There's a bloody good time to be had—literally and figuratively—at the exhilarating "Re-Animator: The Musical." While you don't have to be familiar with the 1985 cult film upon which the musical is based, the show should appeal to fans and newcomers alike.
The film was directed by Stuart Gordon with a script by Gordon, Dennis Paoli, and William Norris based on a story by horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The same team is behind the musical, which tells the story of medical student Herbert West (Graham Skipper), who becomes obsessed with perfecting a serum that will bring corpses back to life. He manages to rope in his good-hearted roommate Dan (Chris L. McKenna), who happens to be dating the dean's daughter Meg (Rachel Avery), into his scheme to procure fresh bodies, with gory results.
The cast is flawless. Skipper is a brilliant comedian who fully commits to West's eye-bulging weirdness. As the adoring lovebirds, McKenna and Avery transcend the typical straight-man roles lesser actors would struggle with. As the dean, Harry S. Murphy often earns laughs with mere grunts and moans. The others in the surprisingly small ensemble—Cynthia Carle, Marlon Grace, Liesel Hanson, Mark Beltzman, and Brian Gillespie—get individual moments to shine. But it's Jesse Merlin who steals every scene with his leering, preening academic, exhibiting astonishing verbal and physical dexterity.
Mark Nutter provides witty, clever music and lyrics that parody and one-up typical musical tropes. Gordon works wonders staging in a small space, thanks in part to a deceptively simple set by Laura Fine Hawkes. And credit must be given to the special-effects team of Tony Doublin, John Naulin, John Buechler, Tom Devlin, and Greg McDougall, who have created impressive corpses, body parts, and blood effects.
Though the show is obviously not appropriate for small children, it has a surprisingly wide appeal. Even those who might not be fans of horror are likely to find something to love in a show staged and performed with such vigor and—forgive us—animation.
Presented by and at the Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Mar. 5–May 29. Fri., 8 p.m. & midnight; Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3:30 & 8 p.m. (800) 595-4849. www.steveallentheater.com.