Heads up! “RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL” is back
If you’re a fan of terrifying theater, you’ve probably heard about RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL. Returning to his incendiary stage roots, Stuart Gordon directed this adaptation of his 1985 classic, resulting in six L.A. Weekly Theater Awards, an Ovation Award and an L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for everything from Best Musical to Best Blood Effects. The show was extended multiple times, running March-August 2011 at the Steve Allen Theatre in Los Angeles; those who missed that run are in luck, as RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL has returned for a 10-week run at LA’s Hayworth Theatre starting today before heading to New York in July and Edinburgh after that.
This reanimation of the show necessitated changes to the production, but they promise to be welcome additions for fans who have grown to love its glorious gore. Graham Skipper, who stars as Herbert West, affirms, “We’re expanding on some ideas that we didn’t get to flesh out quite as well in the first run—and yes, that pun was intended.”
Horror fans in general and lovers of Gordon’s film in particular owe it to themselves to see the show at least once. RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL is surprisingly faithful to the movie—aside from the inclusion of Mark Nutter’s music and lyrics, obviously. Skipper adds, “The music really helps to elevate it, allowing the characters to express themselves in new ways, providing lots of laughter as well as intense and frightening moments.” The standout cast also includes Rachel Avery as Megan Halsey, Jesse Merlin as Dr. Hill, Chris McKenna as Dan Cain and George Wendt (from Gordon’s KING OF THE ANTS and SPACE TRUCKERS) as Dean Halsey, and features (in alphabetical order) Mark Beltzman, Cynthia Carle, Brian Gillespie, Marlon Grace and Liesel Hanson.
Although Combs’ performance as the film’s Herbert West is beloved among horror fans, it would not be unearned for Skipper to become accepted as the new face of the character, as he brings a subtler humor and a likability that’s not present in the screen version’s more ambiguous antihero. Within the musical adaptation, it’s difficult not to want West to succeed in his exploits, and while the overarching characteristics of Skipper’s interpretation stay true to the original intent, his nuances apply new and refreshing sensibilities to Herbert West.
One would think that transferring an FX-heavy film like RE-ANIMATOR to the stage was impossible, but the current show does it flawlessly. Changes between the two media are almost nonexistent; each scene in the film is present on stage, down to the smallest details. Much of the special FX team for the musical worked on the original film, including Tony Doublin, John Naulin and John Buechler, joined by Tom Devlin and Greg McDougall. The transferring of the gags is done seamlessly, and the results are much more visually convincing than one might expect; the headless effect, especially, is achieved exceptionally well, and always sends the audience into a fit of laughter and applause. You can indeed walk into the theater expecting to see Dr. Hill’s body holding his severed head between Megan Halsey’s legs—although while Avery fully commits to her performance, she never does go full Crampton, if you catch our meaning…
The sexuality might be slightly toned down in the stage version, but the level of gore has actually been elevated from the movie. Extra setpieces haven’t been added, but the amount of blood in the already splattery moments has been increased. Fans familiar with the scene in which Dan and West sneak into the morgue to find a fresh corpse to reanimate—the one in which a bonesaw becomes a handy weapon—will discover something new in the addition of undead blood literally flying into their faces. That’s right: If a knockout cast, lyrical genius and awesome choreography weren’t enough, the show also turns the first three rows into a “splash zone,” wherein attendees get doused in blood. Doused in blood.
The only disappointment regarding the show? There’s no cast recording! Even months after you see it, Nutter’s lyrics will often creep back into your memory, and random strangers will be forced to hear you sing, “Down in the basement, deep beneath the floor/Down there I shall flourish, a breakthrough is in store/Great things will be done in the basement, historical things, and it’s truly a shame that I can’t say anymore.”
“The more fans demand it, the more likely [a cast recording] will happen soon,” Skipper affirms. “We’ll have one eventually for sure; I’m just not certain when that will be. But be loud about it! The powers that be will hear you!”
Fans of this production tend to become repeat attendees; one devotee, Phillis Kemp, has attended over 20 performances. Skipper feels this phenomenon to be perfectly understandable, explaining, “Just as there’s a visceral experience to seeing a horror movie in a theater full of screaming patrons, there’s something undeniably exciting about sitting in a crowded theater with zombies screaming on stage while bonesaws burst through chests inches from your face. Blood flows—and flies, and spurts, and showers—beautiful music fills the air, followed by screams, sobs and then eruptions of laughter and applause. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of; in short, it’s one hell of a night at the theater.” And whether you’ve seen the movie or not, it’s one hell of a vivid way to experience the story of Dr. Herbert West, Re-Animator. Find out more at the show’s official website.