On Friday night I attended a preview performance of Re-Animator: The Musical at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood; the full show is a couple of weeks from opening and bits and pieces are still being tweaked and changed (a song was cut from the performance I saw and the act break was changed), but I feel comfortable reviewing the show simply because it was so goddamned good.
Stuart Gordon, director of the 1985 splatter classic, also directed the stage version, and he brought along the team who did the FX on the original film to soak the audience in grue. Shock Til You Drop’s Ryan Rotten and I sat in the front row, which was designated as the Splash Zone, and we definitely got more than a little wet. But the show wasn’t just about gimmicky sprays of blood - it’s a really well put together musical with some very, very strong numbers.
The show follows the story of the movie more or less exactly, including lifting dialogue directly from the original script. Newcomer Graham Skipper shines as Herbert West, bringing the bug-eyed crazy stare that Jeffrey Combs had in the film. He’s also a fine singer, and shares a great duet with Chris McKenna, who plays Dan Cain. McKenna has a great voice and real leading man charisma, as well as terrific chemistry with the beautiful Rachel Avery, playing Megan Halsey. Avery has a very sweet voice that provides a great counterpoint to the grisly - and often silly - goings-on on stage. It’s almost like she wandered out of a Disney musical into this Grand Guignol bloodbath.
George Wendt plays Dean Halsey (!), and while his pipes aren’t as strong as his co-stars, he proves he’s more than game for any crazy stuff that happens on stage - especially in the final scenes where he’s running around in a straight jacket with lobotomy scars. Opposite him as the evil Dr. Hill is Jessie Merlin, who really goes broad and has lots of fun playing up the sleazy aspects of the character.
Also standing out in the cast were members of the chorus - Marlon Grace was incredibly fun as the funky morgue guard while Liesel Hanson showed impeccable comic timing, hilarious reactions and a nice voice.
The performance I saw was a little lopsided, with the first act ending after Dean Halsey gets zombified, which meant act one was about an hour while act two was a quick 30 minutes, mostly of action. Still, the entire production was incredibly fun; there’s a huge amount of energy to the show, which is presented on a very minimalist stage. And the songs are almost all good to great, especially the Dan/Herbert duet and “She’s Dead, Dan.” The lyrics are often hilarious, and incorporate lines directly from the film.
While the stage is minimalist the effects are not. The decapitation of Dr. Hill and the subsequent re-animation of his head were done incredibly effectively, and other splatter moments where brought to life with bravado. Honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve sat in the front row of a theater as Herbert West sings his final solo, wrestling with a large intestine and spraying you down with gut juice.
The show is in previews for the next couple of weeks and then begins a regular engagement that lasts through March - and could go on longer. As a huge fan of Re-Animator I found the show to be perfectly faithful in every way I wanted it to be, and as a musical theater fan I found the show to work completely on that level - truly, and without irony.
I’ll be going back to see the show again, and I recommend that you click here and order your tickets now.