Thu
Aug 15 2013 10:00am

Have A Little Priest: Horror Musicals!

SFF Musicals, Sweeney Todd Angela Lansbury

If there’s one thing you’ll realize instantly in taking a look at genre musicals—it’s all about vampires. Hardly surprising, since the rest of the world appears to feel similarly, but who looks at vampires and thinks: “You know what these guys are really missing? Ballads.”

It’s time to take a look at horror musicals! And if “the lonely ones” aren’t your thing, don’t worry your pretty head—there are demon barbers, bloody teenagers, and a tap-dancing monster ahead too....

Dance of the Vampires

SFF Musicals, Dance of the Vampires

I’m going to warn you ahead of time—there are lots of musicals about vampires. So many of them. But Dance of the Vampires is notable for being based off of the Roman Polanski film, The Fearless Vampire Killers. It has gone through many productions, but is known stateside for being one of the costliest failures in Broadway history due to a massive overhaul of the script (that made the content mostly comedic), cast troubles, and the firing of the composer and a producer. Basically, if you ever get a chance to see this baby, make sure the production is international.

 

Evil Dead: The Musical

SFF Musicals, Evil Dead: The Musical

Interactive theatre! This musical was created with the blessing of both Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi and quickly gained a following among fans. The show began in Canada, enjoyed a brief stint in New York and many other cities, and is currently running in Vegas where it’s super popular with convention goers. This may or may not have to do with the fact that you are likely to get splattered with blood during the performance. People sitting in the front rows were given plastic anoraks to cover themselves with at first, but getting soaked grew to be an honor and now many patrons go to the show wearing white t-shirts in hopes of getting covered in red.

 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Once More, With Feeling”

SFF Musicals, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Once More With Feeling

After the success of silent episode “Hush,” Joss Whedon and Co. decided to go all out in a musical episode for the Scooby Gang. The results were surprisingly effective because unlike your average musical, where a spotlit number can indicate that a character is alone in their head, many songs in this episode are witnessed by others. So that lyrical confessional that was meant to be your solo outing? Yeah, everyone just heard it. Your deepest, darkest secrets are revealed. What was most impressive about this move was how Whedon proved that he could use music to move a narrative within the television format, as the major revelation of the episode—that Buffy is distraught at being pulled back to earth from heaven—is the big curveball a third of the way through the season. And no magic can undo it. Probably why it was ranked #14 on TV Guide’s “TV’s Top 100 Episodes of All Time.” Yeah, that’s how cool musicals are.

 

Jekyll & Hyde

SFF Musicals, Jekyll & Hyde

Frank Wildhorn is known on the Broadway circuit for adapting many 19th and early 20th century stories (The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Count of Monte Cristo, Svengali, and Cyrano de Bergerac to name several) into musicals with a certain operatic-pop-power-ballad style to them. Yeah. Nevertheless, his productions are frequently quite successful, and Jekyll & Hyde is one of those. Adapted from the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, there is a lot of fun to be had watching the show for the sheer delight of watching any version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on stage. It’s currently running on Broadway again and one of the early concept album recordings of the show (featuring songs that were eventually cut from the final version) is truly gorgeous in places and a really fun listen. Whatever you do, don’t watch the filmed David Hasslehoff (yes, the dreaded ’Hoff) version. Unless you want hyperventilate yourself to death by laughing—his transformation sequence alone warrants it.

 

Lestat

SFF Musicals, Lestat

It’s no wonder that Ann Rice’s vampires eventually made it to stage, but you might not have expected their score to be penned by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Or for the show’s visual concept design to have been done by artist Dave McKean. It had a short two month run on Broadway, which is interesting considering that the earlier San Francisco run was the highest earning pre-Broadway show in the city’s history. But that might have something to do with the many changes made before the Manhattan premiere—the original version had more stage effects, including images that filled the audience in on Lestat’s story. Looks like whatever they hacked out was what made the show work. Either that or San Francisco audiences have very different taste. Which they likely do.

 

Dracula the Musical

SFF Musicals, Dracula the Musical

One more time, fang fans! Another Frank Wildhorn jaunt, it would seem that vampire musicals are generally a bad idea. Though the Dracula musical made an effort to follow the Bram Stoker novel, the show was then criticized for making the material inaccessible to anyone who did not know the book well. Nevertheless, putting Dracula’s name on something is usually a good idea, and the show has received multiple runs around the world. If you know some of Wildhorn’s more popular musicals, this one might grate a little—it too closely mirrors much of his earlier material.

 

Carrie

SFF Musicals, Carrie

Penned by the script-writer for the 1976 film, Carrie ran into more than its fair share of troubles. The pre-Broadway run of the show at Stratford-upon-Avon saw its leading lady nearly decapitated one night by a set piece, and the crew could not figure out a way to cover her in stage blood without shorting out her microphone. The show cost $8 million by the time it premiered on Broadway (which was a whole lot in 1988) and seemed to divide audiences—some cheered when the show finished and others booed, although both leading ladies got full standing ovations regardless. Because of terrible reviews the show shut down in a hurry, marking it as one of Broadway’s most expensive failures of all time.

 

Young Frankenstein

SFF Musicals, Young Frankenstein

Hot off the success of The Producers, Mel Brooks quickly brought Young Frankenstein to Broadway in 2007. Brooks was a big fan of the audiences who came to see the show, as they turned it into something interactive—neighing every time Frau Blucher’s name came up, and such. The show was unfortunately too often compared to The Producers, and many critics felt it lacked a certain sparkle that the previous Brooks musical had put forth. Even so, the show was successful during its two year run, and gained a certain cult status in its time on Broadway. A few changes were made from the original film, including an extended ending where it appears that Frankenstein has been hanged and the Monster revives him.

 

The Fly

SFF Musicals, The Fly

You may know that Howard Shore (of Lord of the Rings scoring fame) also wrote the soundtrack for David Cronenberg’s film version of The Fly, yes? But did you know that he also created an opera based on that film (but not musically related)? Cronenberg actually came in to direct the opera, which premiered in 2008 with the legendary Placido Domingo conducting. There is no official recording of the score, which is the biggest shame of them all. Though likely not for the faint of heart, the soundtrack is likely a singular experience.

 

Sweeney Todd

SFF Musicals, Sweeney Todd revival Michael Cerveris Patti LuPone

Okay, it’s a musical adapted from a play adapted from Victorian Era penny dreadfuls, not really an SFF yarn. It still counts because geeks of all stripes love the demon barber of Fleet Street, and it is easily one of Sondheim’s greatest musicals. Angela Lansbury famously originated the role of Mrs. Lovett in 1979 when the show opened on Broadway, and productions have been running ever since. One of the most impressive things about Sweeney Todd is how it lends itself to reinterpretation—there are versions where it is suggested that all the characters are inmates in an asylum acting out their terrible fantasies, and the 2005 Broadway revival (featuring incandescent turns from Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone in the leading roles) cut back the orchestration so that a whittled-down cast of ten sang and played the entire show on stage as they performed their parts. Todd is a dark rumination on loss, desire and revenge, but its sense of humor is really what makes it shine. If you’ve never heard “A Little Priest,” you are missing out on one of life’s great joys.

Any others that you’d count in the horror genre? I’m sure there are more singing vampires yet to be uncovered....


Emily Asher-Perrin has a very heavy bias toward the Broadway revival version of Sweeney Todd. It was literally the best. Ever. She has written essays for the newly released Doctor Who and Race and Queers Dig Time Lords. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

17 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
No, Repo!?!?!?!?!

Anthony Stewart Head performing Legal Assasin from Repo! The Genetic Opera

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Az5vcfwiDvw
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
OK, so I jumped the gun when I suggested Dance of the Vampires in the first comment thread. As I said there, it's really big in Germany where it was originally produced. (Mind you, Starlight Express is also really big in Germany and even has a dedicated theater, so make of that what you will.) The original music was by Jim Steinman, who wrote most of Meat Loaf's big hits, so that might tell you whether or not you would enjoy it.
Athatar
3. Athatar
It's not quite a horror but it's based on one:

REANIMATOR: The Musical is a musical version of
Herbert West–Reanimator by Lovecraft that I went to see last year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was pictched as a comedy and worked very well. Ponchos were provided for the front row as the fake blood was sprayed quite generously at the audience.

Very funny, a little scary (mostly jump scares). All in all very good.
Athatar
4. Tom_nackid
What? No mention of Little Shop of Horrors? It even has the word "horror" in the title! And for what its worth the very wierd, very adult SF televison series Lexx did a musical episode ("Brigadoom") before Buffy.
Chris Nelly
5. Aeryl
Yes, Little Shop, I was quite surprised that was excluded(unless you've only ever seen the Frank Oz one, cuz that one's not that scary. The original, with Jack Nicholson as the dentist's patient, THAT ONE is scary).
Joel Salomon
6. jcsalomon
It can’t be produced, but the cast recording for Shoggoth on the Roof suggest it would have been a terrific example.
Irene Gallo
7. Irene
Michael Cerveris and Patti LuPone in Sweeney Todd was drop-dead amazing. Definitely one of my favorite nights in the theater ever. John Doyle’s Company being another. The world needs more Sondhiem/Doyle!
treebee72 _
8. treebee72
Little Shop is in the Science Fiction Musical post.
treebee72 _
9. treebee72
Little Shop is in the Science Fiction Musical post.
Athatar
10. Tom_nackid
"Little Shop is in the Science Fiction Musical post."

Sorry! I didn't see that post. My mistake!
Chris Nelly
11. Aeryl
I read it, but forgot so don't feel bad.

Still no excuse for forgetting Repo! though.(unless it was done elsewhere and I missed it too!)
Chuk Goodin
13. Chuk
Athatar
14. CHip137
@4: LSoH is under SF.

IMO that means Young Frankenstein should also be under SF -- it's much less horrific (i.e., not at all). Yes, horror can have comedy elements but YF is virtually all comedy.

@5 The original LSoH is not a musical, even if the poster referred to an operetta ("The flowers that kill in the Spring, tra-la!").
Heather Dunham
15. tankgirl73
Ahh. I had suggested Young Frankenstein and Evil Dead in the scifi musicals comment thread, as the theatre company I musically direct has just produced one and is about to produce the other. Nice to see them getting recognized after all, although I agree there's some fine lines (blurred lines? heh...) between sci fi and horror in some of these cases. I can see arguments on both sides.
Athatar
16. ViewerBen
How about the Toxic Avenger musical from a few years ago? Or the Stephen King/John Mellencamp/T Bone Burnett musical 'Ghost Brothers of Darkland County'?
Athatar
17. decgem
Batboy: The Musical. 'Nuff said.

Very happy to see Sondheim love pouring out here though :-) The Doyle productions were astonishing theater.

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