Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator Reinvents Itself as a Musical

Rachel Avery, George Wendt and Jesse Merlin
Photos by Thomas Hargis

Update: Due to popular demand, Re-Animator has extended through August 14, 2011. For tickets call 1-800-595-4849.

When Miguel Rodriguez and Beth Accomando heard there was going to be a splash zone at Re-Animator: The Musical, they knew they had to make the drive up from San Diego to be part of it. Dressed in bloody lab coats and an assortment of plastic bibs and aprons, they and their friends happily ended up front and center in the saran wrapped seats of the second row. They weren’t disappointed one bit.

The blood and guts flow freely in this campy musicalized version of Stuart Gordons horror film Re-Animator, directed for the stage by Gordon himself. It is a gore fest, complete with severed limbs, bloody heads, and yes, even squirting intestines. (Oh, beware the squirting intestines!) Die-hard Re-Animator fans will be pleased to note that special effects for the musical have been done by Tony Doublin, John Naulin and John Beuchler, the team who provided the gruesome effects for the film. It’s clear they've had a great time setting up the show for a live audience.

When it first came out in 1985 Re-Animator, quickly became a hit among horror fans and established a cult following both for the film and its mad scientist, Jeff Combs, who played Herbert West. Graham Skipper (pictured left), who plays West in the musical, is just as fiendish as his film counterpart, and every bit as funny.

Original music for the film was done by Richard Band and composer Mark Nutter takes Band’s original Re-Animator motif and uses it as the basis for the score. Many of the songs follow a stream of consciousness recitative style, and you probably won’t leave singing any familiar tunes, but that’s not the allure of this musical. Come for the horror, stay for the camp, and you’ll be happily satisfied.

The plot concerns West’s discovery of a fluorescent green serum that can re-animate the dead and his arrival at Miskatonic Medical School where he plans to continue his experiments. There he meets the amiable Dean Halsey (George Wendt), the dean’s lovely daughter Meg (Rachel Avery), her handsome boyfriend Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna) and his soon-to-be nemesis, Dr. Carl Hill (Jesse Merlin).

The story follows the film pretty closely and horror aficionados will gleefully know what’s coming next, but I won’t spoil it for the horror neophytes in the audience. What I will say is that there is plenty of death, sex, horror, comedy, music, and yes, even dancing. It is a musical, after all.
Chris L. McKenna, Rachel Avery, Jesse Merlin
and George Wendt

George Wendt, best known as Norm on Cheers is the show’s headliner, and he goes for it, game on, all the way through. Whether he’s being thrown around the stage by a zombie or beating his head up against an imaginary wall, Wendt gets the laugh, and we love him for it. Cain and Avery provide the sex and a dose of sweetness amid the craziness happening all around them, and Merlin’s pompous Dr. Hill is full of the cocky assurance of a man who doesn’t know he’s wearing a really bad toupee. When he tangles – and tangos – with Herbert West, we know we’re in for some madcap fun.

I didn’t see the film when it originally came out, but did watch it recently to get a better feel for the genre. What I found most interesting was the treatment of the material depending on which medium I was watching. In the film, the actors play the scenes realistically making the horror aspect really quite horrifying. Humor came as a relief to the psychologically gruesome situations.

The action is heightened in the musical with heavy emphasis on the comedy and interactive onstage gore. The Second City/SNL feel of the scenes is fantastic on the Steve Allen Theater’s intimate stage. In fact, the set consists of only one doorway that becomes the entrance to all of the locations in the musical. Great use of the space by set designer Laura Fine Hawkins, who last designed the set for The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Taper. She proves it’s not how big the space is, but what you do with it that counts.

Get your tickets now, however, because online horror film fan sites have been singing Re-Animator’s praises since the show went into previews, and the musical is already developing its own cult following. Sunday night’s performance was standing room only with audience members lining the aisle.

So what did the San Diego foursome think when I saw them later in the evening? “It was great!” said Accomando, and the enthusiastic, bloodstained smiles of her friends confirmed it. They did sit in the splash zone after all…

Performances of Re-Animator - The Musical run Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at 8:00 pm through March 27 at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90027. For tickets call 1-800-595-4849 or go to

Book: Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon and William J. Norris
Music & lyrics: Mark Nutter
Adapted from the story by H.P. Lovecraft
Based on the film H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator produced by Brian Yuzna
Director Stuart Gordon
Musical director: Peter Adams
Choreography: Cynthia Carle
Producers: Dean Schramm and Stuart Gordon

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