Stage Fright is a spirited stab to revive the musical genre through comedy and horror. And thankfully, Jerome Sable’s game attempt at directing such a film satisfies his audience. Call it a yuk-yuck sort of flick.
If a filmmaker isn’t working with cartoons or with Disney, it’s a daunting task for someone to make a musical from scratch. Musicals are – sadly – a tough sell in this day and age. Even if the filmmaker loves musicals themselves, elaborating the numbers to work on a silver screen while ducking corny traps is a challenge in itself. For that, Sable at least gains our appreciation. If Stage Fright was a failure, movie goers could at least admire his perseverance. Hell, haters of Repo! The Genetic Opera can look at Darren Lynn Bousman and at least give him “props”.
Stage Fright isn’t a failure though, and that’s where Sable punches through the stratosphere of doubt. His film is throughly enjoyable and makes great use out of amusing melodies (written by him and Eli Battalion).
The film takes place in a theatre camp during Summer vacation. Buses roll onto the dewy property, and kids of all ages tumble out. They can barely contain their excitement which means – you guessed it – they erupt into song. After a hilarious intro to these eccentric theatre lovers, they instantly start anticipating the Summer’s chosen play.
The chosen play brings controversy to the camp. The Haunting of the Opera was hyped and praised by crowds before its leading female was murdered after a sold-out performance. After that shock, The Haunting of the Opera was referred to as a cursed work, and never performed again.
The daughter of the victim, Camilla (played by Allie MacDonald), has since grown up and has been working in the camp’s kitchen. When news graces her ears of the play’s resurgence, she hops at the chance to nab the lead role.
The best moments of Stage Fright happen during The Haunting of the Opera’s blooming period. There are some funny digs at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and some visual similarities to popular horrors in order to stimulate the rest of the audience who came for a slasher film.
It’s a shame the performance’s construction is portrayed through a montage. We see days fly by and campers whittle away at their assigned tasks. I would’ve loved if Sable’s script took more time in between to poke at the behind-the-scenes process. Movie goers could’ve established a more malleable relationship to the film’s central play. We’re already entertained with the director’s choice to add a Kabuki twist on his re-imagining of The Haunting of the Opera. Sable could’ve relished in showing theatrical differences coming to a head between the conceited director and performers committed to the original material.
But, the production zooms on by and – voila – it’s opening night. The camp’s manager Roger (an experienced Broadway producer played by a moustached Meat Loaf) watches nearby as his ideal play starts falling apart at the seams. Little does he know the curse has followed the play, and now, a masked killer is reigning havoc.
Stage Fright works better as a comedy or a musical than a horror, but I think Sable is fine with that. The scarier segments are there to add more of an edge on his movie. We’re never frightened but since these creepy scenes aren’t afraid to get gory or campy, they work as exceptional action beats for the movie. They pump up the pacing quite well and the killer’s rock vocals are dynamite.
Speaking of edginess though, modern musicals often have a mindset devoted to building a future cult following. The aforementioned Repo! The Genetic Opera is full-on guilty of this by pushing itself to extreme levels, and it actually succeeded in finding a crowd who will love it forever.
Stage Fright doesn’t push itself for those desires, which is refreshing. However, while it accomplishes its goals, Stage Fright doesn’t leave enough of a stamp to claim it as something infinitely memorable. Audiences will have a ball watching Jermoe Sable’s hybrid, but the film itself may have a discouraging struggle to gain resonance for future Halloweens or sleep-over parties.