Reviewed by Marc Wheeler
Hollyweird gets a sweet lick of a glitter-coated nightmare in Ghoulmaster’s Haunted Playhouse, the wonderwork of Ghoulmaster himself, Pete Carter, and his ragtag band of misfits now haunting the halls of the Hudson Theatres.
Fresh on the heels (make that platform boots) of an annual stint at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Fright Fest where Ghoulmaster’s Ghosts gave Jersey theme park attendees a flashy Halloween spectacle, Ghoulmaster now brings his new World Premiere theatrical lovechild — the seeming spawn of Pee-wee’s Playhouse and The Rocky Horror Show — to an intimate staged setting, making his bumps-in-the-night mounting quite an impressive, over-the-top feat.
The plot is minimal. Ghoulmaster, an androgynous Marilyn Manson-esque goth-rocker, and his ghoulish friends kill time in their creepy, cobweb-laced Victorian mansion awaiting the arrival of a piece of mail which contains the written recipe for a magical formula that’s said to bring forth the thrilling terror of Halloween worldwide. Yes, dear friends, Halloween’s apparently in jeopardy this year now that the Ghoulmaster-entrusted, holiday-conjuring vial of potion that normally brings tidings of good fear has dripped its last drops.
Stretched over 90 minutes, Ghoulmaster’s Haunted Playhouse is an uneven, though mostly entertaining, brew. Original glam-rock dance songs set to fierce and sultry choreography (clear tributes to Michael Jackson and Britney Spears) are true highlights of the show. Anti-bullying messages of empowerment (as rapped in the verse ”You say I’m a faggot, as if that’s a bad thing”) embolden audiences to be their authentic, if freak-flag-flying, selves. Likewise, a lavish set, lighting and sound design mixed with a spectacular array of costumes (top hats, corsets and skintight leather abound) enhanced with stunning make-up make this blood-stained circus a delectable feast for the senses.
Performances range from mediocre to affecting, with Luca Nicora’s creepy butler Grimwall and Charles Convery’s increasingly-postal, hilarious Mailman being notable supporting standouts. Sarah Wines, Lauren Avon, Bre Lyle, Heather Mackay, Sarah Louise, Devin Freeman, Joanne Pollitt Evans and Sam Centrella round the cast as dancing sex-kittens and ill-fated ghouls whose varied acting-chopped performances shine brightest — make that darkest, ye creatures of the night — during the many high-energy dance sequences. Carter’s gratifying Ghoulmaster is often hypnotic and entrancing when his script is at its most compelling.
Concurrently, uninspired scenes featuring unnecessary backstories and aimless dialogue all too often slow the momentum of an otherwise trick-or-treat-filled extravaganza. Sporadic attempts at comedy unfortunately land more duds than zingers upping the groan-to-laughter ratio (an elongated bit about not wanting to lend out a prized piano because “I ain’t no organ donor” being a fitting example), though laugh-out-loud moments fortunately survive. With unrefined ingredients clouding the cauldron, a possible trimming or reworking could help hone Ghoulmaster’s ambitious vision which currently remains a bit unclear. That being said, there’s more than enough to enjoy in this audacious, outré soufflé of freakish, nightmarish merriment.
Ghoulmaster’s Haunted Playhouse is written and directed by Pete Carter (”Ghoulmaster”) and Charles Convery, with production by 1984 Entertainment, LLC. Grant Goldsmith is stage manager. Charles Convery is scenic designer. Laney Chantal White is make-up artist. Santino Noir, Teddy Blackmore, Brett Line, PJ9K and Mike Douaire provide original score.
If you like your Halloween laced with nostalgic, kitschy kink, this commendable curiosity is worth the look-see. Be sure to “dress to depress,” leave the lil’ ghouls at home and have a phantasmic time!
Learn more about Ghoulmaster: ghoulmaster.com