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Theater Review (Milan): Profondo Posso Il Musical with the Supervision of Dario Argento at Teatro Smeraldo

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Profondo Rosso Il Musical, or Deep Red The Musical, is based on the cult film of the same name by the Italian master of horror films, Dario Argento. The film was released in 1975 and by the standard of the times in Italy it was considered terrifying. It featured a killer doll, decapitation, creepy music, mysterious circumstances, ghouls, violent deaths, and plenty of blood.

The only thing scary about Deep Red The Musical is that it was attempted at all. Sorry to say, but it is pretty misguided.

Theater pieces can make good films (sometimes) but not vice versa. There is really no way to duplicate the camera, the close-up, the editing of a film, or to try to translate a horror film, especially one from the 1970s, when we have had much scarier and bloodier films since. A killer doll was scary then, but not now, after “Chucky” in Childs Play.

What is also missing here is any sense of humor. Great horror always has some humor. For example, some of my favorite lines from the Karloff Frankenstein movies are when the doctor says, “This heart is no good, get me another,” and when the police chief sticks his darts in his prosthetic arm and later says about the escape of Frankenstein, “This is monstrous.” Here humor balances the horror to make it more palatable. Even in the original movie Profondo Rosso, Argento has his two leading characters get into laughable conversations about the relative strengths of men and women, while there is a killer lose. The banal makes the horror scarier.

I knew we were in trouble when, in true Italian fashion, the curtain went up 45 minutes late. Theater there seems to start whenever, though the opera is on time. This version of the story concerns a rock musician who is plucked from the audience and gets involved in a series of murders. The main plot question is who is the murderer. Michel Altieri, a musical theater star who was discovered by Pavarotti, plays the lead, Mark. He comes onstage, much anticipated, and then doesn’t sing for another 40 minutes. Instead we get dialogue from the movie that seems to go on forever. Altieri finally gets to sing a few numbers, but when he does, the sound is so loud and has so much reverb on it that you can't really tell what he sounds like.

The music is by Claudio Simonette, the composer of the incidental music for the movie and other Argento films. Here he merely expands on the music from the film. Caped characters in masks do most of the singing, ghouls I guess, surrounded by dancers doing jerky, angular modern dance. I think it was supposed to be scary, but it was not. We didn’t know or care who these folks were. Songs in musicals are supposed to further the action, but here the music seemed arbitrary.

Dario Argento was the artistic supervisor of the show. He believed he could replace the horror of a movie with the only theatrical form that approached terror, Grand Guignol. This was a theatrical tradition from France which died in the 1960s when movies proved to do a better job of providing thrills. Grand Guignol always had excesses of blood (think Sweeney Todd the movie) and some humor as well. I recently saw an attempt to revive the tradition. Nails were pounded into skulls and blood was everywhere. I understand why that form of theater was abandoned: it now looks quaint, and rather campy.

Not so Deep Red The Musical. It takes itself far too seriously, the acting styles are hyper-dramatic, and there is no blood. In the movie we get a decapitation, but the only thing we get in this musical is one of the characters staggering on stage with an obviously fake hatchet in the back, and lots of empty stabbing gestures by those ghouls.  A lot of money seems to have been spent for naught. And ultimately it is a lesson on what not to do. Maybe Disney money and special effects might have helped, but the text, the music, the production, are as lame as that hatchet in the back.

For all that, it must be said that the original movie still holds some chills, and its cult status is easily understood. Go rent the movie. At Teatro Smeraldo in Milan through May 19. Tickets available through TicketOne.it or by calling 892,101 in Milan.

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