How many plays require a designated “splash zone?”
Theater fans hungry for a revitalizing thrill or hoping to convert their non-theatergoing friends cannot afford to miss Re-Animator: The Musical, which will be playing at the Steve Allen Theater all this month.
Re-Animator: The Musical, directed by filmmaker Stuart Gordon and based on his 1985 film adapted from a story by H.P. Lovecraft, tells the story of Herbert West (Graham Skipper), a medical student who manages to bring the dead back to life with a serum he has invented. This feat, however, is marred by horrific side effects that render the undead dangerous, volatile zombies.
Needless to say, this isn’t your typical subject for a theatre production.
Gordon’s science-fiction gore fest, however, makes a surprisingly good transition from the screen to musical theater, a success owed to the interesting story, comedy and creative use of the limited stage space.
The Steve Allen Theater, which is a small, intimate venue, was packed on opening night, with people sitting on extra chairs and standing in the walkway.
Within the first few minutes after the lights dimmed, people who decided to sit in the first three rows were squirted with fake blood.
The play appeared to be charmingly — and intentionally — low-quality in aesthetics. The gory special effects and props like fake brains were hilariously conspicuous. When characters were supposed to be thrown around or torn apart they are noticeably swapped with dummies. Similarly, when Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna) has to fight off a rabid undead cat, he is clearly wrestling with a stuffed animal.
Out of the entire cast, Graham Skipper stands out most. He is enjoyable to watch and managed to endow West’s character with multiple layers ranging from borderline insanity, to genius, ambition and creepiness, with a generous dose of likeability. Not to mention his singing is commendable as well.
It was interesting to see how the musical aspect was handled, given that the film does not tell a type of story often told in a musical theater setting.
The songs, however, were surprisingly good.
They greatly enhanced the comedy while showcasing the cast members, who, while not opera singers, were still very talented.
The song topics covered everything from marriage to basements to bringing the dead back to life.
The second act, which is the collective climax of the film, contains most of the action, including a dance by a chorus of reanimated corpses, despite clocking in at barely 40 minutes.
There is also much more gratuitous gore.
People sitting in or near the “splash zone” were drenched with fake blood as certain cast members made sure to hit their target audience as much as possible. Even Skipper accidentally slipped in a puddle of fake blood in one of his scenes.
Still, Re-Animator: The Musical is not nearly as gruesome as one might expect, at least when compared to the original film. Those who are squeamish might opt to see the play instead.
In fact, with the singing and additional comedy added, Gordon’s stage production is arguably more entertaining than its viscera-splattered source material.
Anyone who enjoys dark comedies, gore, science-fiction, musicals or who simply wants to add some life to the weekend, will enjoy the show.
The Steve Allen Theatre is located on 4773 Hollywood Blvd.