The Creature from the Black Lagoon's Raging, Rockin Show - Reviewed

Fifty-five years after first appearing in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON - 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).

Creature from the Black Lagoon: A Raging Rockin' ShowThe 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.

Julie Adams (left), who starred in the original 1954 film, poses with the actors from "Creature from the Black Lagoon: A Raging, Rockin' Show" at Universal Studios Hollywood

For the debut of the show, Universal Studios had the brigh 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 I 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.

I also got in a few questions with the new Kaye and the Creature, but I'll save those for when I post the video, which should be soon.

NOTES:

  • "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 (like the year-round House of Horrors walk-through) the fact that it utilizes part of Universal's magnificent horror legacy makes it perfectly suitable for the studio's annual Halloween Horror Nights.

Location: Universal Studios, Hollywood - 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608
Phone: 1-800-UNIVERSAL
Opens: July 1

This article has been edited to correct quotes after reviewing the tape of the event.