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Stage Review: ‘Re-Animator: The Musical’

With all of the hype over the past few months, Bloody Disgusting stringer Micah enjoyed a bit of song, dance and gore in “Re-Animator The Musical!”

In 1985 Stuart Gordon directed his first feature film and created a sensation. It was Re-Animator, a smashing success based on a horror story by H.P. Lovecraft. The film delivered as many laughs as it did screams, making it a cult classic among horror fans, and won a Critic’s Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Now Gordon is back with his co-writers Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris and composer/lyricist Mark Nutter to turn Re-Animator into a musical for the stage.

Special effects were done by the same guys who did them for the 1985 movie: Tony Doublin, John Naulin, and John Beuchler. And the blood will flow so freely that the first row will literally be designated as a “splash zone.” Needless to say, the show is not for small children.

The cast stars Harry S. Murphy, Chris L. McKenna (King of the Ants), and Jesse Merlin (Star of The Beastly Bombing). Also starring are Rachel Avery, Mark Beltzman, Cynthia Carle, Marlon Grace, Brian Gillespie, and Liesel Hanson, and introducing Graham Skipper as Herbert West.
I don’t get out to many musicals. In fact, Re-Animator: The Musical was the first one I intentionally bought a ticket for. Theatrical performances typically turn me off. I feel the same way about horror movie musicals as well. While watching Sweeney Todd the thought of taking a butcher knife to the face seemed a welcome relief and though I liked the uniqueness and concept, Repo: The Genetic Opera took me multiple sittings to finish. Little Shop of Horrors? No thanks. I once dated a girl who forced me to watch Moulin Rouge. We broke up a week later. I go in with an open-mind, but it’s just not my bag, baby.

But my opinion of musicals was forever altered after spending a couple hours in the “Splash Zone” last Sunday night at The Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles. The show was literally a bonkers amount of gory fun.

Stuart Gordon’s 1985 horror comedy is undoubtedly one of the genre’s best and most beloved cult films. It ranks right up there with Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise or Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. Jeffrey Combs (as Dr. Herbert West) has an impressive cult following right up there with the legendary Bruce Campbell (as Ash). It seemed a natural fit with the overwhelming success of Evil Dead: The Musical that Re-Animator would be musically adapted as well. Gordon agreed and signed on to co-write and direct the musical version. He brought back the original 1985 SFX team (John Naulin, Tony Doublin and John Beuchler) to recreate the zombies and over-the-top gore that legions of fans have fallen in love with over the years. And boy did they nail it! I can’t help but to think that having the core group back (especially Gordon) aided immensely in how true the musical is to the film and just how much insanity was injected into the musical.

And that’s just it. The musical captures the very essence of the film. Everything that is great about the film is on display, including my favorite, the perverted and perpetually on break security guard. Right from the first song which nurses, doctors and janitors morbidly and hilariously declares that young medical student Dan Cain’s (Chris McKenna) patient was “Dead, Dan! She’s really really dead, Dan!” you know you are in for a treat. Every song, besides being well written and relevant to the story, had the audience rolling with laughter. Herbert West’s grand delusions come to life in song form. Dr. Karl Hill’s (Jesse Merlin) creepy and slimy personality is illustrated so well via the songs (and Merlin’s noticeable acting chops) that I now prefer his performance over the original character. Crazy? Blasphemous? Believe me, I know.

Graham Skipper as the infamous Dr. Herbert West has the toughest challenge of any of the actors, but pulls it off admirably. His take on the character is spot-on for the musical which comes off as an ever so slightly campier version than Combs. He never tries to over do it, instead running with the absurdness of the character to create his own identity as West. The stunningly beautiful Rachel Avery as Megan Halsey steals several scenes with some rather fantastic comedic timing. Her biggest highlight being a standing upright bed sex scene that turns into a guy’s nightmare — a duet with her fiance Dan focusing on why they need a big wedding with “six or seven hundred of their closest friends.” And yes, she is briefly topless — though not in the scene you would suspect.

From the dead cat scene, to the first morgue reanimation, to the rousing (and immensely famous) conclusion there isn’t a dull minute to be found. By the time West wraps himself in a human intestine / spray hose and gleefully DRENCHES (they offer a garbage to cover your clothes) the audience, my face hurt from laughing so much. As we left the packed theater I looked around for a tip jar so I could give some more money. I was that impressed.

The following morning I discovered my program was covered in fake blood and brain matter. The sh*t eating grin I proudly displayed the night before came rushing back.



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