Photo: Rachel Avery, George Wendt, center, Jesse Merlin. Credit: Thomas Hargis.
Even considering the vast number of the films-turned-Broadway-musicals that have been produced in recent years, few would have imagined Stuart Gordon’s bloody 1985 cult classic, Re-Animator, would be a likely candidate to join their ranks. But if you think about it, Re-Animator’s camp-gore trappings make it a natural for the musical treatment. Gordon and his collaborators went back to the laboratory, grafted a bit of Gilbert & Sullivan and a bit of Bernard Herrmann into the proceedings and et voila, Re-Animator is born again as an all-singing, all-dancing Grand Guignol.
Re-Animator: The Musical closely follows the plotline of Gordon’s film (based on the HP Lovecraft short story “Herbert West-Reanimator,” itself a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). The writing is witty, as sharp as a knife. The cast are wonderfully deadpan (the way camp should be played, of course) and the striking musical score can best be described (and this is a good thing) putrescent Sondheim. Couplets like “His psychosis gives me chills/He cannot love, he only kills!” cannot help but to inject life anew into Gordon’s 25-year-old grindhouse favorite.
If you recall Re-Animator the film, there was quite a lot of blood in it. The musical has even more. According to Variety, the gore effects were created by the same crew who worked on the 1985 film. I believe it. Patrons seated in the front three rows were given trashbag-like ponchos to protect their clothes, but on the night we saw the show, the first ten rows probably should have worn raincoats. And hats. And been issued umbrellas! (For the record, I sat in the middle and remained dry. Just don’t wear any couture and you’ll be fine.)
Jesse Merlin, as the villain of the piece, Dr. Carl Hill, plays the role for everything it’s worth, producing edgy comedy with a well-placed leering sideways glance or dismissive aristocratic grumble. For most of the second act Merlin’s character is in fact, headless, but it hardly seems to affect his operatic bass baritone vocals. Truly the guy is the Paul Lynde of his generation, but with a preposterously good singing voice. Who would forget this fellow with the mellow bellow having seen him perform only once (and headless)? Cheers’ George Wendt, too, gets huge laughs as the college dean who is zombie-fied when his dead body is only brought partially back to life by the reagent and Herbert West is played by Graham Skipper—who is excellent—with a touch of Rainn Wilson and Anthony Perkins thrown in to nice effect. The cast is rounded out by pretty Rachel Avery as Megan the chirpy sweet heroine and her earnest love interest (and West’s roommate) Dan Cain is played by Chris L. McKenna.
Re-Animator: The Musical is unique and terrific fun, the only thing I can think to compare it to is Little Shop of Horrors and if there is any justice in the universe, Re-Animator should enjoy a similar success. It’s not at all difficult to imagine a bigger budget production of this show pleasing audiences on Broadway for years. Re-Animator the Musical just opened last weekend at The Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood, but demand for tickets—a bargain at $25—has been so strong that the run has already been extended. Get tickets here.
Re-Animator, the Musical, Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. $25. (800) 595-4849
Below, the trailer from the original 1985 movie. Yes, this is now a musical play!