For the past few months, I had heard stories about an unholy experiment taking place at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles. From the sounds of it, horror legend Stuart Gordon, director of indie-frighteners From Beyond, The Pit and the Pendulum, Dolls, and Fortress, had discovered a formula that would revive Re-Animator, his renowned 1985 feature film debut, as an onstage musical.
I was certain the tales were untrue. To tinker with one of horror’s most beloved works would be madness. For starters, who could possibly match Jeffrey Combs’ performance as Herbert West in the original? What would happen to the gore? How would the film’s outrageous “head” scene play out on the stage? There was only one way to find out.
The Steve Allen Theater is an intimate venue with a small stage. Mrs. Muertos and I took our seats just behind the “splatter zone,” a designated area for those who prefer a more interactive experience (ponchos are available upon request, but I’m told the blood doesn’t stain). Gordon, who directs the musical, soon took to the stage and graciously welcomed everyone to the show.
Re-Animator, for those unfamiliar with Gordon’s film and the H.P. Lovecraft story it’s based on (”Herbert West: Re-Animator”), follows the grisly havoc caused by med school students Herbert West and Dan Cain after they set out to test West’s reanimating serum on human corpses. Things go from frying pan to fire when West’s nemesis Dr. Hill, a shameless plagiarist and pervert, attempts to steal his work.
Graham Skipper owns the role of Herbert West, shifting effortlessly between the character’s bratty narcissism and psychotic rage. That those emotions are expressed through song makes West appear all the more mad, especially during the numbers “I Give Life” and “Basement,” the latter sung by West as he responds to Cain’s ad for a roommate.
Chris L. McKenna as the affable Dan Cain and Rachel Avery (whom some may recognize from her appearances on HBO’s “Big Love”) as Dan’s sexy, but wholesome, fiance Megan Halsey project a playful chemistry that shines during a hilarious bedroom duet in which they can’t seem to agree on wedding plans (She’s thinking grand; he’s favoring City Hall).
Of course, wedding bliss is not in the couple’s future. Megan is betrayed by Dan when he takes interest in West’s work despite her protests. She is later sexually accosted by a headless Dr. Hill, played with perverse glee by international opera singer Jesse Merlin. The girl’s luck only worsens from there.
Reunited with original Re-Animator writers Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris, and FX artists John Buechler and Anthony Doublin, and aided by Mark Nutter’s brilliant maniacal score and gut-busting lyrics, Gordon has not only delivered a love letter—or, perhaps, singing telegram—to Re-Animator fans, but has also created what could very well be the next Rocky Horror Show (I am selfishly hoping it stays in LA).
“Re-Animator: The Musical” plays it final shows this weekend at the Steve Allen Theater located at 4773 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-800-595-4TIX (595-4849) or online here.