Friday, May 09, 2014

Stage Fright: Break a Leg, Campers

These drama camp kids might as well learn the hard truths of show business at an early age. They will watch as the seniors deal with the casting couch, a manipulative producer, and a psycho-stalker. Nonetheless, they keep singing and dancing all the way through Jerome Sable’s musical horror mash-up, Stage Fright (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

The Haunting of the Opera would have been a triumph for its star-diva Kylie Swanson, had she not been brutally murdered by a knife wielding maniac dressed as the Phantom after her opening night performance. It’s a setback. Roger McCall, Swanson’s producer and one-time lover takes in her young children, Camilla and Buddy, but falls on hard times after the show’s closing. He tries to make a go of it as the director of the Center Stage Camp for Performing Arts, where the siblings work as kitchen staff. Yet, despite a loyal student body, the camp is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

In a last ditch comeback attempt, McCall decides to stage the Andrew Lloyd Weber-ish Haunting as their annual production. In violation of camp policy, Camilla auditions for her mother’s part. Naturally, she nails it, but she will still have to finesse the lecherous student director. News of her involvement even attracts the interest of a career-making producer, but once again a psycho in a Phantom mask starts carving up cast-members. Yet, the show will go on, don’tcha know.

Sable and musical collaborator Eli Batalion were team behind the musical horror short The Legend of Beaver Dam, which is rather amusing, largely because the brief format allows it to just hit-it-and-quit-it without a lot of phony drama. Frankly, Sable might be too pre-occupied with the psychological angst. Yes, character development is generally a good thing, but Camilla’s little orphan complex is not very deep or compelling. Yet, it takes space that could otherwise be used for gory gags.

None of the individual tunes are particularly memorable either, but they are performed by the cast and company with admirable conviction. Fright will probably hold considerably more novelty appeal for midnight movie fans outside of New York, because we can see legit stage productions in this spirit Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway fairly regularly. (In fact, it might have helped Sable to have someone like Rachel Klein on-board as a consultant or whatever.)

Still, when Fright goes all in, Grand Guignol style, it is a pretty awesome spectacle. Essentially, the opening and closing deliver on its promise, whereas the long midsection merely serves to get us from here to there. For Rocky Horror fans, it also has Meat Loaf (Aday) singing and thesping as McCall. While her character is not long for the world, Minnie Driver dies great in the prologue. Unfortunately, the twentysomething cast playing teenagers are largely undistinguished. Arguably, the best numbers feature the full company rather than the solo spotlights.

The film has its moments, but there should be more subversive glee, so to speak. Recommended eventually as a VOD or DVD pick for horror fans who do not have a lot of genre theaters options in their hometowns, Stage Fright opens today (5/9) in New York at the Cinema Village.