A Musical Halloween: Scaring Us With Song and Dance
It is the season for witches, ghosts, and other creatures of the night. What better way for Broadway fans to get into the spooking spirit than to celebrate the musicals that embrace the macabre, the twisted, the dark, and the demented. Here is a rundown of some of the best musicals to revel in for Halloween. They will be “haunting” you for weeks to come.
Ripped from headlines of a tabloid newspaper, the story of the Off-Broadway musical Bat Boy shows that the darkest, most sinister behavior comes from average people who don’t understand all the facts or who are unable to muster compassion. A boy who looks like a bat is found living in a local cave and one caring family takes him in. The rest of town doesn’t trust the freakish lad, and they begin to blame him for a series of cattle slaughters in the area. This incites a mob mentality to destroy the Bat Boy. Things end bloodily and tragically, with most of the leading players dead.
Little Shop of Horrors
This is probably the first musical that comes to your mind when you think of a horror musical. It’s right there in the title, so why wouldn’t you? Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) debuted Little Shop of Horrors Off-Broadway in 1982 and it has become a mainstay of theatres all over the world. Combining science-fiction and horror, the story of Seymour and his man-eating plant who gets bigger and bigger until it turns itself on the audience, is a musical theatre favorite. There is also a character who is a psychotic dentist, and there may be nothing scarier than that!
The Evil Dead
Originating in Canada, and based on the cult horror classic The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead: The Musical is basically a campy satire of its source material. Five college students stay in a cabin in the woods where they unleash an ancient evil that possesses each of them. The film was spooky, but it also had some underlying camp elements that were just “dying” to be spoofed. The stage musical took camp to epic proportions, and though there is little left to be afraid of, the humor, style and music pay a nice tribute to the horror genre.
Jekyll and Hyde
Composer Frank Wildhorn’s first musical to reach Broadway with music entirely by him was the 1997 musical Jekyll and Hyde, based on the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Set in the foggy streets of London in the late 1800s, a gentle, well-meaning scientist named Jekyll has an experiment go wrong. This leads to his, on occasion, turning into the violent and murderous Mr. Hyde. The spookiness of the night and the spectral glow of the gaslights shining over cobblestoned streets become palpable as you watch this horrific story unfold.
The Rocky Horror Show
Though it is better known for it’s “Picture Show” version, many forget that The Rocky Horror Show was first a short-lived stage musical. Sexy, sassy, gender fluid and bursting with colorful characters that were parodies of classic horror archetypes, it’s always fun to stop by Dr. Frankenfurter’s castle for a night of debauched sex. That’s exactly what happens when Brad and Janet wander into this crazy world and join in on “The Time Warp”.
Dance of the Vampires
It wasn’t exactly a hit on Broadway, but Dance of the Vampires, a re-imagining of the Roman Polanski film, was certainly chock full of singing/dancing blood suckers. Vampires have always been a big favorite of Halloween, seductive and menacing. The story follows a professor who hopes to prove the existence of vampires, and then gets more than he bargained for when he actually finds them. Campy and bizarre, Dance of the Vampires was short-lived, but particularly remembered for it’s inclusion of the 80’s pop hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, which in this setting went by the name “Vampires in Love”.
We all know and love the Mel Brooks film that stars the late Gene Wilder, and even though the Broadway musical version was less of an event, Young Frankenstein has all the makings of a classic horror experience (albeit filtered through a musical comedy sensibility). Dr. Viktor Frankenstein returns to his ancestral castle in Transylvania and continues the family legacy of attempting to reanimate dead tissue. The result is a singing, dancing monster made from a reanimated corpse. It’s Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, but with the twist of being comically twisted.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
No list of musicals that is a tribute to the horrific would be complete without the Stephen Sondheim/Hugh Wheeler masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. There is enough carnage and cannibalism in this musical to rival an episode of The Walking Dead. The story of a falsely-imprisoned barber who decides to take revenge on his tormentors by slitting their throats in his barber chair will chill you to very bone. When he goes into business with a local pie shop owner who bakes the body into meat pies, your gag reflex will be put to the test. It’s the macabre and the twisted presented as high art.
The flop musical that defined all flop musicals (Read Ken Mandelbaum’s Not Since Carrie) is the Broadway musical Carrie. It may have been short-lived, but it is remembered for the blood bath that poured forth before theatre audiences. Based on the popular Stephen King novel of the same name, Carrie is the story of an abused girl with telekinesis who unleashes her powers on the bullies, including her religious zealot mother, who have humiliated her. The Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford score is relentlessly driven, frantic with horror and camp. No one will want to mess with this girl again!
Have a happy and safe Halloween!