Theater Review: RE-ANIMATOR™ THE MUSICAL (Hollywood)

by Tony Frankel on April 2, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

Re-Animator the Musical in Hollywood at the Steve Allen Theater


How lucky we Angelenos are that Re-Animator™ The Musical a funny, campy, thoroughly entertaining gore-fest, opened here before splattering itself on legions of cult-loving audiences around the country. Horror fans will love the grisly story, theatre fans will prick up their ears to an exciting composer/lyricist, and cultists will love donning plastic ponchos and waiting in line to ensure that they sit in the “splash zone:” the target area upon which actors gleefully squirt cascades of intestine juice onto suspecting audience members.

Re-Animator the Musical in Hollywood at the Steve Allen TheaterWhen humpy medical student Dan Cain (Chris L. McKenna) rents out his basement to creepy Herbert West (the deliciously deadpan Graham Skipper), the new tenant soon entices the student to join him in his quest to bring the dead back to life, even after a disastrous attempt to re-animate Dan’s cat, Rufus (and, really, how fun is a dismembered puppet cat hurling about the stage?)

Dan’s girlfriend, Megan (the winsome, wispy-voiced Rachel Avery), just happens to be the daughter of Dean Halsey (the good sport George Wendt in a role now taken over by Harry S. Murphy). When the Dean finds the boys experimenting in the morgue, a sequence of events involving corpses and a bone saw make what happened to Rufus the cat seem tame by comparison.

Re-Animator the Musical in Hollywood at the Steve Allen TheaterHowever, it is Jesse Merlin as West’s nemesis, Dr. Hill, who best exemplifies why Re-Animator™ stays grounded during all of the excess; Merlin is equipped with a rich baritone and an earnestness one would expect in a heavy drama; the gravity of his performance is mandatory if we are to accept that he puts his vivisected head between the legs of…no, no, no, you’ve got to see this to believe it.

Composer/lyricist Mark Nutter is someone to hear more from: his clever lyrics are accompanied by strains of Gilbert and Sullivan, Tom Lehrer, Wagner, Hermann and Romberg, but never sounds derivative. Stuart Gordon (who also directed the cult 1985 movie of the same name) does wonders with the small stage, ably abetted by a playful crew of special effects artists; never does the show feel cramped, even though the actors must use the same door for every exit and entrance in the show (set designed by Laura Fine Hawkes). Joe Kucharski has a field day with the costumes, such as the black and orange colors of the cheerleaders’ outfits.

Re-Animator the Musical in Hollywood at the Steve Allen TheaterRe-Animator™ has had quite a past, from H.P. Lovecraft’s 1922 serialized stories to the movie and its sequels. If all goes well, there is no reason why we won’t be seeing Re-Animator™ as a movie musical. Until the creators turn to celluloid, however, there is one impediment on stage at the Steve Allen Theater: having been adapted almost scene-for-scene from the 1985 screenplay by Mr. Gordon, William J. Norris and Dennis Paoli, the musical feels fragmented and lacks momentum. This construction may bode well for film, where editing and camera angles help smooth out transitions, but in the theatre, momentum drags when there are too many short scenes, regardless of how well each scene works individually. The repetitiveness of scene/song/blackout, scene/song/blackout, scene/song/blackout impedes forward motion and becomes exhausting. Adapting films for the stage and vice versa is a tricky business; creators must be willing to re-invent the scenario so that their work flows better. (It must be noted, however, that the scene changes on stage are executed with amazing alacrity).

When all is dead and done, a good story, great songs, fantastic actors and a tight-knit crew firmly entrench Re-Animator™ The Musical as a comedy-camp-cult-chiller classic.

tonyfrankel @

photos by Thomas Hargis

Re-Animator™ The Musical
extended to May 29 at time of publication
for tickets, visit

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan mandell April 3, 2011 at 5:08 am

Excellent review of a very fun filled musical!
You got it right, Mr. F.


Charlene July 19, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Re-Animator™ The Musical just won’t die — now extended to August 14th!


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