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"Re-Animator The Musical" Is Bloody Hilarious
Graham Skipper in "Re-Animator The Musical" - Photo by Thomas Hargis.
Just because a film can be turned into a stage musical, it doesn't mean that it should be. Most 1980s horror films wouldn’t translate all that well to melodies and dance numbers, but cult classic Re-Animator was a gore-fest with a strong sense of humor, and that makes all the difference. The new production of Re-Animator The Musical at the Steve Allen Theater is really a comedy in horror drag, and it's a terrific treat--a show chock full of witty songs, performed by a cast that is clearly having a great time.
Dan (Chris L. McKenna), a medical student at Miskatonic University, wants to move in with his fiancée, Meg (Rachel Avery), but he knows that her college-official father, Dean Halsey (George Wendt), would not approve. Dan advertises for a housemate to share the costs of his rent, and ends up with fellow student Herbert West (Graham Skipper), an odd fellow awfully concerned about his privacy and the amenities of the basement. Herbert, as it happens, has invented a reagent that can bring the newly deceased back to life, albeit as violent zombies. His professor, Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin), intends to steal this discovery and present it as his own, but Herbert sees this attempt as nothing a little decapitation can't cure. His mistake.
It’s an imposing task to tackle the role Jeffrey Combs made iconic in the film, but Skipper captures Herbert’s combination of unhealthy ego and bloody determination with admirable verve. He gets most of the best lines in the show and delivers them with expert comic timing, and manages to make fighting with a rogue intestine prop work. Merlin gives a bravura performance as the sleazy Dr. Hill, creepily hitting on Meg in multiple inappropriate ways, and giving the play a bracing dose of aural bombast via his operatic voice. Avery is intelligent and appealing as Meg, who sees disaster approaching but can't stop it. McKenna finds an interesting dark ambivalence in the otherwise bland Dan, and Wendt’s duet with Merlin, after Halsey has been somewhat impaired, is an instant classic.
Stuart Gordon, who directed the original movie, stages the action in such a manner as to keep the anarchic energy of the film alive. He knows this is high silliness, and his cast runs with it joyfully. Mark Nutter’s lyrics are outstanding, a brilliant mixture of sophistication and dark humor that recalls Sweeney Todd. (“I’ll give the orders, you’ll be dispatched. I can use someone whose head is still attached.”) Laura Fine Hawkes’ set, a building doorway with myriad replaceable doors, is simple but effective. The special effects team (Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom Devlin and Greg McDougall), some of whom worked on the original film, bring a lot to the party with their gruesome zombie prosthetics and a decapitated man costume that you’ll never forget.
Re-Animator The Musical
@Steve Allen Theater
Runs Fri.-Sun. 8 pm through March 27
Tickets $25; 1-800-595-4849 or Online