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Theater review: ‘Re-Animator, the Musical’ at the Steve Allen Theater

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Even amid the current mania for turning every movie ever made into a musical, ‘Re-Animator, the Musical’ is unexpected. This outlandish adaptation of the 1985 cult classic should have fans storming the Steve Allen Theater.

Closely adhering to the screenplay (based on H.P. Lovecraft’s novel), it concerns medical student Herbert West (Graham Skipper, a find), whose formula for enlivening dead tissue leads to murderous mayhem. Stuart Gordon, the film’s director, repeats here, co-writing the libretto with Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris.

Together with costume designer Joe Kucharski, the movie’s special effects team creates an eye-popping array of grisly kitsch that ruthlessly targets the poncho-supplied ‘splash zone’ in the front rows. Composer-lyricist Mark Nutter’s witty, faux-operetta score, its references ranging from Sondheim to Bernard Herrmann to Gilbert and Sullivan, is cheekily effective: ‘What’s the point of staying? It smells like she’s decaying.’

Overall, the cast lacks the vocal plushness of riotously operatic Jesse Merlin as obsessive Dr. Hill -- the standout turn alongside Skipper’s priceless, Rainn Wilson-meets-Daniel Radcliffe expertise -- but their deadpan camp unity is most entertaining. Chris L. McKenna and Rachel Avery make aptly straight-faced romantic leads. George Wendt’s college dean produces hysterical dividends in his zombie-fied phase. Marlon Grace, Brian Gillespie, Mark Beltzman, Cynthia Carle and Liesel Hanson fulfill supporting duties with grim panache.

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Such exuberance almost masks the glorified workshop aspects, with too few opportunities for choreographer Carle and little thematic point beyond turning the film into a knee-slapping, high-end garage show. Still, if ‘Re-Animator’ needs further development to reach the ‘Rocky Horror’ pantheon, that won’t keep hipster locals from having a bloody good time.

-- David C. Nichols

‘Re-Animator, the Musical,Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays through Sundays. Ends March 27. $25. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.


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