Exorcistic: The Rock Musical offers an unauthorized parody of the 1973 horror classic, with an emphasis on bawdy burlesque and rambunctious rock-and-roll.
It’s a beautiful day for an exorcism.
A beautiful day to fight a demon.
Let’s make the most of the beautiful way
It will bring us together, the Devil might say…
No, Exorcistic: The Rock Musical does not spoof the theme song from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (we just made that up); however, the “unauthorized parody of The Exorcist” does hit just about every other note you might expect – and a few you won’t. Currently on stage at the Three Clubs nightclub in Hollywood, the play is a deliberately outrageous take on the 1973 horror classic, with a nerd’s eye view for detail suggesting a layer of respect hidden beneath the iconoclastic fusillade of ribald repartee and risqué reinterpretations. Exorcistic may not have that much to say about The Exorcist, as film or phenomenon, but it is an enjoyable experience thanks largely to numerous songs exploiting the absurdity of rendering this particular story in musical form.
Exorcistic Review: Bawdy Burlesque or Self-Reflexive Satire?
If you have seen The Exorcist, you know what to expect – at times Exorcistic: The Rock Musical feels like a scene-for-scene recreation embellished with songs – but there is actually more going on. The musical spoof of The Exorcist is actually about staging a musical spoof of The Exorcist. No one is portraying characters from the film; they are actually portraying the playwright, director, stage manager, etc., all of whom double as actors in the play-within-a-play, whose characters have been renamed to avoid legal action (a memorable refrain is “accidentally” referring to the possessed girl as “Regan – no Megan – for legal reasons”).
The show starts with the characters discussing the wisdom of attempting another effort in the tired genre of musical parody based on well-known targets (the play’s setting features posters of previous – fictional – efforts: Werner Herzog’s Putin on the Ritz, Fame of Thrones, and Cats on a Hot Tin Roof). The decision to proceed is reached only after everyone agrees that this effort will offer an opportunity to do something more artistically ambitious with the material. To that end, the story occasionally pauses for the characters to provide “Anatomy of a Scene” breakdowns for the audience.
Along the way there are some clever touches. The cast argues over whether Regan Therese MacNeil (Linda Blair) was 11 or 12 years old in the movie, apparently forgetting that she has a birthday during the film, so both answers are correct. The supposed expert on The Exorcist admits he gleaned his info from Wikipedia because he was too scared to finish the movie. The actors playing Father Karras (ahem – “Garras”) and Regan’s mother, Chris, are having a torrid offstage affair, which bleeds into their performances. The play depicts the death of film director Burke Dennings (which happens off-screen in the film), only to have the actor playing Burke die because, as fate would have it, the actress portraying Megan really becomes possessed (of course!).
The self-reflexive aspect goes a fair way toward making Exorcistic work, which is to say the musical is more amusing when making fun of itself than when making fun of its target. The humor is more burlesque than parody, exploiting the original’s sexual subtext while adding unsubtle innuendo: when Father Dyer puts a distraught Father Garras to bed after the death of his mother, the scene is played for homoerotic chuckles; later, dressed in sexy garters and stockings, Chris virtually seduces Garras while asking him to exorcise her daughter. These antics have little to do with deconstructing The Exorcist, but they do make some sense in the context of a hapless theatre troupe struggling to stage a troubled Broadway musical production of the movie.
Exorcistic Review: Mock Rock Opera
Speaking of Broadway musicals, what keeps Exorcistic‘s engine running is the high-energy musical numbers (performed with live musical accompaniment from a small ensemble – drums, base, guitar, keyboards – tucked unobtrusively behind the audience). While the jokes don’t always land, the songs certainly soar, the rock-and-roll rhythms imbuing the proceeds with excitement and the lyrics elicit more laughter than the spoken dialogue.
Ironically for a self-proclaimed rock musical parody, the funniest song drops the rock idiom for a more traditional Broadway show tune, the joke being that the sophisticated sounding song’s refrain is a memorable obscenity from the film: “Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?” It literally gets funnier each and every time the singer belts it out with a completely straight face.
Another irony is that Exorcistic‘s most powerful moment comes when it drops the giggles and plays the climax relatively straight. After the characters briefly discuss the common misconception that the demon triumphs in the film by forcing Father Karras out the window, the play sets the record straight by devoting an entire musical number depicting Father Garras taking the demon inside himself and deliberately jumping out the window in order to save Megan. A piece of action that flashes by so fast in the film that viewers have trouble processing it is rendered in a way that milks the scene for full dramatic impact.
Exorcistic Review: Conclusion
Staged in the ample performance space of the Three Clubs, Exorcistic: The Rock Musical has an informal vibe suited to the cocktail bar’s cabaret-style seating; proximity to the audience enhances the frequent breaking of the fourth wall and provides opportunities for the action to spill off the stage, creating an almost immersive effect. Although the production initially feels like a staged reading, with characters sitting on folding chairs next to stands holding their scripts, it grows into something more impressive, with images projected on the venue’s numerous screens to suggest scene changes and with some colorful lighting effects to convey the supernatural aspects of the story.
So…is it an excellent day for an exorcism? Well, yes – if enjoy seeing a modern classic desecrated for a few laughs. You will not see sophisticated satire or insightful commentary about The Exorcist‘s place in film history or its impact on popular culture. Instead, it feels as if the creators were indulging a fantasy to dress up in clerical garb for the sake of some cheap titters and titillation; some scenes virtually scream, “Ooh, look how irreverent and naughty we are!”
This sort of deliberate provocation is not exactly our cup of holy water; when it comes to lampooning religious-themed entertainment, we prefer the now defunct Hollywood Hell House, a satirical spin on the infamous fundamentalist Halloween haunt, which ran back in 2006 and 2007. However, we are willing to give Exorcistic a pass to the extent that it allows viewers to attribute the licentious liberties to the play-within-a-play. One could almost argue that the saucy sinfulness opened the door for the leading lady to become possessed. Not that we think Exorcistic is pushing a reactionary message (“fuck around with demons and find out…”). It is just interesting that it is open to interpretation, much in the way the film left viewers debating whether Good or Evil had triumphed at the end.
This heavy analysis is probably way off target for a rowdy rock-and-roll show staged in a bar. The cheeky irreverence is part of the appeal, and if Exorcistic: The Rock Musical offers no cogent observations about The Exorcist, we can blame the characters in the play for relying on Wikipedia instead of watching the actual movie. If Exorcistic has a thematic agenda, it is to send up the artistic pretensions of the characters seeking deeper meaning in a musical parody instead of simply embracing the the music and enjoying the parody.
Exorcistic: The Rock Musical
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
Less a musical spoof of The Exorcist than a comically self-reflexive depiction of a troubled attempt to stage a musical spoof of The Exorcist, Exorcistic offers few insights about the classic horror film. Instead, it’s a rowdy rock opera that balances irreverence with an almost nerdastic attention to the details of its source material. The production at Three Clubs offers great songs delivered by great voices, and in spite of all the bawdy burlesque, it actually manages to deliver a pretty impactful climax. Recommended for fans of clerical humor, people who insist The Exorcist is “funny,” and anyone who thinks that watching this while downing a few cocktails will help them overcome the PTSD caused by viewing the film at too early an age.
Crew: Produced by Emma Huton, Alli Miller-Fisher, Chadd McMillan. Book, Lyrics & Music: Michael Shaw Fisher. Directed by Chadd McMillan, Alli Miller-Fisher. Choreography: Camal Pugh. Musical director: Michael Teoli. Prop Design: Kelly Stavert. Costume Design: Chadd McMillan. Lighting Design: Chadd McMillan. Sound Design: Thomas Queyja.
Cast: Nick Bredosky, Brian Logan Dales, Kim Dalton, Frankie Grande, Emma Hunton, Michtell Johnson, Janaya Mahealani Jones, Jesse Merlin, Michael Shaw Fisher, Leight Wolf, Gabby Sanalitro.
Rotating Diva Guests: Carly Jibson, Garret Clayton, Jeff Sumner, Marissa Jaret Winokur, Elle Deran, Michael Sheppard.
Exorcistic continues at Three Clubs with performances on July 14-15, 21-22. Doors open at 7pm; show starts at 8pm. Cocktails are available at the bars in the main room and in the performance space. The address is 1123 Vine Street in Hollywood. Get more information here.