Friday, August 10, 2012

Theatre Review: Re-Animator - The Musical

Stuart Gordon

Written by:
Dennis Paoli
Stuart Gordon
William Norris

Music & Lyrics:
Mark Nutter

Graham Skipper
Chris McKenna
Rachel Avery
Jesse Merlin
George Wendt
Cynthia Carle
Marlon Grace
Liesel Hanson

Playing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27th August. Tickets and more info here.

Review after the jump...

Before we begin, I have an admission - one that might surprise those who first arrived at this site through my ever-popular article about the lost gay Jesus movie - but I actually know less about musical theatre than I do about double-decker buses of the 1930s, and most of what I know on that subject I learned while cornered in the kitchen at a party by the boring creep no one else wanted to talk to (we've all been there, right?). If I'm honest, I didn't take much of what he said on-board, since most of my attention was focused on coming up with a workable escape plan. I think he said something about rain gutters. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is: musicals are not my thing, at all. It's strange, because cheese and high camp are normally right up my street, at least insofar as moviegoing preferences are concerned, yet for some reason actual musicals have never fired much interest in me, least of all the stage kind. Perhaps it's a symptom of the whole heterosexuality thing, who knows. In any case, just be aware that in this review I will not be referring to things like "the overture" or "counterpoint", because I don't have a clue what any of that shit means.

What I do know is this: Re-Animator: The Musical blew my manly, Philistine tits off with a sustained blast of awesome emanating from the stage (along with an generous helping of bodily fluids), and I wholeheartedly recommend you let it do the same to yours.

Plot-wise, the musical follows the 1985 film adaptation almost beat-for-beat, and amazingly, has lost almost nothing of its narrative in the process of being adapted to a whole new medium. Perhaps it's not so surprising given that it the show is helmed by Stuart Gordon, the very man who directed the original movie, and produced by Brian Yuzna, who directed the sequels. If you've seen the first film, you know the score - the brilliant, egotistical young pre-med Herbert West discovers a means of recharging life's chemical reactions in dead tissue. After being expelled from an institution in Germany for causing his dead Professor's eyes to explode (directly into the audience), he takes a place at Miskatonic Medical School in Massachusetts, where he forcibly befriends fellow student Dan Cain, an amiable young man with connections to the Dean, a friendly cat... and a very spacious basement. It isn't long before the pair are raising hell in the name of science, and their gruesome escapades draw the attention of Dr Carl Hill, a scheming and letcherous plagiarist with one eye on West's re-agent, and the other on Cain's nubile girlfriend, Megan...

The script is tight and snappy, the songs catchy and genuinely funny. The humour factor is definitely amped-up here in comparison to the movie (which was, in itself, a pretty lighthearted gorefest), yet the pathos is still very much there and, more importantly, none of the more horrific elements have been watered down either; all the gross-out scenes you remember, from dead cat baseball to severed-head sexual harassment, are present and correct, and indeed enhanced by the fact that a large proportion of the on-stage gore inevitably comes straight at the audience. Sit in the front three rows if you dare! The theatre provides plastic rain ponchos and the blood and vomit are easy-wash, but this is, nonetheless, one show at the Edinburgh Festival you really don't want to dress up for; when my girlfriend and I emerged, breathless and grinning like goons, we looked like we'd just clocked-off from a twelve-hour shift at an abbatoir. You have been warned.

The cast, from the principal leads right down to the undead hula girl with a ukulele painfully integrated with her anatomy (Liesl Hanson) are universally excellent. Graham Skipper steps into the Jeffrey Coombs shoes as Herbert West, and does so with panache. Dodging the pitfall of slavish imitation, he puts his own manic, ever-so-slightly camp stamp on the role, while leaving the established spirit of the character intact. If Hollywood was to ever try remaking the film (you and I both know that it's only a matter of time), they could do a lot worse than cast this guy. Chris L. McKenna, is charismatic in the straight-man role originated by Bruce Abbot. Jesse Merlin, despite looking very little like David Gale, turns-in a diaphragm-rupturingly funny performance as the smarmy, slippery Dr Hill, whilst Rachel Avery, as Megan, deftly toes the line between airhead and co-ed, managing to squeeze some real likability out of a character that was originally little more than than an eye-candy damsel in distress. Perhaps the only disappointment in this department - indeed in the whole production - is that the great George Wendt as Dean Halsey (you know him as Norm from Cheers) is a little underused, and doesn't really get much attention until (SPOILER!) after he's been zombified. It's a shame, because the man clearly throws his all into the role, displaying a real skill for physical comedy, with which he finally comes into his own late in the show.

The music is stunning. My jaw dropped when I noticed that the whole thing was bring orchestrated by one dude in the corner with a couple of keyboards. Kudos to him! The songs are smart, catchy, and there are several memorable enough to give The Time Warp and Suddenly Seymour a run for their money. There are no songs that particularly stand out as "show-stoppers", but that's okay; in fact, it's a positive: this production is not a "songs-glued-together-with-threadbare-plot" dealy, the action doesn't stop so that one character can emote through the medium of song for ten minutes. For the most part, the main action plays out during the course of the musical numbers, song and exposition are intertwined. So even if the music isn't your thing, you still have a reason to stay engaged. One thing I guarantee you won't be doing is glancing at your watch during the musical numbers, which is more than I could say for a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "masterpieces".

Fans of the movie will get a kick out of the way in which the its legendary one-liners have been adapted into laugh-out-loud lyrics, and even some apparently throwaway lines become lyrical motifs (yeah, I'm impressed at myself for that one too) running throughout the show that, for me, not only added depth to the show, but actually cast new light back onto the film.

It's far from being exclusively for existing fans, however: well over half the audience I saw it with seemed to be regular festivalgoers who just wandered in the door, unaware of what lay in store for them, and I must say, the reactions of some of the horror noobs to the events on-stage was almost as entertaining as the show itself, and the rapturous applause greeting the cast at the end was a testament to the fantastically entertaining time had by all.

I could go on gushing about this show all day like some little fanboy bitch, but I expect you've got the message by this point - Re-Animator: The Musical is amazing and you should see it. Sell a kidney if you have to, but get yourself down to the Assembly George Square Theatre in Edinburgh -- the spiritual home of grave-robbing -- between now and 27th August. Tickets cost £12-to-£14, which is a bargain when you consider the amount of money people pay to be doused in some of those fluids. And they don't get to laugh during it, or come out smelling as good as you will (of Johnson's No-More-Tears to be exact).

Still not convinced? Get this trailer down you:

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