Re-Animator: The Musical

Re-Animator is a cult classic horror film about a young med student who discovers a way to bring the dead back life as murderous zombies. It’s a fun movie, based off of a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and while it may not have been groundbreaking at the time, it still has a strong fanbase. It has everything you want in a horror movie: a story about bringing the dead back to life, plenty of gore, and a decapitated zombie who uses his own severed head to go down on a young co-ed. So naturally, the original director of the movie, Stuart Gordon, took this and turned it into a musical.

The original movie never took itself completely seriously, and the musical follows this trend. While the plot of the movie is followed very closely, there are some variations to scenes (aside from the added musical numbers), mostly for comedic affect. The biggest addition to the show being performed in front of a live audience is the gore. Instead of taking the easy way out and toning it down, the original effects team from the movie–Tony Doublin, John Naulin and John Buechler, joined by Greg McDougal and Tom Devlin–create practical effects throughout the show, from dummies being used for killing, to gallons of fake blood. The first four rows of the theater are designated as the “splatter zone,” and a free poncho is given to anyone who sits there. Those ponchos get put to good to use throughout the show.

There are way too many good puns I could make here, so I’ll just move on

Of course, the main focus of a musical is the music, and unfortunately, this is where the show has the most problems. All the songs are performed well, but nothing is particularly memorable. Instead of taking an idea or a line and expanding on it, most of them feel like they’re just stating the same dialogue over and over again in song.  I’m not saying they’re bad, they can be funny at times, but they really don’t add anything to the show.

However, this does not detract from the amazing work that the cast does. George Wednt, famously known for playing Norm on Cheers, plays Dean Halsey, doing a great job as both a caring father, authority figure and eventually, a brain-dead zombie (Ed: Spoiler? Probably not if you’ve read this far, but you’re welcome to treat this like a belated warning). Jesse Merlin is Dr. Hill, who plays the role as arrogantly and as creepily as he should, fantastically keeping these character traits after being killed and decapitated. Acting is hard, but I imagine it must be harder to act while pretending to have been decapitated, carrying around your own head. Of all the actors, Graham Skipper was cast perfectly as Herbert West. Aside from looking the part almost perfectly, he acts just like the character in the movie, down to the mannerisms and his curt way of speaking to other people, like they’re below him.

“I guess he wasn’t fresh enough”

The set is rather basic, a small set of stairs in the background, and a wall with a door in it. Aside from the prop of a gurney, everything is told through character actions. This is still enough to establish all the settings though, from the basement laboratory, to the hospital morgue. The cast easily brings it all to life. From the puppet work of a dead cat, to clever concealment ensuring a talking severed head.

If I brought a headless corpse back to life, I think I’d keep better track of it.

While Re-Animator: The Musical may not be as strong of a show as Evil Dead: The Musical, or Silence! The Musical , it’s still a lot of fun. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll easily see that Stuart Gordon does a great job bringing his movie to the stage. The music is good, but is easily outshined by the cast performance and effects of the show. If you get a chance, I’d still recommend checking it out. The theater needs more shows where the audience gets covered in blood.

Re-Animator: The Musical just finished its run at the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and will be playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from August 1-27.

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