Imagine a high school attended by all the famous monsters and creeps from the movies: vampires, mummies, Frankenstein’s monster, the Invisible Man, the werewolf, drama students (wait, I added that last one).
Now imagine their 15th year reunion where a murder takes place and everyone’s a suspect. There you have the gist of “Horror High Reunion,” the interactive comedy going on at Salt Lake City’s Off Broadway Theatre.
Laura Bedore’s script allows for differences depending on the whims of the cast members and audience — which means the show may be different each night — but in any case, one of the alumni is killed and it’s up to Principal Karloff (the always delightful David Hunsaker), his trusty sidekick janitor Igor (Mike Thomas) and the audience members to determine who the murderer is.
The production is more of a Halloween party game than an actual show, with rampant, over-done audience participation in the first act. Audience members have to come onstage and help sing the school song, act as cheerleaders, and even recite a poem. This is cute, and fun for the kids in the audience who get brought up there, but only marginally entertaining or funny for everyone else.
The second act has potential to be even more out-of-hand, as the audience has gotten used to interacting with the cast members (they walk around in character during intermission, dropping “clues” as to the culprit to anyone who is listening) and now feels like they can shout out anything they want. The night I was there, the cast members had a difficult time keeping control of the situation, as over-zealous audience members felt they had to accuse every single character of being the murderer based on the smallest detail they could think of.
Indeed, it becomes quite tedious as each character, in turn, explains where he or she was at the time of the murder, lies about it, and is caught by the ever-vigilant, easily entertained audience.
Shawn Zumbrunnen gives a great performance as Lance Parent, the “invisible man” who is no longer invisible. His energy and sense of absurdity breathe life into the show.
Cami Bogue is also a bonus as Carrie May Einstein, and Hunsaker leads things along as smoothly as is possible as Principal Karloff. Clarence Strohn as Jack the wolfman has a jittery, annoying, I-want-to-be-Jim-Carrey thing going; director Zac Zumbrunnen would do well to tone him down.
There are bright spots in the show. Most of the actors have improvisational skills that help in the interaction with the audience.
There are two musical numbers — a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and a parody of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in which the murder is solved — both of which are the sort of zany entertainment we like to see at the Off Broadway Theatre. The rest of the show is often dominated by obnoxious audience members (I really don’t think the night I was there was a fluke; I think it was typical) and undermined by a script that doesn’t even scratch the surface on potential humorous interaction between the famous monsters.
Still, for kids, this is a fun Halloween party to go to. Just don’t expect a real show full of laughs and lunacy, like you normally get at OBT. Expect a goofy murder mystery in which the audience has to make its own fun.
The idea of an interactive murder mystery sounds like a good one, but the well-meaning folks at Off Broadway just couldn't pull it off. It's very easy to lose control of your audience, and that's exactly what happened.