Re-Animator: The Musical
Hayworth Theatre | 2511 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. | Through July 9 | Tickets $35-60 | plays411.com/reanimator
In the tradition of the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical Little Shop of Horrors, the creators of Re-Animator: The Musical have parlayed a vintage low-budget horror film into a satiric sendup of the 1950s-’60s craze wherein cheesy fright-and-gore flicks dominated drive-in theaters. In the 1985 film H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator, co-writer/director Stuart Gordon mixed tongue-in-cheek humor with genuine chills and thrills. For the zany stage adaptation of his cult film, director Gordon co-wrote the book (along with his screenplay collaborators, Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris), and enlisted composer-lyricist Mark Nutter to add a song score. After achieving an audience and critical success last year at the tiny Steve Allen Theatre in Hollywood, the award-winning stage show—which mixes high camp with surprisingly unnerving moments—has reopened in a different venue (reportedly with minor tweaks), prior to making its New York and Edinburgh Theatre Festival bows.
The question that’s immediately raised by this clever but uneven remount is whether something has been lost in the transfer to a larger performing space or whether the show has simply been affected by that hard-to-pinpoint phenomenon of a project losing its original luster. Though the production boasts a stellar cast, a fair share of boffo laughs and amazing special effects, the two-hour opus (sans intermission) periodically sags en route to its bloody conclusion. And we do mean bloody—those wearing their finest theater-going togs are forewarned to avoid the first several rows.
The story tells of a gifted medical student, Herbert West (a suitably over-the-top Graham Skipper), a nerdy eccentric, who has devised a serum that restores life in the dead. Unfortunately, there are atrocious unexpected results with his revolutionary invention, and mayhem erupts in a series of grisly yet uproarious encounters (best kept a surprise). The horror elements are stunningly realized in alternately sidesplitting and stomach-churning special effects devised by Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom Devlin and Greg McDougall, all of whom worked on the film version. Among those pulled into the ensuing madness are college dean Halsey (played by ever-hilarious George Wendt, best known as the barfly Norm in Cheers, who doubles in a drag role); an unscrupulous professor (amusingly creepy Jesse Merlin), a hunky young student; Dan Cain (the funny and appealing Chris L. McKenna); and his fiancée Megan (the spirited Rachel Avery), the dean’s daughter.
There’s great promise in Nutter’s eclectic score, which mixes styles of Broadway show tunes, operetta, Latin rhythms and much more, resulting in some funny and enjoyable ditties. Unfortunately, there are times midway through the show when the action seems to stop in its tracks while characters spout out lengthy and long-winded passages of recitative, dragging out the pace. It would be wise to consider abridging these passages, or finding alternate ways to illuminate plot and character nuances that allow the story to unfold at a steadier clip. Here’s hoping this ambitious undertaking—a unique re-imagining of a hit film for the stage by its original creative team—is sufficiently retooled to become the long-running inter-city triumph that it promises to be. —Les Spindle
First & Hope | 710 W. 1st St, Downtown L.A. | Sunday nights | Tickets $20 | uncabaret.com
Beth Lapides’ Un-Cabaret is not some new awesome stand-up/spoken-word/musical revue. In fact, this compact show where the famous and not-as-famous perform has been around since 1990. It began as a place that would be “un-homophobic, un-xenophobic and un-misogynistic,” and a place where comedians could “find their authentic voice, reconnect with their creativity, share their pain, vent their anger and turn their lives into comedy.” And that’s exactly what you get.
Tucked into the art-deco back room of the Downtown L.A. supper club First & Hope, Un-Cabaret is a weekly Sunday night show featuring a wide range of comedians utilizing all styles of performance. The difference between a more mainstream comedy show like those at The Laugh Factory or The Comedy Store is that there seems to be a more laid-back and conversational approach to the Un-Cabaret’s style of comedy. Comedians get onto the stage and just kind of talk about their lives, their thoughts about things and sometimes they even sing a song or two. And it is always flat-out hilarious.
Every week features a different set of performers. On the night I was invited, the Un-Cabaret was filming a pilot for Video On Demand, so the lineup was particularly awesome. After an introduction by the night’s host and creator Beth Lapides, Greg Behrendt (author of He’s Just Not That Into You) took the stage with a lighthearted (yet profanity-laced) set that featured stories about his two young girls, Mighty and True—one of whom had just performed in an all-girls grammar school version of Cats—much to his dismay. Next up was the hysterical Alec Mapa, who also told stories about his husband and 7-year-old adopted son. Discussing his “modern family” and the reactions it can engender was a hoot—admitting that when people see him, his white husband and their black child, his family gets looks like they are the “last two minutes of It’s a Small World.”
Singing duo Carlie + Doni gave the audience two clever songs about not having money (“We’re Broke”) and Doni’s worst experience ever (“Bikini Wax”). Andy “Where the Hell Has He Been” Dick arrived next in a bit of a confused set that progressively got funnier and ended with him playing a voicemail from his biological father, who he had recently met for the first time. He realized that he was thrilled that the man did not raise him. It might have been when the man said “don’t be a faggoty son of a bitch” that cemented that thought.
The surprise of the night was when comedy and performance art legend Sandra Bernhard took the stage—singing songs and telling stories about her past. Looking like she hasn’t aged in 20 years, she was (as she described herself) “whimsical” and charming, and it was an honor to be so close to an icon. Her warmth as an artist was felt, as was her appreciation for being there.
And that’s what the Un-Cabaret is all about—artists and comedians coming together in a more relaxed and lighthearted way, telling stories rather than doing shtick, offering insight and humor to subjects we can all relate to and doing all of this in a refreshingly positive way. It might seem like a chore to go out on a Sunday night when the work week looms, but trust me when I tell you that you will enjoy the hell out of yourselves. I’m a fan. —Kevin P. Taft