Re-Animator™-The Musical has Re-Turned™ for a Re-Peat™ engagement at the Steve Allen Theater, which ought to come as some Re-Ally™ good news for wacky musical theater lovers, lovers of wacky musicals, and a whole bunch of Splatter Flick fans who’d never under any other circumstances find themselves anywhere near a musical theater stage.
Maybe it’s the show’s sci-fi theme, or perhaps it’s Re-Animator™-The Musical’s camp factor that has made it, like The Rocky Horror Show, The Toxic Avenger: The Musical, and Evil Dead: The Musical, a cult favorite. Then again, it may have something to do with the “splash zone,” the front four rows of seats where audience members are guaranteed to get anywhere from dampened to downright soaked-to-the-skin with artificial blood.
Whatever the reason for its smash success, Re-Animator™-The Musical became L.A.’s biggest cult hit of 2011, winning six LA Weekly Theatre Awards including Best Musical, an Ovation Award for Best Book, a pair of LADCC Awards for its Musical Score and Special Effects, and three Scenies.
Based on the 1985 science fiction horror movie Re-Animator, which itself came from the H. P. Lovecraft story Herbert West—Reanimator, Re-Animator™-The Musical tells the scarylicious tale of Experiments To Resuscitate The Dead.
Our handsome, intrepid hero is Dr. Dan Cain (Darren Ritchie), whom we first see attempting in vain to revive a patient long past the eight-to-ten minutes he has before brain death sets in. Despite the musical pleas of the attending medical staff (“She’s dead, Dan/Get it through your head, Dan”), the good doctor refuses to give up until he is literally pulled from the cadaver who won’t come back to life.
Not surprisingly, considering Dan’s matinee idol good looks and hunky physique, our hero has a beautiful blonde fiancée Meg (Jessica Howell), who just happens to be the daughter of Dean Halsey (Ken Hudson Campbell), Dean of the Miskatonic Medical School, i.e. Dan’s boss. While Meg dreams of the day she and her beau can be wed to storybook perfection, Dan just wants to Meg to move in with him, something which she won’t do without a ring on her finger.
As long as Dan has the apartment all to himself, he rents out his basement to bespectacled medical researcher Herbert West (Graham Skipper), who happens coincidentally to have developed an iridescent green reagent which, when injected into the recently deceased, shocks the brain into a state of “re-animation,” not quite life as we know it, but the next best thing as far as Herbert is concerned.
When Dan discovers that Herbert has killed and then re-animated his pet cat Rufus, the studly doctor realizes that his nerdy housemate may just have discovered the very secret of life extension he himself has been wishing and hoping and thinking and praying and planning and dreaming to find. Before long, the pair are down in the morgue in search of just the right cadaver to bring back to life.
Every ointment (or reagent in this case) has its fly, and Herbert’s is his nemesis Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin), an unscrupulous, plagiaristic maniac who will do anything in his power to claim credit for Herbert’s discovery—and that means anything, if you get my drift.
Re-Animator™-The Musical has been brought to musical comedy life by Stuart Gordon, who directed both movie and musical; by book writers Dennis Paoli, Gordon, and William J. Norris, authors of the 1985 screenplay; and by composer/lyricist Mark Nutter, some of whose songs have been inspired by Richard Band’s movie score, while others owe a greater debt to Gilbert & Sullivan with their similarly clever rhymes. (“What’s the point of staying? It smells like she’s decaying” and “His psychosis gives me chills. He cannot love, he only kills” are two wittily creepy examples.)
While I’m told the film is played for maximum shock and horror value, performances in Re-Animator™-The Musical are for the most part thoroughly tongue-in-cheek.
Broadway’s Ritchie and leading lady Howell, fresh off The Max Factor Factor, are terrific 2014 cast additions, the stellar duo making for a sympathetic pair of lovers amidst the mayhem that surrounds them, Howell in particular adding an extra bit of sass to sweet-and-sexy girl next door Megan,
Best Lead Actor Ovation nominee Skipper once again makes for an infectiously gleeful, bug-eyed, scene-stealing Herbert. Fellow returnee Merlin hits another comedic bull’s-eye as the deranged Dr. Hill, with operatic pipes rarely heard outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Newcomer Campbell gets the joke too and runs with it as Re-Animator™-The Musical’s crazed zombie of a dead Dean, while Marlon Grace once again gets laughs galore as a hefty hospital security guard who has better things to do than guarding security (“I’ll take care of it … right after my break”).
Returning as doctors, directors, policemen, and corpses are Cynthia Carle, Brian Gillespie, and Liesel Hanson, all three having such good times that it’s no wonder they’ve come back for more.
There is indeed plenty of gore, though it’s the sort more likely to provoke laughs than shrieks. Someone’s eyes fall out, another character gets ripped apart limb from limb, skulls are opened with bone saws and brains removed, and best of the bunch, a decapitation and double re-animation allow the deceased character to remain a major player, operatic pipes intact.
As for folks in the first few rows, don’t let Act One fool you or let the production’s complimentary disposable raincoats give you a sense of security. When fake blood gets shot out of an intestinal hose near the end of Act Two, the splashing and splattering goes on and on and on, people keep coming back for more, and the most fanatical among them arrive hours early just to sit front-row center and raincoat-free.
Musical director/arranger Peter Adams once again plays live synthesizer to prerecorded tracks, making for just the right musical accompaniment. Cynthia Carle’s inventive choreography is never more so than when re-animated zombies form A Chorus Line.
Laura Fine Hawkes’ scenic design is again simple in the extreme, but does the trick. Jeff Rack gets big thumbs up for an impressive bunch of ingenious props. Costumes by Joe Kucharski are imaginative treats, especially those designed for characters minus heads or with other severed body parts. Jeff Ravitz’s lighting design adds to the show’s creepy/funny moods.
Biggest design kudos once again go to special effects masters Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom Devlin, and Greg McDougall.
Re-Animator™-The Musical is produced by Dean Schramm and Gordon. Mike Lemek takes over as stage manager, Tony Doublin is assistant stage manager, and Brad Bentz is technical director.
I had a rollicking good Re-Visiting™ Re-Animator™-The Musical (and stayed dry by avoiding those floor-level seats).
As for the rest of you, even if the idea of gushing blood and severed limbs makes you want to hurl, you’ll be laughing so hard at Re-Animator™-The Musical, a barf bag will be the furthest thing from your mind.
Simply put, there’s no funner, campier, more outrageous ride in town.
October 19, 2014
Photos: Thomas Hargis