because I was sitting in on a preview, some of the blocking was still a bit raw (Wendt broke character for a minute to give a sly wink and thumbs up to the audience after a small mistake) and the effects were being worked out, but the production was still well-executed, as was Mark Nutter’s music, which honed in on just the right themes to exploit through lyrics (or a goofy dance routine or two). A few songs didn’t hit the mark for me, but that’s a given for any musical. Overall, though, Nutter and Gordon hit all of the proper beats. It’s weird, it’s faithful to the source material and I dug the hell out of it. Re-Animator: The Musical is a success, strangely enough.

If they can pull this off, what’s next? Cannibal Holocaust: The Musical?

The show officially opens on March 5. To get your tickets, visit SteveAllenTheater.com.

On a brief side note: I was shocked to see that the crowd for the performance I attended was mostly over their 40s. A survey showed that over half of that audience had not seen the original film, but they loved the musical.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor