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A group of women with their hands up

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Jenna Rose Husli, Wren Rivera, Alyse Alan Louis, Phoenix Best, and Helen J Shen (Photo: Chelcie Parry)



By David Schultz


Who could have guessed that a grade B horror flick could be transmogrified into a musical? With Teeth, Anna K. Jacobs (Book & Music) and Michael R. Jackson (Book & Lyrics) have done just that, with decidedly mixed results.

Vagina Dentata (Latin for "toothed vagina") describes a folk belief in which a woman's vagina is said to contain teeth, with the associated implication that sexual intercourse might result in injury, emasculation, or castration for the man involved. These folk stories are often told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of unknown women and to discourage rape.


What better time to feature this ancient myth than now, with our current #MeToo movement, adding a musical score to the mix. On paper it sounds intriguing, riffing off the original 2007 horror flick directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein.


For most of the evening, Teeth has an irreverent, profane vibe, like a sacrilegious amusement park ride poking fun at the evangelical Christian community that it portrays with withering snark. The musical follows the young people of a cloistered town named Eden, in particular, Dawn (Alyse Alan Louis) who prizes her virginity. She is the de facto leader of a church youth group led by her pastor stepfather (Stephen Pasquale) and keeps company with her fellow Promise Keeper Girls - all vowing to not be led astray.

Dawn's moody stepbrother Brad (Will Connolly) lurks about, brooding on a past indiscretion with Dawn that gives a sly hint to what will follow, and joins an online group called Truthseekers who whine about the "feminocracy". Dawn's hunky boyfriend Toby (Jason Gotay), also paying lipservice to chastity, is a constant temptation to Dawn. But she holds steadfast to her purity. Then there's the in-the-closet gay pal, Ryan (Jared Loftin), who posts explicit videos of himself online, yet later attempts to connect with his inner straight persona.


Much of the early section of this musical is jokey and filled with excessively X-rated lyrics spun through with shockingly melodic music. The audience is primed, not unlike the film Jaws, waiting queasily for the moment when the teeth open up to take their first bite.


A person and person on a stage

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Alyse Alan Louis and Jason Gotay. (Photo: Chelcie Parry)

It finally happens when Dawn and Toby attempt to rebaptize their pledge of chastity in a lake. They coyly kiss, then their passions are aroused as desire overwhelms Toby and he gets closer; his erection rubs ever so closer and he enters her, creating a hitherto unknown pleasure for both. Right then, her vagina dentata snaps into place with the first (of many) penis chopper moments. The ensuing violent repercussions spiral into more dark parody that is fueled by the increasingly manic choreography by Raja Feather Kelly.

In a knowing nod to the Dentist episode in Little Shop of Horrors, gynecologist Dr. Godfrey (again Mr. Pasquale) gives our heroine a much-needed exam to see what is "under her hood." That gleeful razzmatazz number, both sinister and oddly amusing, ends -- you guessed it -- with another dismembered member.

As the last thirty minutes rolls to its fiery conclusion, the musical leans into its excesses and goes out of control. The other young girls in the chastity group, alarmingly, grow their own inner teeth and go on a rampage. The thinly veiled connections to the ancient Greek dramas Lysistrata and The Bacchae are suddenly laid bare.

The fun and wifty comedic sense of what came before dissipates and the demonic hellscape of the final moments are shown in bold relief. Fire & brimstone indeed. Walls collapse; real fire erupts onstage. These girls have grown their intimate desires and their teeth exponentially. There is no going back. No man is safe.

Minimalist set design by Adam Rigg features a red area with an oblong platform that rises and lowers. In the background glows a neon cross that changes color to match the sensual heat of the young people. In one scene, that platform lowers even further to become the misty, dark shrouded lake that will jump start the events of Dawn's doom-laden experience. 

A group of people on a stage

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Courtney Bassett, Helen J. Shen, Lexi Rhoades, Alyse Alan Louis, Wren Rivera, Phoenix Best, and Jenna Rose Husli (Photo: Chelcie Parry)

Lighting design by Jane Cox and Stacey Derosier appropriately plays with glaring light and darkness when sinister moments rear their heads, shielding our eyes from seeing in full the bloodied men's members as they are held aloft and then flung about.

Costume design by Enver Chakartash dresses the girls in modest attire that transforms into garish, goth-inspired garb in its final hellish scenes - they are now dressed as the vestal virgin acolytes of Vagina Dentata herself, the Goddess of Dismemberment.

Director Sarah Benson initially has a sure grip on the inherent black comedy of the early scenes, but the frantic, manic conclusion seems rushed to make its point in a heavily political statement that contradicts all the fun that started the evening in the first place.

Most likely the audience attending this vagina dentata musical will have strong stomachs and a wily, demented sense of humor. The production has had an underground swelling of a cult-like following and is on its second extension. This evil spawn of a show, comingling of aspects of Carrie and Little Shop of Horrors, goes way over the top with its girl-power-teeth mythology.

At this point -- or way before it -- one either goes along for the ride or has made a hasty exit. The fact that the production has been extended twice speaks volumes. Cult hit status has already reared its head. Men, guard your gonads! For the fainthearted stay home. Other, more daring patrons can and should pony up and see what most likely to be the most talked about off-Broadway show of the spring season.



Playwrights Horizons Main Stage

416 West 42nd Street

(212) 564-1235

Through April 28th