‘Teeth’ Off Broadway Review: Vagina Dentata Makes Her Long-Awaited Stage Debut

The 2007 cult movie is now a new musical that sings (as well as bites)

"Teeth," off broadway cast
"Teeth," off broadway cast

The new musical “Teeth” owes less to its source material, Mitchell Lichtenstein’s 2007 cult film of the same title, than it does to Brian De Palma’s “Carrie,” based on Stephen King’s first best-seller. Once again, female sexuality is something for men to fear. In “Carrie,” a teenage girl’s menstruation causes her to go on a murderous rampage. In “Teeth,” a teenage girl’s vagina causes her to go on a murderous rampage, because she’s got incisors and molars down there. “Teeth,” the new musical, had its world premiere Tuesday at Playwrights Horizons.

Where Anna K. Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s book for the musical borrows most from “Carrie” is a teacher-father character called Pastor (Steven Pasquale). In Lichtenstein’s film, he’s a minor character with no real religious affiliation. In the stage musical, he’s the character that leads a bunch of Evangelical students to prize their virginity above all else. Think Piper Laurie in De Palma’s “Carrie,” and you’ve got Pastor.

Except Pasquale’s father isn’t funny, whereas Laurie’s mother is a laugh riot. Clearly, Jacobs and Jackson want to stick it to the religious right in America, but they completely lose their sense of humor with Pastor. Their unadulterated anger is most apparent in a song where the character catches his son (William Connolly) jerking off and savagely whips him with a belt. It takes the musical several scenes to get back on the comedy track.

Pasquale recovers most successfully when he ditches Pastor to play an overly friendly gynecologist whom Dawn (Alyse Alan Louis), the show’s Vagina Dentata, visits after she has accidentally castrated her boyfriend (Jason Gotay). The scene is lifted from Lichtenstein’s script but enhanced immeasurably by replicating the “Dentist!” number from “Little Shop of Horrors.” Jackson’s lyrics are delightfully sadistic and Jacobs’ music channels what sounds like Greek soft shoe.

Also wonderful is their creation of a character not in the movie. Dawn now has a gay best friend, Ryan (Jared Loftin), who makes the tragic mistake of switching teams. Jacobs and Jackson give their very best one-liners to the emotionally and sexually conflicted Ryan, and Loftin knows just what to do with them.

Otherwise, how funny you find a bunch of male characters being castrated during sexual intercourse may depend on whether you have a penis or not. At the performance I attended, there was a distinctively soprano edge to the whoops of joy whenever Dawn held up a bloodied dildo, as if it were Olympic gold. Frankly, I found none of these murders as funny as the scene in Lichtenstein’s movie where Dawn feeds a detached penis to her victim’s pet dog. I also missed the scene where doctors attempt to re-attach a small member to its owner but aren’t sure it’s “worth the trouble.”

But getting back to “Carrie,” the stage musical “Teeth” ends in a similar inferno, with Dawn in full warrior mode, a dead-ringer for Sissy Spacek at the prom. There’s also a lot of real fire on the set designed by Adam Rigg. It’s visually impressive but also too literal, throwing a bucket of water on the humor. Something tackier, like crepe-paper flames, might have been more fun. Nothing kills a laugh like showing too much effort. The visual cheapness of “Titanique” is key to that Off Broadway musical’s phenomenal success.

The very uneven direction of “Teeth” is by Sarah Benson.


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