Ending This Weekend: Gravedigger, Scary Musical, Re-Animator & Villa Thrilla

Grand Guignol wide angle
Horror theatre lives in the shadows of Los Angeles (though not with this marquee).

Hurry while there is still time to enjoy these scary musicals and theatrical thrillers!

Several morbid mysteries and scary musicals that hit the boards in October have extended beyond the Halloween season. Though some will continue into December (Smoke and Mirrors, The Call of Cthulhu), a quartet of worthwhile stage productions will ring down the curtain this weekend: Gravedigger; Scary Musical: The Musical; Re-Animator: The Musical; and Villa Thrilla. If you have yet to enjoy any of them, we recommend you take advantage of this final opportunity.

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GRAVEDIGGER at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre

Photo courtesy of Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre
The cast of Gravedigger. Photo courtesy of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre

A small, talented ensemble play multiple roles in stories ranging from the Plague Black and the Salem Witch trials to circuses, seances,* and Jonestown; all wear painted faces with a deathlike appearance, reminding us that these characters are, quite literally, already dead, their appearance on stage but a ghostly echo of their actual lives.  The episodes are loosely linked by a shrouded figure of Death, first seen tending a grave, who appears and reappears at various junctures. In a clever conceit, Death stands in for the various murderers (Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia Killer) whose real faces remain unknown.

As unsavory as the subject matter sounds, the play is not without moments of pathos and even humor. Gravedigger is not exactly a pleasant experience, but it is fascinating for those who can resist the impulse to turn away from the darker side of life. Click here for the complete review.

Two final performances of Gravedigger will take place this weekend – on on Friday, November 21, at 11pm; and Saturday, November 22 at 8:30pm. Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre is located at 4850 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood 91601. Tickets are $15. For reservations call: 818-202-4120, or visit ZombieJoes.Tix.com. Click here for the theatre’s website.

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Re-Animator the Musical poster

RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL at the Steve Allen Theatre

Experienced the hysteria that is Re-Animator: The Musical!  Stuart Gordon’s stage adaptation of his 1985 cult film features a tidal wave of blood and entrails far beyond anything we saw in any other theatre this Halloween season – and that’s saying something after The Zombie Effect.

Essentially, this is the film’s story, transposed to live theatre, but with every plot point, emotional beat, and character nuance underlined with a song. If that sounds absurd, it is. Fortunately, Re-Animator: The Musical embraces the absurdity, creating an experience that is at once familiar in form and yet completely different in tone from its source.

Fans of the film will be pleased, but Re-Animator: The Musical stands on its own terms – more joyous and hysterically funny than horrific, tongue no longer in check but torn from mouth and hurled enthusiastically into the audience. Watching the tidal wave of carnage flood over the front rows, you will scream – but with laughter. Click here for the complete review.

Re-Animator: The Musical has three final performances at the Steve Allen Theatre (before moving to Las Vegas in January): at 8pm on Friday, Novermber 21; Saturday, November 22; and Sunday, November 23. Tickets are $25. Call 1-800-595-4849 for reservations. The address is 4773 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, CA 90027. Click here for the website.

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Scary Musical The Musical poster

SCARY MUSICAL: THE MUSICAL at NoHo Arts Center

With a title like Scary Musical: The Musical, audiences pretty much know what to expect when buying their tickets. Fortunately, Scary Musical: The Musical easily exceeds its baseline expectations: not only does it spoof the horror genre for a few easy laughs; it offers an evening’s worth of comedic characters, rousing songs, and engaging performances.

More musical than scary, Scary Musical keeps most of its violence subdued or off-stage while emphasizing the songs, which are virtually non-stop. All of the major leads belt out show-stopping numbers,  each with a vocal range and dramatic flair that seems incredible on a small stage in North Hollywood. (Why aren’t these people on Broadway?)

Typical for a production at the NoHo Arts Center, there is an amazing professionalism to the staging of Scary Musical: The Musical which uses every inch of available space on the two-story set to create the impression of a much larger production. You watch what goes on in this theatre, and realize it is every bit as entertaining as the most lavish production you would see at the Pantages in Hollywood. Click here for the complete review.

 

 

Scary Musical: The Musical continues at the NoHo Arts Center through November 23, with performances on Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and on Sunday at 3pm. The address is 11136 Magnolia Boulevard, North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $35.  Click here for more information at the official website.

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VILLA THRILLA at the Atwater Village Theatre

villa thrillaLooking for a “Merry, Mod, Madcap Murder Mystery”? Villa Thrilla offers a mystery wrapped in a play wrapped in a mystery.The result is either post-modern or self-reflexive – possibly both – harmonizing the beloved tropes of the genre with an overtly expressed awareness of those tropes, which runs like a counterpoint throughout the proceedings. Villa Thrilla is sometimes baffling – as a good mystery should be – but also lively and amusing.

Playwright Anna Nicolas milks the reality-vs-illusion theme for obvious laughs but then adds unexpected twists. For instance, we expect the sudden shifts when the “actors” drop their facades and speak in their real voices, but the truly hilarious punchline comes when the “Distinguished Ex-Soap Opera Star” sounds pretty much the same, in character and out. Is he just a not very good actor?

These and other questions are answered in the archetypal explanation scene, which wraps up the multitude of plot threads into a very tight knot indeed, with an almost ostentatious flourish of virtuoso intricacy. Whether or not the explanation makes sense in terms of character motivation is really besides the point – drawing-room mysteries have always been about the details of whodunnit and how, not the complexities of human behavior. Fortunately, the human behavior on view in Villa Thrilla is just as madcap and merry as the ad copy promises. Click here for the complete review.

Villa Thrilla runs through November 23, with its final performances on Friday and Saturday at 8pm and on Sunday at 3pm. The Atwater Village Theatre is located at 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tickets are $32. Click here for the website.