The Hayworth Theatre is a great venue for Re-Animator: large enough that it actually feels like a theatre (as opposed to a shoebox), but intimate enough that no matter where you sit, you’re still fully part of the show. The set itself is stark, consisting mostly of a giant industrial box covered in transparent panels that are lit from within by an eerie green glow, which makes it feel sort of like a Borg prison cell, or, perhaps, a particularly evil Rubik’s cube. All of the play’s various locations are created simply and effectively by utilizing a single door and several smaller set pieces on wheels.
Re-Animator: The Musical is based on the 1985 horror film Re-Animator, which is itself based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve never seen the movie version, but as far as I can tell, the plot is identical to the plot of the play, with the main difference being that Re-Animator: The Musical is presented as an over-the-top horror/comedy. The show’s weakest aspect, unfortunately, is in its foundation. Though deftly performed by a single accompanist with two keyboards, the music itself is nothing special. Most of the play feels more like an opera than a musical, with one song bleeding into the next, the result of which is that no one song really stands out. The lyrics are clever enough, but the songs ultimately come off as lackluster and flat. The same can be said of the script: while not without a few high points, most of the jokes feel cheap and predictable, making the whole affair feel almost entirely two-dimensional.
The cast of Re-Animator is its saving grace. The entire ensemble is consistently strong, expertly portraying a menagerie of eccentric characters. Two of the stand outs are Graham Skipper as Herbert West, the titular Re-Animator, who brings a manic intensity to the role that never fails to entertain, and the scene-stealing Jesse Merlin as the lecherous villain, Dr. Hill. Each and every cast member gets their moment to shine, and their total commitment to all of the musical’s silliness is admirable and greatly appreciated. Plus, George Wendt in drag!
Judged simply on its merits as a piece of theatre, Re-Animator is nothing special; however, I still recommend attending, as the experience of being an audience member is definitely a unique one. The first three rows of the theatre are covered in plastic bags and designated as “the splatter zone.” This is where you want to sit. They will offer you a poncho, but you will not take it, because ponchos are for the weak. They will explain to you that everything is water-soluble and completely washable, and you will nod your understanding, grit your teeth, and wait. Then, the play will begin, and you will be constantly sprayed with blood and gore. I explained before about my squeamishness, and though there were a couple of moments that made me cringe, by and large everything is played for laughs. The effects are cartoonishly exaggerated, and that, combined with the steady fluid-assault, make for a great time. Despite the Halloween store aesthetic, there are a few impressive technical effects that are pulled off so subtly that they might have you scratching your head wondering how they did it. For best results, sit in the very front row, and prepare to leave the theatre looking like a murder victim.
All in all, Re-Animator: The Musical is a mediocre musical, elevated by its strong cast and unique audience experience. If you’re in the LA area, I would recommend getting a group of friends together and checking it out. Tickets can get expensive, but if you hunt around online, you should be able to find some good deals. Or, if you would like to see the play this week, contact me on Twitter (@jordancallarman)--I’ll give the first five people who do so a discount code good for half-off tickets purchased online for all showings through Sunday, May 13. If you’re nowhere near LA, never fear, as the show will soon be heading to New York and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. I imagine if those runs are successful, Re-Animator will soon be splattering its way to a city near you.
For more information, check out www.reanimatorthemusical.com.