Let's face it, so much of what passes for new musical theater these days is fairly unappealing. We are either treated to tired re-hashings of supposedly "cult classic" movies clumsily repurposed for the stage or forced to contend with the dreaded "juke box" musical - wherein a flimsy plot is constructed in order to string together a collection of pop culture music. While Re-Animator does fall into the former category, it does provide loads of fun in a compact and well-executed package.
In large part that sucsess is due to the inherint goofiness of the source material and the great love the production team and performers seem to have for it. The plotline is a direct lift from the 1985 horror/comedy Re-Animator (based on the H.P. Lovecraft short). Director Stuart Gordon neatly imports his vision for the original film directly to the stage in this adaptation (Gordon directs and co-writes this production).
The story revolves around the trials of promising medical student Dan Caine (played by Chris L. McKenna) who runs afoul of the devious Herbert West (played by Graham Skipper). West has discovered a serum that (if the corpse is fresh enough) will bring the dead back to... a sembelance of real life. As one might expect, briging the dead back to life often causes more trouble than it's worth. Soon Dan and his fiancee Megan (played by Rachel Avery) are beset on all sides by the dead and living alike. More sinister than any corpse is the nefarious Dr. Hill (played by Jesse Merlin), who wants the formula - and the girl, for himself. Hijinx ensue.
While the musical score isn't nessesarily the stuff of legend, it serves the story well. The brillaint choice is made to limit the orchestra to a sythesizer and drum machine and this gives every number the brooding, electronic, ultimately 80's atmosphere that the piece cries out for.
Vocally, the cast is solid if not superb - relying more on their acting chops to sell the songs than thier vocal prowess. This approach does work well (if the comedy isn't there, this show falls apart fairly quickly), but one does wonder with the amount of Equity talent assembled if a little more singing ability couldn't enhance the experience. Choreography is limited in this small space and for the most part executed well. Special effects are appropriately low rent with blood and guts galore.
The production is carried by two show-stealing performances. As the 're-animator' of the title, Graham Skipper brings Herbert West to life with a manic energy and bitter humor not seen since Jeffery Coombs first approached the character in the films. As Dr. Hill, Jesse Merlin rises above the horror and sight-gags with a tremendously funny and disturbing performance. Both performers walk the fine line between camp and commitment perfectly and alway have a wink and a nod to the audience ready to keep us aware of the kind of show we're watching.
Re-Animator - the Musical is exactly the kind of crowd pleasing, over-the-top, and often cheesy show that keeps audiences coming back. A refreshing new voice in the rather bleak landscape of new musical works.
Re-Amimator the Musical runs May 3rd to July 8th
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