Saturday, September 24, 2011

Step Right Up to the CARNEVIL at Sacred Fools

Katy Tang, Jeff Sumner and James Lynch

Horror films have spawned a number of musical stage versions in Los Angeles recently and developed a following with mainstream audiences as well as die-hard horror fans. Re-Animator the Musical and Head: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die Musical, as well as several productions of the classic Little Shop of Horrors have all offered their own interpretations of the genre; the former two reaching far into blood, guts and campy humor while the latter kept its feet planted in its comedic dark noir roots.

Now Sacred Fools is exploring the other end of the spectrum with a dramatic take on the horror genre in its new musical CarnEvil: A Gothic Rock Horror Musical by Michael Teoli and Joe Fria. The original story is a musical nightmare of sorts, both unsettling and highly addictive at the same time, with plenty of psychological stimulation to draw you completely into this tattered world, and enough comic elements to offer relief from its underlying intensity. And as always, the Fools throw themselves into the darkness with everything they've got.

CarnEvil finds ex-con Danny Farinelli (James Lynch) returning to his parents’ carnival after a four-year absence only to find that the traveling show has fallen on hard times. His parents are no longer alive and the carnival is being run by his abusive cousin Abner (Joey Bybee) who warns Danny that he should stay away. But once a carnie, always a carnie, and Danny finds that he cannot escape the family secret and its hypnotic pull no matter how hard he tries. As Danny takes over managing the side show, a chance meeting with the mysterious Craven Moon (Jeff Sumner) shows him a way to restore it to its former glory, though it comes with a costly price.

Teoli’s progressive rock influences hover throughout and the score is an elaborate mix of sounds that reflect the dark psychology and seduction in the story. He has a way with a screaming rock ballad like “Pain” that sticks with you and Sumner’s gutsy vocals turn the deeply visceral song into one of the horror highlights of the show, blood and all. I found myself holding my breath as I watched and though it certainly is perverse, it’s also a song I was humming as I left the theatre. Days later its emotional and haunting melody is one I can still remember.

In bright contrast are songs like Danny’s “Side Show” that capture a 1960’s HAIR-like hippie-fest vibe. Here is where the carnival springs to life, all color and movement, as staged by director/choreographer Janet Roston and featuring a bewitching set of misfit dancers; Erica Lyn Peña, Ceasar F. Barajas, Amanda Gamel and Anton Garsola.

David Haverty narrates the story as Albert the Wolf Boy with a friendly, likeable quality and shows that he can deliver a self-deprecating song like “Freak!” with vaudevillian flair. Natascha Corrigan is Serena Farinelli, Danny’s cousin, and at the outset the most normal of this nefarious group of characters. She, too, has a skin-crawling rocker number that is a raging showstopper, and Liza Baron and Whitney Avalon play the sexy Van Winkle sisters; conjoined twins who sing and move in seductive harmony as part of Moon’s posse.

At the heart of the story though is the relationship between Lynch’s (left) brooding anti-hero, Danny Farinelli, and Sumner’s evil impresario, Craven Moon, and the surprising history these two strangers share. Their eventual showdown will affect everyone in the carnival in lasting ways. Lynch cuts quite an impressive figure as the returning showman but it’s hard to outdo Sumner, whose smooth gentlemanly façade is a calculated cover for a sick and sadistic wild man. It’s an arresting performance; provocative, cool, and ever so enticing.

Teoli conducts a killer band that includes Christian Regul (and Teoli) on keyboards, Jonathan Hurley and German Schauss on guitar, Ryan Leach on bass and Jose Perez on drums. Lots of crazy sounds coming from their direction so listen for all the nuances.

Lumbering platforms that take too many hands to move do slow down the action but the set design creatively uses the full space, including the catwalk. It also features some fantastic vintage artwork. Devil Baby, Otter Boy, Gator Man and the Fire Eater have never looked better on the freak show posters. And did you notice that the ferris wheel graphic of the CarnEvil poster also doubles as a circular saw? Chilling. Completing the picture of this gothic carnival world is Hunter Wells’ darkly distinctive costume design that has its own surprises as well.

Sacred Fools' fearlessness has shown through once again with this bold, audacious work. CarnEvil's unique combination of attributes is tailor-made for the irreverent company and it's begun to draw a wide audience from among its extended goth/horror families. One can already see that a cult following is imminent.

CarnEvil will run through October 22 at Sacred Fools, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90004. Click Here for tickets or call 310- 281-8337.
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