In our most recent Phantom Limbs, we discussed the unproduced third and fourth seasons of Scream: The TV Series with showrunners Michael Gans and Richard Register. In the course of our chat, the writers revealed that they had previous experience with the material, having written and produced a musical version of the original Wes Craven film for the stage. Being fans of the writers, Scream, and musicals in general, this writer simply couldn’t let this revelation pass without further conversation.
So! For all of you Scream fanatics out there, please enjoy the following glimpse into this wild stage musical version of a slasher classic.
Long before Mr. Gans and Mr. Register would take the reins of MTV’s Scream, the duo had originally pitched a Broadway musical version of the original film to the studio who held the rights to the beloved horror franchise. Explains Gans: “The Weinstein Company had said, ‘Come in and take a meeting with us if you want to do a musical.’ So we came in and pitched that, and they were very pleased that we had chosen [Scream] from their catalogue, because it was during a slow period for the franchise. They weren’t making any movies. It was before 4 came out.”
“The music that we pitched to them, we were thinking like a Trent Reznor score,” reveals Register of their initial approach.
Gans notes that while they had pitched for a Broadway show, they’d hoped that their musical take on the material would circle back to the story’s original medium. “Hopefully they would adapt it to film, because everybody wants that! But it was built for the stage. It was an immersive theatrical experience designed for a huge Broadway house where you would have come into this place that was shrouded in black silk, where the [Ghostface mask] would actually be shot and appear on the walls. It was very Grand Guignol, if you will. A very beautiful, bloody, exotic stage show.”
“We had some very interesting stagecraft and blood effects,” teases Register, making one wonder just how gory this musical might have been.
In addition to the blood and stage effects, Gans notes that their adaptation would have found an interesting way to meld musical tropes into the story that we all know and love. “There was a second act open with everyone who had died in the previous portion of the movie, swinging on these giant stained glass windows as the saints of the material. It was really kind of brilliant. And [The Weinstein Company] was very in favor of it.”
Unfortunately, even for the warm reception it received, the project failed to make it to Broadway. “The company very much changed right away after that,” explains Gans. “We went to a certain point in the negotiations and discussing it, just pitching it to them. They seemed in favor of it, and there was like 500 people in that last meeting. But what ended up happening is that the company flew into to pieces, and Disney bought it, and it changed. It never carried on in that form.”
Nevertheless, you can’t keep a good idea down, as the writers’ Scream musical would eventually find life in a different venue. “So in LA, I went to the Rockwell one night,” Gans recalls of the now closed supper club. “Kate Pazakis, who ran the room, said ‘Do you want to do a musical?’ I said, ‘Yeah, but we don’t have time to do that.’ They had wanted us to do Back to the Future or something, and I said, ‘We can’t do that, but we have this treatment of Scream as a musical.’”
Register notes that Pazakis wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. “She invited us to a show at Rockwell and announced that night that they were going to be doing ‘The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Scream, written and directed by Michael Gans and Richard Register,’ and pointed to us in the audience. She roped us in, live, right there at Rockwell Table and Stage.”
“And the rest is kind of history,” says Gans.
The history being that the resulting musical proved to be a hit for the club. “The first year, it was so successful it ran all the way through the end of the year,” laughs Gans. “There were Christmas decorations in the background of Billy attempting to kill Sidney. It was really crazy.”
So what exactly did this musical take on Scream entail? “It was a live stage show,” Gans says, “with a soundtrack that matched the show, plus numbers that would have been heard on KROQ at the time the movie was made in ’96. Songs those high schoolers would have heard on the radio driving to Stu’s house.”
“Stuff like No Doubt and Guns N’ Roses,” Register adds.
“The second season at Rockwell was a huge hit,” Gans continues. “A lot of actors that were in the show got gigs from doing it. Tom Lenk was in it, he was really good. Sarah Hyland from Modern Family…”
“She played Sydney Prescott,” Register says, “and actually has a kickass singing voice.”
The two also reveal such noteworthy stage performers as Gwen Hollander, Ben Schrader, Alex Ellis, Carly Jibson, Lindsay Heather Pearce, John Flynn and Jonah Platt (as Billy Loomis) filled out the play’s roster. “Just a really, really good cast,” Gans says. “It was a brilliant, crazy freakshow.” In addition, Brian Kennedy was the musical director the first run. “He did the brilliant arrangements,” says Register. “And Alex Georgakis took over as Musical Director the second run. He collaborated on an original opening number with Kevin Chamberlin, along with us.”
“And it was rock,” Register points out. Indeed, the musical had a five-piece rock band, who “really rocked the room there,” laughs Gans.
“It was the first in a series of unauthorized parody musicals that they did there for years,” Gans adds. “They ended up doing many, including Jurassic Park and The Devil Wears Prada and other ones that were not as crazy, but we only did [Scream]. And it was during the course of the second season of the musical that we got [Scream: The TV Series].
“The whole take on it was, these movies are like religion for people like us, and you lived them like a bible. So there was an element of it being like a passion play devoted to the work of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, and the making of this movie.”
“Every element had to be perfect,” Register notes.
“It was matched identically,” adds Gans. “So when you did it at the nightclub, it really looked like sort of inspirational performance in a strange sort of fanatical church.”
Register laughs. “Michael and I were dressed in robes and carrying these bibles, but it was actually the script of [Scream].”
In finishing up our discussion on the musical, Gans and Register reveal that, for its many fans, one hoped-for attendant sadly never made it to the show. Gans explains: “Neve Campbell wouldn’t come to the show! We heard she was afraid that we were going to make fun of her. She didn’t know that we were -“
“Completely lauding her,” Register adds.
“Blessing her, sanctifying her for all time,” Gans laughs.
Even though the film franchise’s Final Girl didn’t make it to a performance, another Scream icon did manage to catch one of the shows. “Kevin Williamson did come to see it,” says Gans. “And loved it! We were kind of exalting him. The direction was ‘Don’t mock it, exalt it!’ Respect it. Treat it like you love it.”
While The Unauthorized Musical Parody of Scream at the Rockwell played its last show many a moon ago, and the Rockwell Table & Stage club has since shuttered its doors, the Scream franchise was recently resurrected with a successful fifth film installment (with a sixth on the way). With interest in the series on the rise again, fingers crossed here that we might yet see Scream make it to Broadway some day soon, hopefully with Gans and Register at the helm.
And for those who would like to build their own Unauthorized Musical Parody of Scream playlist, Messrs. Gans and Register kindly provided the following track list for fans to peruse:
Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream) – The Icicle Works
Don’t Fear the Reaper – Blue Öyster Cult
Bitch – Meredith Brooks
Killing Me Softly with His Song – Roberta Flack/Fugees
Criminal – Fiona Apple
Don’t Speak – No Doubt
Stupid Girl – Garbage
Schools Out for Summer – Alice Cooper
Red Right Hand – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
I’ll Make Love to You – Boys II Men
Creep – Radiohead
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan / Guns N’ Roses
Live and Let Die – Paul and Linda McCartney
Very special thanks to Michael Gans and Richard Register for their time and insights.