Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Re-Animator The Musical – Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter – Book by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon & William J. Norris, Adapted from the stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Based on the Film “H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator” produced by Brian Yuzna.

L - R Graham Skipper, Jesse Merlin

By Joe Straw

In the mid-eighties, I went into a movie theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. Back then; the low-budget movie houses were near Vine Street.  This particular movie theatre showing Re-Animator had a door handle that was sticky, the carpet tattered, and the first three seats I tried had some bolt issues that made the seats, not viable.   

I knew what I was getting myself into with Re-Animator. I had seen the trailers and was ready for what this movie was going to give me.  Those were the days when I went to see many non-mainstream pictures just to get a taste of something that wasn’t “Hollywood”.  It was a quirky horror film with a wonderful score by Richard Band.  The score, by the way, was eerily familiar to Bernard Hermann’s score in Psycho.  It was a terrific experience.

Earlier last year, Re-Animator The Musical had been playing out in the valley to great reviews. I wanted to go see it then but I learned that George Wendt was no longer in it, so I let it fall by the wayside. George Wendt is back and so is the show now playing at the 300 seats Hayworth Theatre near MacArthur Park on Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles.

Red Hen Productions and The Schramm Group LLC presents Re-Animator The Musical - Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter and directed by Stuart Gordon on a limited run through July 8th 2012.

There’s plenty of street parking, if one gets there early enough, and I do.  I noticed, as I turned the corner, that La Fonda is next to the theatre.  And anyone wanting a liquid refreshment before or after the show is more than welcomed.

One of the strangest sights in Los Angeles is an extended line of patrons outside a theatre waiting to see a live presentation.  This seems to be an exciting trend these days.  There were a number of people waiting to get their tickets at the beautiful Hayworth Theatre.  And you could tell by the vibes that everyone was excited to be there.

The night starts off eerily. I get to the ticket window and something is wrong.  My name is not on the list.  The nice person at the booth checks my credentials, my press pass, measures the size of my head, and notices the length of my fingers.  He gives me two tickets and tells me to move along,  (Note: me being overly dramatic.)

As I’m waiting in the very small lobby, everyone is inching ahead of me, moving closer to the theater door, more insistent than usual. The bartender says we can take our drinks into the theatre and the guy grilling the hot dogs in the lobby has a very sinister look as he watches the dogs slowly turn.  And it all so slightly uncomfortable, bodies crammed in this tiny lobby, brushing against each other, and me discretely placing my hands on my own personal non-discreet places. Finally they let us in.

There was a mad rush for the first three rows of seats, covered (by the way) with plastic bags.  Those rows are the SPLATTER ZONE!  And if you think you’re safe in the fourth row, think again!  During the course of the show, the audience is splattered with blood, brains, vomit, various forms of body excrement, as well as the excretion of human emotions.

The audience ate it all up. (Without ingesting, of course.)

The musical is similar to the movie, except with music and no nudity in the final scene.  

The play opens in Switzerland where Herbert West (Graham Skipper), a medical student, is in the final stages of injecting Dr. Gruber (Mark Beltzman) with the re-animation formula to bring him back to life. But as luck would have it, life didn’t work out as intended. Dr. Gruber’s eyes pop out of his head, for reasons not entirely explained, and he falls dead.  Herbert West is arrested and taken away.

Back in the United States, at the Miskatonic Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts, Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna), a medical student, feverously tries to revive a patient. Frantically Dr. Harrod (Cynthia Carle) administers the paddles to restart a non-functioning heart.  But it’s too late – flatline.  Still Dan Cain tries until Dr. Harrod and the rest of the team breaks out into song, “She’s Dead, Dan; Dan, She’s Dead.”

Dan takes the body down to the morgue guarded by Mace (Marlon Grace) who doesn’t know why they need a guard because:

 “nobody wants in and ain’t nobody gettin’ out.”Mace

Well, that remains to be seen.

While in the morgue, Dan runs into Dean Halsey (George Wendt) who introduces him to Herbert West (Graham Skipper).  Halsey says Dan is one of Miskatonic’s brightest students but West is not impressed.

Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin) is there as well and when Dean Halsey tells him that West worked with Dr. Gruber, Hill is immediately suspicious of the bright young student. West provocatively tells Dr. Hill that he is familiar with his work, calls it inferior, and suggests that he plagiarized a lot of Dr. Gruber’s work. 

Again, there is a nice little song about plagiarism.

Later that night, in a nice bedroom scene, Dan is making love to Megan Halsey (Rachel Avery) when his cat, Rufus, interrupts them.  Undeterred in his nightly objective, Dan wants Megan to live with him but, being Dean Halsey’s daughter, Megan has her reputation to uphold. 

We learn that Dan is having financial troubles getting through medical school and needs someone to share costs. His troubles are solved when Herbert West answers his notice for a roommate.  

The first thing West wants to know is if the house has a basement.  He desires and wishes to have a basement like all mad scientists who must have a space away from the prying eyes to conduct his experiments.  Megan thinks West moving in is a bad idea but once West sees the basement he falls in love and presents Dan with cash.  Not to look a gift horse in the mouth Dan accepts the cash.

The next day, Dr. Hill, in his altiloquent ways, instructs the class in the fine art of removing a brain.  With the contents removed from the skull, he has an assistant pass the brain to the front row of the audience.  West does not appreciate the lecture.  In fact, he breaks pencils as Dr. West makes the audacious “six to twelve minute” remarks.

“Mr. West I suggest you get yourself a pen!” – Dr. Hill

Later that night, Dean Halsey has dinner with Dr. Hill, Megan and Dan to discuss the success of Miskatonic Medical School.  It seems that Dr. Hill is deeply fascinated with Megan despite the fact that she is dating Dan.  It is all so very creepy when he breaks into song about his deep, deep, deep admiration for Megan, eyes slit and lecherous. Megan, politely, runs the heck out of the room.

Later when Dan and Megan are studying, Megan notices that Rufus is gone.  And when she finds Rufus, he is dead in Herbert West’s refrigerator. Caught in the act, West concocts a story about the cat dying and preserving it until he has a chance to tell Dan that it’s dead.  Megan accuses him of killing the cat and Dean wants to know why he didn’t call or write a note with the news.

“What would the note say: Cat dead, details later?” – Herbert West

Later, awaken by an ugly cat scream in the middle of the night Dan grabs a bat.  The noise coming from the basement is excruciating and when Dan gets there Rufus attacks Herbert West. Dan takes the baseball bat and breaks Rufus back, killing the cat once again.  

Dan is confused and wants answers, which West provides. He can bring the dead back to life with the re-animation glowing serum. Dan is excited about the discovery and reads the notes. 

So they work to bring Rufus back to life. 

“Don’t expect it to tango.  It has a broken back.” – Herbert West.

So excited are they about the re-animation discovery that Dan, West, and Rufus, with broken back and all, break into song, And although re-animated cats don’t sing well, well not really in tune, it is a hilarious number and a highlight of the evening.

This is a wonderful show with a wonderful cast, each giving 110%, in an extremely physical show.  Looking back on it, the show is a compilation of various movies.  One can see Love Story, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Dracula, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and The Bride of Frankenstein all rolled into one finely crafted musical.

L - R Rachael Avery, Chris L. McKenna 

Rachael Avery as Megan Halsey has an exquisite charm and a very capable singing voice. She bats off the suitors with unmistakable charm. Avery is quite delightful in the role as she takes everything in stride.

Chris L. McKenna plays Dan Cain.  As the character, Dan loves his job and wants everyone to live a normal productive life and, given the opportunity, he will help. It is part of his nature. When he becomes part of the re-animation process, he is excited about the idea and wants it to develop into something that will help mankind, assuming he can work out the bugs.  McKenna has a nice look and does a very nice job.  

Jesse Merlin as Dr. Hill has an extremely nice baritone voice that he uses effectively without going overboard. As the character, Dr. Hill tries his best to secure the hand of his love and he goes to extremes to get her.  Even when he loses his head, he can’t get her out of his head. It is a delightful performance and a creepy one to boot.

Graham Skipper plays Herbert West.  From the moment he steps out onto the stage, there is something very sinister and mesmerizing about him. He both provokes and cowers as situations unfold.  He is headstrong and unwilling to bend in any direction other than the direction he is going.  He is a conniving and charming man all in one breath.  His performance is wonderful.

L - R Jesse Merlin, George Wendt 

George Wendt as Dean Halsey is very charming.  He is also one heck of a trouper.  After an unfortunate turn of events, he is bludgeoned, has his fingers bitten off, carried off on a gurney, re-animated, and then placed in a straight jacket for rest of the show. You’ve got to love that commitment to the craft. He also plays the Swiss Doctor in drag. There's a lot of terrific work going on here some subtle and some very theatrical but all enjoyable.

Also the supporting characters were inspiring in bringing Re-Animation The Musical creation to life.

Mark Beltzman plays Dr. Gruber and a corpse who gets re-animated and has his insides turned inside out to the delight of the audience.

Cynthia Carle is very good as the sardonic Dr. Harrod.  She also provided the Choreography.

Brian Gillespie plays the Swiss Policeman and other characters as well.

Marlon Grace plays the guard Mace. It’s unclear if the beard adds to the character and, if it does, he should find a way to use it.  Still, he did a nice job.

Liesel Hanson plays the nurse and a member of the chorus and Tyler Milliron is also a member of the chorus.  

Stuart Gordon the director/Book/Producer does an incredible job keeping the action moving and the players doing what they need to do.  It is funny, charming, and very entertaining. Still, about three quarters of the way through, I thought the show needed one more thing to lift it to another level. What?  I’m not sure. This is a show that will delight off-Broadway audiences but is it ready to make the leap? Well, there’s always that possibility.

The Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter were very clever, funny, and wonderful to listen to.     

Peter Adams did a fine job with the Music Direction and Arrangements. The Special Effects by John Buechler, Tom Devlin, Tony Doublin, Greg McDougall, and John Naulin were incredible, very satisfying, and at times hilarious.

Andy Garfield created the Sound Design.  The Lighting Design was by Paul Gentry. Laura Fine Hawkes was the Scenic Designer. The wonderful props were by Jeff Rack. Brian P. Kennedy and David O were the Musicians but I only saw one musician on stage.  Joe Kucharski was the Costume Designer.
Re-Animator The Musical – Music and Lyrics by Mark Nutter – Book by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon & William J. Norris, Adapted from the stories by H.P. Lovecraft, Based on the Film “H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator” produced by Brian Yuzna is a wonderful show and fun for the whole family, especially if your family is slightly offbeat.

Gary Blumsack is the Artistic Director and Danna Hyams is the Producing Director and both are listed in the credits as Presenters at the Hayworth Theatre. 

This was a wonderful night of theatre and on the way out, there were keychain body parts for sale in the small lobby.  What a way to end the night.

Run!  Take a friend who use to love Sir Cecil Creep, your master of terrormonies, on late night TV. And when you come, don't forget to bring your head.  

Reservations:  323-960-4442

Online Ticketing:  www.plays411.com/reanimator

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