With backgrounds in musicals The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Phantom of the Opera, it’s no wonder that both Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver chose to star in the musical slasher Stage Fright, a piece which promises to combine music and gore to chilling effect. Combining all of the upbeat musicality of Glee with the bloody brutality of Scream, Stage Fright follows the Broadway ambitions of young-teen Camilla Swansong as she embarks on a journey towards bright lights and fame. Working in a performing arts camp to fund her dream, she soon lands her dream role. When rehearsals begin, however, blood begins to be shed and it is not long until Camilla finds herself on the receiving end of some much unwanted attention.
Described as an operatic bloodfest by critics, Stage Fright was scored by director duo Jerome Sable and Eli Batalion. Their longtime pairing marks an extended run of experimentalism in as many artistic fields as it is possible to think of. Hopping across multiple platforms such as hip hop, latin, jazz and pop, the artistic duo are certainly not afraid of the unknown, a fact which perhaps makes them the perfect pairing to drive Stage Fright. Speaking of the creation process, Sable stated how he and Batalion “were like Doctor Moreau on his island, performing vivisections on the classical orchestra using a heavy metal band for the knife”. Visceral imagery indeed. In fact, experimentation seems to have been the leading force behind the pairing, with Batalion claiming that in the strangeness of the sounds, they “expect that most listeners will be terrified”.
The soundtrack is initially steeped in traditional musical fare; the soaring soprano, sweeping strings and offbeat lyrics would not sound out of place on the modern Broadway stage. What is not apparent is whether or not Stable and Batalion’s kitsch sound is purposeful. Cue ‘Where We Belong’, for example, sounds as if it has been directly lifted from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with little effect. In the opening numbers, it is unclear whether or not the duo are poking fun at the potential one dimensionality of such a film musical or if they intend to lead their work down the already worn path of past productions. There is initially little sign of the heavy metal orchestration Stable and Batalion so eagerly promised; before things become dark in the plot, the music is orchestral and often blandly so.
From time to time, the soundtrack promises more. The opening moments of cue ‘The Revival’ contain strings which scratch nicely into a short piano ostinato. Whilst the melodic idea is not developed further, it certainly shows promise for what is to come later. There is a brief respite in cue ‘Tension and Relief’, which works as much needed musical relief in the often over bright sound of the rest of the score. Rooted in the slow shifts of cool jazz, the music is a painfully brief reminder of the kind of music Sable and Batalion are capable of.
While the music does eventually deliver on its promise of a darker, dirtier sound, it is unbalanced by the presence of the over-the-top kitschness in the rest of the soundtrack. Although guitar reverbs and distortions do build to screaming heights, the sound is somehow flat, as if Sable and Batalion are not giving it their all. Referencing musicals from Jesus Christ Superstar to The Phantom of the Opera, the music feels as if its sole purpose is to poke fun at what has come before in musical theatre, rather than creating anything truly lasting. Whilst the soundtrack certainly has its interesting moments - in the repeated off-key piano ostinato, for example - these are few and far between. Sable and Batalion are obviously multi-talented artists but in their attempt to make the horror musical comedic, they fall somewhat short.