Horror may not be the most prevalent genre on stage, but several plays and musicals have attempted to send audiences home in fright. Learn about a few below!
Shakespeare’s works are filled with sinister, supernatural and blood-thirsty characters, but perhaps none more so than Macbeth–a play surrounded by so much superstition, many theater professionals consider it bad luck to utter the play’s title in a theater. When three witches prophesize that general Macbeth will be crowned king, their vision drives Macbeth into a murderous melee for the throne. Many famous leading men have played the title role on Broadway including Patrick Stewart, Christopher Plummer, Alan Cumming, Ethan Hawke, Kelsey Grammer and F. Murray Abraham.
Before Bela Lugosi immortalized Bram Stoker’s legendary bloodsucker on film, he terrorized theater audiences in a 1927 stage version of Stoker’s novel. A nurse armed with smelling salts was even stationed in the lobby of Broadway’s Fulton Theater to revive fainting theatergoers. Dracula descended on Broadway again in 2004, this time in a short-lived musical version. Vampires have been the focus of several other Broadway musicals including 2002’s Dance of the Vampires and 2006’s Lestat.
The Rocky Horror Show
Loosely inspired by Frankenstein, the cult rock ‘n’ roll musical finds straight-laced couple Brad Majors and Janet Weiss swept up in the deviant world Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his odd gang of alien admirers. Forty years after the release of the musical’s film adaptation, audiences are still doing the “Time Warp” at midnight showings across the country, including ones at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, which holds monthly screenings.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Seeking revenge on the judge who wrongfully imprisoned him, deranged barber Sweeney Todd teams up with local pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett, who has the gruesome idea of baking Sweeney’s victims into her entrees. Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical received the Tony Award for Best Musical and was adapted into a 2007 film from Hollywood’s macabre masters Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.
Famed playwright Sidney Bruhl suffers from a crippling case of writer’s block, until he meets Clifford Anderson, a student whose new play is sure to be a box office success. Sidney invites Clifford to his remote cottage in an attempt to murder the young playwright and claim his work as his own. The show was a smash on Broadway, running for four years. Deathtrap was also adapted into a 1982 film starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve and was recently revived in London’s West End.
Little Shop of Horrors
Inspired by the 1960 horror comedy B-movie of the same name, the Little Shop of Horrors musical infuses the tale of nebbish florist Seymour Krelborn with toe-tapping tunes reminiscent of the Motown era. When Seymour acquires a unique looking plant at a mysterious market, he soon discovers that not only can the plant talk, but it’s developed a taste for human flesh. The musical ran off-Broadway for more than five years and Frank Oz directed a 1986 film adaptation.
The Woman in Black
Adapted from Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black has haunted London audiences with its chilling ghost story for 25 years and counting. A businessman visiting the secluded mansion of a recently deceased client encounters a mysterious figure that may be responsible for tragic events that have struck the local townspeople. Daniel Radcliffe starred in a 2012 film adaptation.
The Phantom of the Opera
With over 11,500 performances under its belt, Broadway’s longest-running musical continues to haunt audiences with its story of the gruesome masked menace and his obsessive pursuit of beautiful singer Christine Daaé. Each performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical uses more than 500 pounds of dry ice and 10 fog and smoke machines to create the eerie underworld of the Phantom’s lair.
Tormented telekinetic teen Carrie White wreaks havoc on her high school wrong-doers in a musical adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. The 1988 musical ran for only five performances and became notorious among theater circles as one of Broadway’s most high profile flops. In 2012, the musical’s creative team reworked much of the show at off-Broadway’s MCC Theater. The new version has since played regional theaters across the country including Bailiwick Chicago.
A musical spoof of the Oscar-winning thriller The Silence of the Lambs, Silence! brings the morbid story of cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter to the stage complete with a singing chorus of lambs, a dream ballet sequence and over-the-top Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins impressions. Several other horror films recently received the musical parody treatment such as The Evil Dead, The Re-Animator and The Toxic Avenger.
National Theatre of Great Britain and director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire) brought Mary Shelley’s novel to electrifying life in a much-lauded stage adaptation of the horror tale. Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game) and Johnny Lee Miller (Elementary) alternated in the roles of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his monster, making the play one of London’s hottest tickets in 2011.
The devil descended upon Los Angeles in 2012 when The Exorcist, based on the popular film and novel about a priest battling a demon who has taken over the soul of a young girl, hit the Geffen Playhouse. Brooke Shields starred as the possessed girl’s mother.