Campy and fun ‘Re-Animator the Musical’ is made for those who want to sit in the splash zone

Photo: Thomas Hargis
Jacob Coakley

Three stars

Re-animator the Musical Through January 18; Thursday-Sunday, 8 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday, 2:30 p.m.; $44. Smith Center’s Troesh Studio Theater, 702-550-7627.

Re-Animator the Musical, and I mean this in the best sense, is musical-theater junk food. It’s a campy retelling of the ’80s horror film—the story of a mad scientist who discovers the secret to bringing people back from the dead, with some not-so-minor rage-filled zombie attack consequences. The musical version relays the tale with gonzo abandon, making jokes at the movie’s expense and splattering the first three rows of the audience with enough blood to run the Bellagio fountains.

And make no mistake, this is a show designed for those who want to sit in the splash zone. Mark Nutter’s score is witty and has at least one number I’m still humming days later (first-act closer “I Give Life”), and his script piles on as much bizarreness and as many tasteless jokes and bad puns as it possibly can. This is not a bad thing, but unless you’re invested in the shtick, it can get old. Audience members who went all-in for this musical—who knew the story, who were ready to get splattered with blood and gore and … other bodily fluids, who, in effect, were ready to participate in the creation of camp—did, in fact, have a better time at this show than people in the back, who ended up looking vaguely bored.

Graham Skipper as Herbert West (the titular re-animator), was both epically straight-laced and dementedly twisted, while Jesse Merlin as his foil Dr. Hill was perfectly appalling. Their tango-styled confrontation (ending in a beheading-by-shovel) was a high point. Jessica Howell as the endangered ingenue was a good sport, singing as well as she screamed. But George Wendt seemed a little detached from the proceedings. During his brief appearance in drag at the top of the show and his turn as a dean (and then a zombie dean), it felt like he was going through the actions, as opposed to finding opportunities to really take the humor to the next level.

And maybe it was the acoustics of the Troesh, with its heavy curtain everywhere, but the voices of the chorus could have been louder and more distinct. There may not be a lot for the uninitiated in this musical, but if you’re already in on the joke, you’ll love the hell out of this show.

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