Fifty-five years after first appearing in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON – a modestly budgeted but moody monster movie – the Gill Man made his singing debut this morning at Universal Studios Hollywood. The facility that housed the Dracula stage show decades ago is now home to “The Creature from the Black Lagoon: A Raging, Rockin’ Show” – a live stage presentation that condenses the movie’s plot down to twenty-five minutes and adds a handful of songs.
If that sounds goofy – well, it is, but in a good way. The Creature’s “Raging, Rockin’ Show spoofs the original by taking the sexual subtext (a primitive man-like creature that lusts for the leading lady) and spelling it out in song and dance, with a hip, irreverent sense of humor. The jokes may occasionally generate more groans than laughter, but the songs are good; the vocal performances are strong; and the production values – including a mammoth-sized mechanical creature – are absolutely fantastic.
Universal kicked off the new attraction – one of many available to visitors who take the studio’s famous tour – with a morning press event that commenced with the arrival of a truck carrying a cage that supposedly housed the Creature – except the bars were bent, indicating the monster had escaped and was at large in the park. Sure enough, the Creature arrived from the direction opposite where the cameras were pointed, racing up from behind the gathered reporters and providing a perfect photo op before being re-captured and dragged inside for the performance.
Before the show actually begins, a series of slides offer ironic tourist slogans for the Amazon (“It will infect you”), and a recorded voice offers dead-pan funny advice to the audience, such as a warning that the play depicts an “unnatural romance,” which viewers should not try to recreate at home.
When the curtain rises, audiences are immediately impressed by seeing the good ship “Rita” moving across stage, carrying the research team into the black lagoon. The opening song sets the tone, its lyrics full of pop references, irony, and slightly off-color humor. The show is recommended for teens and adults, but I suspect young kids will have no problem with it – except that their parents might be a bit embarrassed about exposing them to sexual innuendo which is more out than in. There is also some violence, but it’s played for laughs (at one point the Creature rips off a victim’s arm, the blood represented by red streamers).
The strategy behind The Creature from the Black Lagoon: A Raging, Rockin’ Show is simple but effective. The Creature (who identifies himself as “Gill” – a reference to the fact that he was always called “The Gill Man” in the films) is portrayed as a bad boy who is attractive to the leading lady because he’s more viral and exciting than her fiance and no more aggressive and obnoxious than the other man who wants to steal her away. This makes sense of turning the stage show into a musical: when the Creature belts out a few high notes like a heavy metal vocalist, comes across like a rock star who is sexy at least partly because he is dangerous – or at least not the kind of man you want to take home to meet Mom and Dad. Flouting feminist values, Kaye is attracted to the Creature precisely because he wants to sweep her off her feet and run away with her, in the great tradition of movie monsters.The fact that he kills half the crew is not an issue (after all, their extras, not lead characters) – and, played tongue-in-cheek, this aspect works much better than it did in Peter Jackson’s overblown remake of KING KONG.
Easily the stage production’s highlight is the recreation of the famous swimming sequence, when Kaye – on the surface – is tracked by the Creature, down below. With some absolutely stunning wire-work, Kaye and the Creature seem to swim through the air. It’s not just an impressive physical effect; their gestures and body movement give a convincing impression of the momentum of swimming through water.
Unlike the movie, this Creature has more to offer Kaye than a slimy grotto; this new iteration has a wet bar suggesting a swinging bachelor pad, from which Kaye is not particularly eager to be rescued. In keeping with this approach, The Creature from the Black Lagoon: A Raging, Rockin’ Show ultimately has Kaye run off with the Creature, but there is a black-comedy twist at the end.
For the debut of the show, Universal Studios had the bright idea of inviting actress Julie Adams, who (under the name “Julia” Adams) played Kaye in the film version of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. She answered questions from the press and smiled as the camera flashed, remarking that there wasn’t half as much interest when the film made its debut back in 1954. When we asked if she had ever imagined, in her wildest dreams, that a day like this might come, she said, “No, never – it’s absolutely amazing and fun,” and she expressed amazement that her little old movie had inspired a new “incarnation” that would captivate a new generation of audiences.
“I never even knew anybody would be talking about this movie,” she said.
We also got in a few questions with the new Kaye and the Creature, which you can see in the first video post above. In addition to the interview with excerpts, the playlist includes videos for each of the show’s songs.
Creature from the Black Lagoon’s Raging, Rockin’ Show Video Playlist:
- Interviews and Excerpts: Hear what Kaye and the Creature have to say!
- Opening Number: Check out the wacky stereotypes: the greedy white guy, the nerd, the hot chick, the native drummers, and the female captain of the boat, who appears to be a voodoo priestess (in the Amazon?). The song is catchy, and the production is impressive, especially the way the boat glides across stage.
- Swimming: This recreates a famous moment from the 1954 monster movie, in which the Creature swims below the surface while the woman who has caught his attention swims above, unaware of the danger. This is the highlight of the live show, with the swimming simulated through some excellent wire work.
- “I’m Evil”: The Creature sings “I’m Evil” and kills off several extras who try to stop him from abducting the object of his affection.
- “A Strange New Hunger”: The Creature takes Kaye back to his lair and mixes her a drink in a skull-shaped shaker. After her initial dismay quiets, she sings a love duet with her captor, “A Strange New Hunger.”
- Finale: The big finish includes reprises of songs heard earlier in the live musical show, plus the spectacular appearance of the Creature expanded to Kong-size proportion, leading to a hilarious sick joke for the punchline. Some people seem not to like the ending, and we understand why it would not work in a film, but on stage, where everyone comes out for the curtain call (even the characters who died), it works fine.
- The Creature from the Black Lagoon: A Raging, Rockin’ Show officially debuts tomorrow, but signs within the park indicate that during today’s “technical rehearsals,” the show may be open to the public for some performances. Certainly, the preview performance for the press went off without a hitch, indicating that this new version of the Creature is ready to sing his way to stardom.
- The Creature from the Black Lagoon: A Raging, Rockin Show is a year-round attraction, but the fact that it utilizes part of Universal’s magnificent horror legacy makes it perfectly suitable for the studio’s annual Halloween Horror Nights. Update: In fact, the Creature’s Raging, Rockin’ Show was not part of Halloween Horror Nights; the venue was used for the annual Bill & Ted Show.
Location: Universal Studios, Hollywood – 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
Officially Opens: July 1
This article has been edited to correct quotes after reviewing the tape of the event.