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Re-Animator the Musical Review - Zombies Gone Wild!

By Georja Umano and Gerald Everett Jones

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Dr. Hill (Jesse Merlin, L) feels beside himself, and the Dean (George Wendt) has no clue

(Los Angeles, CA - March 6, 2011) Georja: What’s a little blood bath when you can laugh and scream at hysterically funny horror antics?  If you are a fan of the funny macabre – you must slice and dice your way to the Steve Allen TheaterStuart Gordon, master of creating hilarity within the disturbing, and director of the 1985 cult classic H. P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator has outdone himself with the musical based on the film.

Gerald: That movie has made Gordon a cult hero, and since then all of his films, including the 2007 cut-em-up flick Stuck, have been frenzied splatter movies. Now he's given another sticky-sweet variation - the splatter musical!

The dean's daughter Meg (Rachel Avery) is attended by Dr. Hill as her newbie-zombie dad looks on helplessly

Georja: Fans made their way up from as far as San Diego wearing their bloodied lab coats just to be seated in the "splash zone," the first two rows where fake blood is liberally strewn during the action. The audience was overflowing onto the aisles and it seemed like every critic in town showed up. This is a real Hollywood event. You would have to be, well, disturbed to not be tickled by the over the top fun. As the program notes state, the show is not for small children.

Gerald: Nor for medical students who have no sense of humor about death, dismemberment, or strict adherence to the Hippocratic Oath (first rule, do no harm!). The breathless fans in their costumes are reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show's dedicated fans. And indeed this piece seems to have the potential for such a lustful following. And certainly vampires and zombies are enjoying new-found popularity these days.

The horrific and brilliant Herbert West (Graham Skipper)

Georja: My favorite parts were the zombie dance by the chorus, and the rendition of “My Way” sung by the lead character Herbert West (the talented singer and comedian Graham Skipper) while being strangled by zombie guts. Then there was the outstandingly eerie Jessie Merlin as Dr. Carl Hill, when he slips in love overtones  to Meg ( Rachel Avery), as well as his turn as a disembodied head – making him twice the villain he once was

Gerald: Both Skipper and Merlin have commanding singing voices, capable of booming resonance that adds to the thrill. All of the singers comport themselves admirably, except of course when they are literally cutting down  their fellow actors! Here's the key to understanding Gordon's mindset: Think intestines. Think jump rope. Now think intestines as jump rope!

The dean of Mishkatonic U's medical school is feeling a bit off

Georja: The popular George Wendt, best known as Norm from “Cheers,” plays the dean of the medical school, whom West transforms into a mindless zombie. Chris L. McKenna is the romantic lead Dan Cain - a good guy who is led astray. The entire cast was on target as the happily deranged characters from the hospital.

Gerald: It's the old story of science with lofty goals gone horribly wrong, the theme from Doctor Frankenstein - trying to cheat death by experimenting on corpses. Star med student Herbert West breaks another time-honored rule - Don't try this at home!

Georja: Laura Fine Hawkes who designed another outrageous bloody scene at the Taper recently in The Lieutenant of Inishmore provided the creepy sets. (see our review The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Mark Taper - Wicked Wit).

Med student Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna, L), drinks a toast to Mishkatonic University, where zombies will soon be born

Gerald: Another theatrical parallel - Sweeney Todd. When we were researching Inishmore, I learned that murderous barbers had a long tradition on the English stage, complete with splatter effects. Hey, didn't executions historically draw hooting crowds? We love gore, relax and enjoy.

Georja: Peter Adams' music direction and arrangements brings the dead to life. And they were wonderfully executed during the action. Words and lyrics by Mark Nutter; book by Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon and William Norris.

Gerald: Now there's a bunch of really whacky guys, and I mean that with all due respect!

Dan plans to give Meg a pick-me-up

Georja: Besides directing five films based on Lovecraft, Gordon was the founder and artistic director of the Organic Theater in Chicago where he co-created the original version of Bleacher Bums, produced and directed the world premier of David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago, as well as working directly with Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut.

Gerald: Gordon's a genuinely nice guy. Which makes you wonder whether his daydreams aren't a bit, er, off-center.

Georja: I was privileged to work under his direction in the award-winning Kabbalah: Scary Jewish Stories at the Lex Theatre in L.A.  For someone who is so in tune with hysteria, I found him to be a calm and centering presence as a director.

Gerald: Yes, Stuart Gordon definitely has it together. Which is more than you can say for any of his pitiable characters at the end of Re-Animator the Musical.

The maestro of gory comedy, Stuart Gordon, (Photo by Georja Umano)

Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocate. Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels.

Photos by Thomas Hargis (except as noted)

Re-Animator - The Musical

Fridays - Sundays 8 p.m., March 5 - 27, 2011, Admission $25


The Steve Allen Theater at the Center For Inquiry
4773 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90027-5333
(323) 666-4268
[email protected]

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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