This is a guest post by Kara Dennison.
The last time I saw “Monster Stomp” in any form was also the first time I saw it — back then it was still in the New France section of Busch Gardens Williamsburg, and it was rated as five pumpkins (indicating that it was up among the hardest-core things going on during Howl-O-Scream). My friend and I asked a park attendant if the show was really that scary. Their response: “It’s not rated that because it’s scary.”
So, my memories of “Monster Stomp” have been “lots of banging done by people not wearing much.” (Take that as you will.) And that’s not a criticism. The smaller-stage show I saw back then, I recall being extremely fun and accomplishing exactly what it set out to do: be loud and sexy.
The move to the Globe isn’t a new one, as I recall, but it’s new to me. Lots more stage space told me already that there would be a great deal more spectacle, and the “Ripper Row” branding told me we might actually see a storyline come through. Which, I suppose, we sort of did. It wasn’t the clearest one, but it’s a theme park jukebox musical. Plots don’t need clarity, they just need to house the music. In this case, it seemed to follow Jack the Ripper as he hacked and slashed his way through Victorian London until he fell in love with a girl? I think? She fell in love with him, I think. He sure seemed to like her, but he also wanted very much to kill her?
Anyway, that honestly doesn’t matter because, as I said before, this show exists to be loud and sexy. And it most definitely does that, and goes above and beyond the early days of the show in pretty much every respect. The opening is big, boisterous, and gory as all get-out. The Rhythm Chefs (or at least a callback to them) remain toward the middle of the show, doing their knife routine on a coffin. The black light skeletons still do their thing shortly after. Now, tying it all together is the aforementioned plot-shaped thing, allowing for love ballads, aggressive dancing, and a mash-up of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young” that honestly left me wondering if I’d accidentally side-stepped into a high-end performance of Tanz der Vampire.
Speaking of other shows — and the aforementioned claim of gore — I’ve gotta speak up about the lighting design. Because when I say “gore,” I don’t mean actual literal gore. Any blood (and yes, there is blood) is done with video and lighting effects. When a character is taken behind a screen and knifed, the audience’s vision is flooded with a wash of red, rather than any use of practical effects or stage blood. Much appreciated for a weak-stomached individual such as myself, and much more in keeping with the spectacle. It was reminiscent of stagings of Sweeney Todd (unsurprisingly), but also shared a lot of stylistic choices with the recent West End musical adaptation of American Psycho. I was even a bit tickled to see that the theme and choreography of their opening number was reminiscent (homage or coincidence, I don’t know) of the second act opener of American Psycho, with a steadily decreasing chorus of dancers being picked off by our antihero.
Some of the musical choices did seem a bit off-the-wall (I’m still trying to grok the placement of “Beat It”), but again, injecting common sense into a noisy spectacle defeats the purpose. It was eye-popping, it made you shiver at points, and it was full of gorgeous people in gorgeous costumes doing gorgeous things. I was also pleased to see that, while they advertised that there would be strobes, said strobes were used in a small enclosed space onstage for one specific effect and not directed out toward the audience. Your mileage may vary, of course, but there was nothing overly intense or inescapable.
I mean, truly don’t take kids or people of a sensitive nature to “Monster Stomp.” That’s a given. There are many family events in the park and this is almost certainly not one for the younglings. But if you fancy a macabre Victorian aesthetic with a pounding bass line, come to the Globe and enjoy.