10 Musicals To Get Spooky With!
With Halloween right around the corner, “spooky season” is well underway! I’m a sucker for holidays of any kind, but Halloween is a theatre kid’s dream - costumes, candy, and an overall dramatic flare. I spent a long time thinking of the appropriate content for a Halloween themed post, but eventually arrived here, with ten musicals that will definitely get you in the Halloween spirit!
The Rocky Horror Show
The Rocky Horror Show is possibly one of the most well-known musicals on this list due to the popularity of the 1975 film adaptation. The original musical, written by Richard O’Brien premiered in 1973, and its message of acceptance lead to a cult following. The Rocky Horror Show is a tribute to early science fiction and b-roll films, as well as fifties rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s essence is beautifully captured on film in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Due to its cult status, The Rocky Horror Show and The Rocky Horror Show are extremely popular around Halloween, and midnight showings and performances are common. Audience members arrive in full costume, and are prepared to fully submerge themselves in ‘the Frankenstein Place’.
Summary: Newly engaged sweethearts Brad and Janet start off on a trip to visit their old friend and mentor Dr. Everett Scott. When their car breaks down during a thunderstorm, they seek shelter at a castle belonging to the mysterious Dr. Frank N Furter. They soon discover that the doctor is celebrating his newest project, that he has made a man (with blond hair and a tan), who is to be born that very night - and Brad and Janet find themselves trapped to bear witness to this once in a lifetime event.
This movie musical was not initially on my top ten list, however, it felt wrong to discuss The Rocky Horror Show without at least giving a shout out to it’s creepy counterpart. Shock Treatment was released in 1981, as a follow up to the success of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with a book and lyrics by Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman. While the film features similar characters (Brad and Janet), actors (Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell), and the fictional town of Denton, USA, Shock Treatment is not a direct sequel to the original production.
Summary: Brad and Janet, now unhappily married, are living in their hometown of Denton, which has now become a massive tv station. In an attempt to ‘fix’ their marriage, Brad is imprisoned in Dentonvale mental hospital, and Janet gets tempted by fame. Will their marriage survive? And who is trying to pull them apart?
Little Shop of Horrors
Little Shop of Horrors is a Broadway classic, despite it’s cult status. The musical based off the 1960 film of the same name, premiered off-Broadway in 1982. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken worked together to bring this science fiction twist on pursuing the American dream to stage with a score inspired by early 60s rock music. Little Shop hit the silver screen again in 1986, this time as a movie musical, gaining the already popular show a cult following. The musical is still incredibly popular to this day, and is currently running off-Broadway.
Summary: During a total eclipse of the sun, Seymour Krelbourn acquires a strange new plant. He brings the plant back to the shop where he works as a floral assistant, and names it Audrey II after his beautiful co-worker. Audrey II struggles to grow in its new environment, until Seymour pricks himself while grooming the plant, who eagerly laps up the spilled blood. On a new diet, Seymour’s plant thrives, growing bigger and gaining the attention of Audrey, the town, and the press. Eventually, the plant (and its hunger) grow too big for Seymour to control, and manipulates him into fulfilling its desire for human flesh with promises of fame and fortune.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweeney Todd is another musical which became well-known due to its film adaptation, the 2007 movie musical had a star-studded cast, lead by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter. The musical premiered in 1979, with music by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Hugh Wheeler, based on Christopher Bond’s 1973 play. The gothic musical remains popular to this day, likely due to how it showcases the duality of man and addresses the way we define good and evil.
Summary: After being sent to jail for a crime he did not commit, Benjamin Barker dons the name of Sweeney Todd and returns to London to seek vengeance. Working as a barber, he partners with Mrs. Lovett to quench his bloodthirst and refine his technique as he waits for the Judge who murdered his wife and kidnapped his daughter.
Another personal favourite, this 1983 musical premiered in the United Kingdom and had a successful West End run following its national tour. Blood Brothers has a book and music by Willy Russell, who combines the universal debate of ‘nature vs nurture’ with a rock score. I may be biased, but as the Broadway production closed in 1995, I think it might be time for a revival
Summary: An unlikely alliance is formed between Mrs. Lyons and her employee Mrs. Johnstone when the latter discovers she is pregnant with twins. Mrs. Lyons is unable to have children, and the two devise a plan: when the twins are born, Mrs. Lyons will take one of the babies and raise it as her own. The two boys are raised separately, but despite being from different classes, they still become friends and ‘blood brothers’. Will they ever find out the truth?
The inspiration from this 1997 musical came from an article from 1992, reporting a “half boy, half bat” creature who lived in the caves outside a small town, preying on livestock. Bat Boy has a book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, with a pop-rock score by Laurence O’Keefe. This show is delightfully campy, but it’s themes of alienation and loneliness still have a strong impact on its audiences.
Summary: A group of teenage boys discover a ‘bat boy’ living in the caves outside their town. While being taken hostage by the group, the creature attacks a teenage girl, and so he is brought to Dr. Parker, the town vet, to be euthanized. Meredith Parker, the veterinarian's wife, insists on taking in the bat boy, renaming him Edgar and raising him as her own. Her husband, teenage daughter, and the whole town disagree, and prepare to hunt down and kill the Bat Boy.
Last season, Tim Burton’s cult classic film was brought to Broadway. Scott Brown and Anthony King, aided by Eddie Perfect, have adapted the book for the stage, maintaining the movie’s plot while adding a heartfelt message and overall depth. Despite the added warmth, the show still stays true to it’s spooky roots, using many incredible special effects to bring the Netherworld to life. Beetlejuice is the ultimate Halloween musical - but the biggest demon this show tackles is the grieving process, making it a hit all year long.
Summary: Following a plot line similar to the original film, the musical focuses on the recently deceased Adam and Barbara Maitland, who turn to ‘bio-exorcist’ Beetlejuice when their former home is inhabited by the wealthy Deetz family. The Maitlands begin to haunt the house, hoping to scare away the newcomers. The two ghosts quickly form an unexpected bond with Lydia Deetz, a teenage girl mourning the loss of her mother. Beetlejuice works to aid the three in hopes that he can convince Lydia to summon him by saying his name three times.
Because what could be scarier than high school? Before Mean Girls, there was Heathers, and before Heathers, there was Carrie. The 1988 musical is based off of Stephen King’s novel, which inspired the 1976 film of the same name. Carrie was adapted for the stage by Laurence D. Cohen, Michael Gore, and Dean Pitchford; giving the well-known horror story a rock ‘n’ roll score. Unfortunately, the original Broadway run of Carrie closed after sixteen previews and five regular performances, but the 2012 off-Broadway revival had a successful, although limited, run.
Summary: Carrie follows a similar plot to the original book, telling the story of Carrie White, a teenager with telekinetic powers, a religious fanatic mother, and a school full of ruthless classmates. A trip to the prom with Tommy Ross is a dream come true for Carrie, but eventually turns into a nightmare when her classmates see another chance to humiliate her. Their prom night prank has deadly consequences when it triggers Carrie’s telekinesis, and she unleashes her rage on the entire town.
Dance of the Vampires
This 1997 musical is based off the 1967 Roman Polanski film Fearless Vampire Killers and started in Austria as a German-language production, Tanz Der Vampire. The musical has a score by Jim Steinman, and a book written by Michael Kunze, which was adapted for Broadway by David Ives. The European production was, and still continues to be, incredibly successful. However, the 2002 Broadway production, did not share the same success, closing after only 56 performances.
Summary: Do vampires exist? That is what Professor Abronsius and his assistant Alfred have travelled to the mountains to find out. While staying at the inn owned by the Chagal family, Alfred falls in love with The two plan to run away together, but Sarah is being visited nightly by the vampire lord, Count Von Krolock. Enthralled by the Count, Sarah agrees to accompany him to his palace for the vampire ball. Naturally, the Professor and Alfred take off in pursuit, to save the say and prove to the world that vampires do exist.
The Addams Family
Charles Addams’ beloved comic strip characters have been adapted many times since they first appeared in 1938, and in 2009, they made their stage debut. The Addams Family musical was brought to life with a book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, alongside a score by Andrew Lippa. The comic strips depicted the ideal American family, with a twist - a delight in the macabre. Despite their ghoulish appearance, the Addams family is tight knit, and based in love and acceptance, which is likely why they have remained so popular, and why they make the perfect musical.
Summary: Wednesday Addams has fallen in love, and she has invited her (normal) boyfriend Lucas and his family over for dinner at the Addams’ residence. Despite Lucas and Wednesday’s pleas for ‘one normal night’, tensions rise quickly between the two families, until the young couple reveals their intention to get married. In an attempt to be helpful, Uncle Fester summons the Addams ancestors, who create a storm which traps both families inside the mansion for the evening, forcing them to overcome their differences.
Jekyll and Hyde
As the title suggests, this musical is another adaptation of Robett Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The 1997 Broadway musical has a score by Frank Wildhorn, and a book by Leslie Bricusse. The musical went on to have a successful Broadway run (nearly four years), demonstrating that Stevenson’s original exploration of the good and evil within us all, is truly timeless. The stage production was filmed in 2000 and was released to DVD with David Hasselhoff in the title role.
Summary: Dr. Jekyll is a well-respected doctor with a theory that illness is caused by the evil within human beings. When the hospital board refuses to support Dr. Jekyll’s experiment, he decides to act as his own test subject, the night of his bachelor party. The formula releases an alternate personality, freeing the more aggressive side of the good doctor. This alternate personality names itself Edward Hyde and spends the evening terrorizing London, even attacking Jekyll’s friend, a prostitute named Lucy. When the transformations begin to occur without warning, and increase in frequency, Jekyll withdraws from his friends and fiancée as he tries to fight the monster within.
The theatre world has no shortage of cult classics, and narrowing this list down to ten was tricky. Honourable mentions include: Heathers, Evening Primrose, Assassins, We Are The Tigers, Evil Dead! The Musical, The Dolls of New Albion, Carrie 2: The Rage (An Unauthorized Musical Parody), Bonnie and Clyde.
As a bonus Halloween treat, I have included a playlist featuring some of my favourite songs from the musicals listed above.
Click the link below to enjoy!
Have a Safe and Happy Halloween!