Review: RE-ANIMATOR THE MUSICAL

I know for shit about legitimate thee-ay-tur, but throw in copious amounts of (stage) blood and (stage?) semen, plus the threat of being doused in said fluids, and I'm taking your art seriously.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt if your art is based on the classic 80's splatter film, Re-Animator, and is directed by the helmer of that film, a man who got his start in the theater, Stuart Gordon.

Now, you might find yourself asking how the hell something like this translates to the medium of musical theater. My answer to that would be: like god damn gangbusters. The production is actually quite faithful to the film, the major difference being that the plot is driven forward by musical numbers. Toe-tapping, gut-busting musical numbers.

Other than that, it is the same med-student-meets-girl-rents-room-to-psychotic-nutbag-loses-girl-after-reanimating-dead-cat-gets-girl-back-despite-killing-and-reanimating-her-father-loses-girl-to-death-gets-girl-back-by-reanimating-her-corpse story we all know and love.

Now back to the jizz.

One of the first interactive body fluid scenes in the play is a vertically-staged bedroom dalliance between Dan and Meg. Picture yourself sitting in the dark, the sounds of simulated copulation caressing your ears. The lovemaking reaches its frenzied crescendo and BLAMMO! The audience is caught in the crossfire. Collateral damage.

I think you already know whether you want to see this or not.

I didn't realize what had happened at the time, because the jizz wasn't glow-in-the-dark like re-agent, and I wasn't in the designated bukkake zone. But some managed to get on my friend, who told me afterwards that he heard a female audience member in our vicinity comment, "that's not the first time I've gotten cum in my hair."

So it's safe to say this isn't a family friendly production, although some selfish dad was sitting front and center with his 6 year old daughter. The poor girl seemed to be enjoying herself at first, but could be heard tearfully begging her father to leave during the play's sanguineous final moments. He then did what any loving father would do: he didn't budge. That kid left the theater covered in fake blood.

Traumatized little girls notwithstanding, the audience was enthralled with this minimalist gorefest. The entire cast is fantastic, from the appropriately over-the-top Jesse Merlin as Dr. Carl Hill, to the deranged-Colin-Meloy stylings of Graham Skipper, who plays Herbert West, to King of the Ants hunk Chris L. McKenna as straight-laced Dan Cain, all the way down to the bit players. Especially the guy who played the cross-eyed janitor. What Al Pacino needs his whole body and strained vocal cords to articulate, that guy could convey with one twitch of the mustache.

And of course there's the main draw: Cheers star George Wendt, the other King of the Ants hunk, as the affable Dean. His first appearance on stage elicited a thunderous round of applause. I half expected some over-zealous audience member to yell out, "Norm!" but thankfully no one did. If they had, they would have been escorted off the premises and cuffed in the back of the head with a playbill.

Then there is Rachel Avery as Meg, who was last seen stealing my heart and tearing into it with those big, beautiful teeth of hers. She piques your interest with a tantalizing glimpse of side-boob and some cheeky cheeks, but it is her wide-eyed innocence and enthusiastic vocal performance that make you fall in love with her character. Oh, to be a re-animated severed head betwixt her quivering thighs!

But the real star of the show is the music by Mark Nutter. The score is part traditional piano arrangement, part off-kilter synth. Sometimes cumbersome but mostly memorable, these operatic numbers embody the comedic tone of Gordon's film while adding show tune-ish whimsy. The lyrics mix exposition and dialog lifted directly from the film to great effect. You'll leave the theater with the refrain from "I Give Life" buried in your brain like a hypodermic needle.

Sounds great, right? Wanna see it? Too bad the show I saw was the final NYC date (although it was hinted that the production would return). So if you are from the Tri-state area, you're out of luck. But if you live in the Highlands of Scotland and want to get blood on your kilt, the gang will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival all through August. There can be only one!  

Joshua Chaplinsky is the senior editor for LitReactor.com. He also writes for ChuckPalahniuk.net. He was a guitarist in the band SpeedSpeedSpeed, and is the poison pen behind thejamminjabber, although he's not so sure he should admit it.


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