Sacred Fools Theatre Company, the troupe that brought Los Angeles such delightful oddities as Hamlet Shut Up, Land Of The Tigers, and BeaverQuest! The Musical, now gives us CarnEvil: A Gothic Horror Rock Musical, a show which makes its predecessors seem positively tame by comparison and one that David Cronenberg fans may well drink up like Dracula at a victim’s neck. Still, despite considerable talent onstage and off, CarnEvil ended up being not this reviewer’s cup of tea, or goblet of blood as the case may be.
Joe Fria and Michael Teoli’s book recounts the tale of Danny Farinelli (James Lynch), fresh out of jail and back at the carnival that was his childhood home and is now being run by his cousin Serena (Natascha Corrigan). Danny harbors a deep, dark secret, and much as he wishes he could start life anew somewhere else, the lure of carny life is too great to resist. When offered the chance to manage the carnival side show, Danny finds himself unable to say no. Before long, a sinister stranger named Craven Moon (Jeff Sumner) has shown up at the carnival with a gruesome plan to revamp the side show, one that will spotlight Albert the Wolfman (David Haverty), Gator Man Jerry (Geoffrey Dwyer), lesbian Siamese twins Tina and Mina (Liza Baron and Whitney Avalon), a “Shoggoth” creature looking like a cross between Alien and Audrey II, a stageful of zombie marionettes, and buckets of blood.
If the above synopsis comes across a tad tongue-in-cheek, be forewarned. Unlike the recent L.A. smash Re-Animator™-The Musical, CarnEvil takes itself as seriously as the horror genre it sets to music. The blood and guts in ReAnimator was there as much to amuse as to shock. CarnEvil’s many stabbings, slicings, and scalpings appear to be a case of gore for gore’s sake. If like me you’re not a fan of gothic horror, you’ll likely not be a CarnEvil fan either.
Then there’s Michael Teoli’s pitch-black alternative rock score, one which lacks the hummable melodies and catchy hooks of The Who’s Tommy, The Rocky Horror Show, Hair, Rent, Spring Awakening, or the recent American Idiot, rock musicals which prove you can be loud and tuneful at the same time. (CarnEvil may well be the first musical to feature graphic torture to accompany a screecher of a rock ballad aptly titled “Pain.”)
And at well-over two-and-a-half hours, CarnEvil goes on for a long, long time.
Still, there’s no denying the talent on stage at Sacred Fools, with Sumner, Avalon, and Baron possessing rock pipes so powerful that any band would be lucky to have them as lead singers. Haverty sings well too, and gives hairy Albert considerable charm, if only his Wolfman makeup weren’t so cheesy. At the performance reviewed here, book and lyrics co-writer Fria went on in two roles, first as the evil but quickly dispatched Abner Farinelli and later, quite memorably, as Vinchenzo Diodati, a role that allowed the two-time Best Actor Scenie winner to once again prove himself one of L.A.’s most watchable scene-stealers.
The top-notch cast is completed by principals Lauren Teoli (Sasha), Chairman Barnes (Levi “Torch” Richie), and Shannon MacMillan (Linda “Skip” Walker), ensemble members Katy Tang, Rachel Howe, Brian Wallis, and Dan Wingard, and dance ensemble whizzes Erica Lyn Peña (dance captain), Ceasar F. Barajas, Amanda Gamel, and Anton Garsola. The puppet ensemble is made up of Erika Salomon and Lisa Anne Nicolai.
Janet Roston directs with a flair for the horror genre, aided by Joel Daavid’s carny-esque scenic design and vibrant lighting. The frequent moving of set pieces does, however, prove distracting and at times unnecessary, and to see characters pop back to life and exit just after being murdered dampens the mood and destroys the illusion.
Roston’s choreography is at its best quite stunning in “Shogguth Cult” and “House Of Puppetry,” though several Act One numbers end up too “Broadway generic” for a rock horror musical like CarnEvil.
Musical director/keyboardist/co-lyricist Teoli conducts a couldn’t-be-better live band, featuring Jonathan Hurley (guitar), Ryan Leach (bass), Jose Perez (drums), Christian Regul (keyboards), and German Schauss (guitar).
Hunter Wells’ costumes are a terrific mix of the flashy and the bizarre. Eric Snodgrass gets mostly high marks for his sound design, though some overmiking causes lyrics (particularly in Sumner’s songs) to get lost. Other behind-the-scenes talents include Brandon Clark and Wallis (producers), Joseph Beck, Lauren Teoli, and Fria (associate producers), Joe LaRue (assistant director), Rachel Howe (assistant music director/vocal coach), Christian Regul (music assistant), Angela Lingrosso and Heatherlynn Gonzales (stage managers), DeAnne Millais (assistant scenic designer), Matt Richter (assistant lighting designer), Lee Perez (assistant costume designer), Heather Hopkins (makeup designer), Kevin Page (animation designer), Sumner and Ben Rock (blood effects design, “Handsome Jack” (magic consultant), Jason Pass (percussion coach), Sondra Mayer (fire handler), and Nicolai (bunny wrangler).
Ultimately, how you feel about CarnEvil will depend as much as anything on how fond you are of Gothic Horror Rock Musicals. As one who has often complained about my favorite romantic comedy being dissed by a reviewer who’s not a romcom fan to begin with, I’m probably not the most suited to critique CarnEvil. Still, for those whose tastes run similar to mine, this is one carnival ride I’d recommend skipping.
Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Hollywood.
October 7, 2010