The B-movie-inspired comic-horror musical might not be a sizeable subgenre in the grand catalogue of theatrical entertainment, but it has past form, most notably in the Rocky Horror Show and Little Shop of Horrors, while song-and-dance versions of Plan 9 From Outer Space and, more recently, The Evil Dead, have ensured you can’t keep a high-kicking blood-letting tongue-in-cheek extravaganza buried for long. Re-Animator The Musical follows a similar vein, but with bonus trump cards by not only having the original make-up effects team enlisted for the ghoulish creations on display, but also with the film’s director, Stuart Gordon, directing the stage version too (indeed, the film was originally going to be a theatrical production anyway).
Given the team involved, it’s no surprise that this is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the 1985 cult classic, itself adapted from a story by H.P. Lovecraft. It’s a simple enough set-up, so familiarity with the source material is by no means a prerequisite, but there is a certain pleasure to be taken from seeing just how scenes translate to the stage: a young scientific genius rents the basement of a medical student who becomes embroiled in his research, discovering a formula for bringing the dead back to life. Naturally, nothing goes according to plan.
As with the film, Re-Animator The Musical is played squarely for yuks and laughs, with much of the humour coming from the you scarcely believing what they you’re seeing. This is most clearly realised in the splash zone that occupies the first few rows (something Evil Dead The Musical also incorporated), in which audience members, kitted out in ponchos and bin bags, are subjected to a range of fluids (largely bodily) at different points in the show. The Grand Guignol excess is sold with some impressive special effects – except perhaps the deliberately silly zombie cat hand-puppet) – but the jokes aren’t just relegated to splatstick, as the smart and witty lyrics raise chuckles too.
In fact, barely any dialogue is not performed to music, lending the show more of the feel of an operetta than a straight-up musical (like I know what I’m talking about), mixing the distinctive synth of the film’s main theme with light buoyant piano underscoring the exposition and action. There are distinctive and memorable songs (“She’s Dead, Dan”, “Re-Animatooorrr!” – or whatever the titles are), but this is largely free of showstoppers, which ultimately is in the show’s favour, keeping the play moving at a brisk pace. It also helps having such a game and engaging cast – Graham Skipper excels as Herbert West, tough shoes to fill given its Jeffrey Combs’ signature role. And Jesse Merlin imbues West’s rival Dr. Carl Hill with just the right amount of pomposity, sleaze and menace, while the ‘name’ cast member, George “Norm from Cheers” Wendt, adds warmth to his role amid the carnage and killing (and un-killing).
Much like the original film, there’s no getting away from just how silly it all is though, and there are moments when it threatens to cross into plain old daftness (an inevitably naff, though thankfully short, nod to Michael Jackson’s Thriller for instance). The finale is also somewhat chaotic and messy, and not in a particularly good way, with just too much going on at once to really satisfy as either an action set-piece or story resolution. But that aside, Re-Animator The Musical is goofy, gory fun.
Re-Animator The Musical is at the Assembly George Square Theatre, Edinburgh, until August 27th