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'ThanksKilling: The Musical' revels in so-bad-it's-good horror movie tropes
Photo by Jeff Carpenter.
Moments before curtains up on “ThanksKilling: The Musical’s” world premiere, Executive Director Jake Groshong stepped to the front of the stage to explain to the audience what they were about to see.
“This is easily the most offensive musical we’ve ever produced,” he said. “It has sex, violence, foul language and gore so, if you’re sensitive to those, you’ve been warned.”
Proving the point, the show lights opened on a female pilgrim (Brian Lange, playing virtually all of the show’s secondary roles and officially billed as “Random Guy”) in prosthetic bare bosom, running for her life from an unknown assailant. She’s soon joined by an abomination of singing monks to introduce the coming absurdity.
“Is this porn, or maybe it’s from Baywatch,” they wailed. “Who cares? There’s boobs on display!”
The irreverent tone of Balagan Theatre’s “ThanksKilling,” which opened Nov. 29 at the Cornish Playhouse Studio, is certainly faithful to its source material. The 2009 horror-comedy film of the same name — written and directed by Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart — was shot under a gleeful “so bad, it’s good” philosophy of one-dimensional acting, low budget effects and unwavering adherence to slasher movie tropes. Whereas a film like “Cabin in the Woods” subverted character archetypes to mine its sense of humor, “ThanksKilling” — the movie and the musical alike — straddles those archetypes and rides them to ridiculous extremes.
The Hick (Evan Woltz as Billy), The Jock (Kody Bringman as Johnny), The Nerd (Evan Hildebrand as Darren), The Slut (Bellevue actress Lindsey Larson as Ali) and The Virgin (Larissa Schmitz as Kristen) never aspire to depths beyond their defining word; why would they, when the shallow end is so fun?
The plot of the show follows the five Generic State University students as they return home for Thanksgiving break. Their car breaks down near the old Pilgrim town of Crawberg, where the vengeful demon Turkie (Jeff Orton as the foul-mouthed fowl) has recently been awakened from his grave by a hunting dog’s droppings. Turkie comes across the coeds’ camp and makes it his mission to pick them off one by one — unless they can find the secret to stop him in his tracks.
The spoken parts of Balagan’s show match Downey and Stewart’s screenplay almost word-for-word. It would be expected for the songs by Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann to merely expand on the original’s humor but, in many ways, they complete it.
One particular sex/murder scene in the film involved a particularly rude switcheroo and ended with the unceremonious snapping of the character Ali’s neck (if you think that sentence is a spoiler, you don’t know slashers). But the musical separates the two moments with an oddly stirring, if vulgar, solo by Larson that both enriches an earlier joke and turns her character’s death into an uproarious punchline by virtue of its violent shift of tone. “Thankskilling: The Musical” is full of moments like that, raising an already silly text to new heights by juxtaposing it against the inherent melodrama of musical theater.
The show never once attempts to take itself seriously — it’s a musical with a built-in “Horror Movie Cliche Drinking Game,” after all — nor does it have its fun at the expense of the original movie. It’s all a sounding board for jokes, jokes and more jokes.
This is a worthwhile watch for anyone who enjoys dark humor and small, intimate theater. A word of caution: opening night saw some sound difficulties with the actors’ microphones. These issues have likely been fixed but, if you arrive early enough, search for a seat away from the live pianist.
"ThanksKilling: The Musical" will run until Dec. 14. For showtimes and tickets, visit www.balagantheatre.org.