Exclusive Q&A: Graham Skipper on “RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL”Books/Art/Culture,Features/Interviews,Home,News Ken W. Hanley
Earlier this month, we reported the return of RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL to Los Angeles; the former staple of splattery musical horror from the mind of genre icon Stuart Gordon and composer Mark Nutter. And yet what would RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL be without its resident Herbert West, Graham Skipper?Skipper, who horror fans may also remember as the lead in Joe Begos’ ALMOST HUMAN, has embodied West in both runs of RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL to rave reviews. And just this week, Skipper was announced to be joining RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL as it lays waste to Las Vegas this January. In light of the announcement and the show’s L.A. run (which has been extended to November 23rd by popular demand), Skipper spoke to FANGORIA about donning the mantle of Herbert West once more…
FANGORIA: What was the first inkling that you might be returning to RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL?
GRAHAM SKIPPER: Well, it’s been about two years since we last performed, which was in Scotland. There had been talks here and there, and I know Stuart and the producer had been trying to get it back off the ground. It really was just a question of “when.” But finally, around mid-August, I was in Japan and I got an email from Stuart saying that they were going to start RE-ANIMATOR again out in LA around Halloween and asked if I was available. Of course, I said yes, but it all happened pretty quickly.
FANGORIA: When you were approached, did you know if any of the other original actors were going to be involved or not?
SKIPPER: I knew George Wendt was busy doing a play up in Canada, and he’s a busy man. So with the quick timing of everything, I knew he wasn’t going to be involved. I also had an idea that Rachel Avery, who originally played Meg, wasn’t going to be involved because she’s super pregnant [laughs]. She’s due in November and I think that’d be a huge change to RE-ANIMATOR canon to have Meg be super pregnant. But we found some great replacements since Ken Campbell and Jessica Howell are just fantastic. And finally, Chris McKenna, who played Dan Cain originally, is on the cast of that show STATE OF AFFAIRS, so I knew it’d be difficult for him to come back but luckily he’s blowing up the spot and doing great. So now we have Darren Ritchie, who is just killing it as Dan and is a very great addition to the team.
FANGORIA: Is this going to be a standard reprisal where you’re returning to the same material or will there be more this time around for RE-ANIMATOR fans?
SKIPPER: They expanded a whole bunch of songs and even added a few songs. They totally revisited what we did a couple of years ago and completely expanded upon it. We’ve gone from a one-act show to two-acts, which is nice. The additions are all fantastic and there are some big surprises, including but not limited to more blood (which the audience consistently asks for). We now have a singing and dancing Rufus in addition to the beloved puppet. The security guard gets a couple new songs in this new run; it’s really great. Mark Nutter and Peter Adams are both back to help flesh out the new material. Mark Nutter is our composer and he’s just brilliant anyway, so it’s great to get new work from him.
FANGORIA: RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL certainly left one hell of a reputation when the original production ceased. Do you think there’s more interest now that there’s been a break?
SKIPPER: I have to say the folks who have been turning up for it have been a mixture of old fans who are really fun to see again and a lot of people who missed it the first time around. It’s really cool to see new folk who wanted to see what all the fuss was about and really get on board. We’ve gotten a lot of people who have come up and said they missed it the first time and will actually be back with their friends to see it again. So I’m glad that we’re bringing in new people and that old fans are bringing in new people to the fold. We’ve really been welcomed by people and it’s been a really positive experience.
FANGORIA: Has there been any particular sets of shows or venues that you’ve had an especially great experience with RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL?
SKIPPER: Oh man. Well, the whole adventure of traveling to New York and then the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with it would definitely qualify as memorable. I just remember the insanity of those shows being a particularly wild experience. The whole cast and crew had to build the sets in 15 minutes, put on the show and then strike the set in 15 minutes. So that was some pretty intense stuff, but you’re in Edinburgh so you could go grab a glass of scotch after and everything is okay [laughs].
The one thing that I find to be really fun is that we’re returning to the Steve Allen Theater here in Los Angeles. We started at that theater before moving on and doing shows at the Hayworth Theater, which is a little bigger. But the Steve Allen Theater feels like home and the artistic director there is such an awesome guy. So it’s exciting to get back on that stage again.
FANGORIA: Considering you had such a long gap between the shows, are you bringing anything different to your performance of Herbert West this time around?
SKIPPER: That’s a good question. I’d like to think that I’m approaching it fresh; that was my goal. I wanted to go into it and allow Herbert to be there. After we had our first two rehearsals, although we had a few cobwebs in our brain, everything was still pretty much there. I can feel that West has firmly been planted inside of me. But I said to myself that I really didn’t want to rehash what I did.
Part of why the show was so successful previously was that, as per Stuart’s guidance, we approached the material with the same fresh intensity as the night before. We were never phoning it in or doing the same old thing; we were always trying to find new things to explore. So now, after the break and with so much history behind me with RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL, I feel that West is as same as he always was but he’s also fresh and new, especially with new cast members because that alters the dynamic. That makes it really exciting and fun because you never really know what to expect.
FANGORIA: Considering you have some cast members returning this time around, has there been any encouragement to do improvising this time around or would you have to face Stuart’s wrath?
SKIPPER: [Laughs] You know, Stuart is a really easy director to work with and he loves all of our input even, when he’s clear with what he wants. Jesse Merlin’s back and there’s an extended song this time around where we finally get to sing with one another, which previously didn’t happen in the show. But as far as improvisation, it really depends because every night is different. Stuff happens all the time that you can’t expect and you just have to go with it, especially in a show like this where the fourth wall is firmly broken. We walk into the audience and there’s the splash zone so the whole thing is open to exploration, although it’s not like we’re all going to start talking in Russian accents or something. Actually, I don’t know, maybe we will. You’ll just have to come and see.
FANGORIA: In terms of your acting, do you separate how you might approach something like this and, say, something like ALMOST HUMAN? Do you find that these characters bleed into one another, perhaps?
SKIPPER: As an actor, I feel like I’m growing every day. I’m always trying to learn, and you never stop trying to get better. ALMOST HUMAN was such an awesome thing to be a part of but I have RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL directly to thank for that because that’s where I met Joe Begos. Certainly, these roles bleed into one another and I’m such a huge horror fan in real life. The opportunity to act in things with people I love under Stuart or Joe within this genre community is a total blessing. It’s great and I just try to do the best job that I can.
FANGORIA: If the opportunity ever presented itself, would you ever do a movie version of RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL or just a horror-musical film in general?
SKIPPER: Oh my God, are you kidding me? Of course! I’ve always said that RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL is like the dream job for me because it combines my love for horror, comedy and musical theater. The chance to immortalize that on-screen? I would eat it up!
FANGORIA: Outside of RE-ANIMATOR, is there anything else you’re working on at the moment?
SKIPPER: I’ve got some things I’m working on with Joe Begos that hopefully will be officially announced soon. But right now, it’s just RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL, which is going to Las Vegas in January.
For tickets and more information on RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL for both it’s L.A. revival and Las Vegas run, visit their official website here. You can also follow Graham Skipper on Twitter: @GrahamSkipper.