When CARNEVIL: A Gothic Horror Rock Musical opens at Sacred Fools Theater in Los Angeles on September 16, Michael Teoli will see his worlds collide. The Boston-bred film composer who graduated from Berklee College of Music may be classically trained but he's also been strongly influenced by post '89 Depeche Mode and Goth bands like Blue Angel and Wumpscut. For him it's all about fusing the different genres and worlds together.
Teoli says, "At the time I started writing CARNEVIL I was involved in the L.A. Goth community and I would frequent clubs like Malediction Society and Release the Bats. I really felt at home in that world with the music and the people and that aesthetic. I've also always been a big horror buff and loved carnivals, and as a film and theatre composer I really wanted to bring all these worlds together."
"We're putting a new spin on the genres," he explains. "There have been horror-related musicals before but they usually lean toward the comedy horror or camp side, and we've made a conscious choice not to go in that direction. CARNEVIL has its share of laughs, but it's a much darker world; more along the lines of Wes Craven or Dario Argento or Tobe Hooper. We're keeping that fear in the mix and in order to make it work it really has to have a different musical sound than you'd expect. You'll hear a lot of my influences, everything from the Beatles to Pink Floyd to Audioslave, so the music falls somewhere between progressive rock and a more electronic dark wave sound."
CARNEVIL was born in 2009 in the Sacred Fools' popular late-night Serial Killers series where writers bring in short episodes of a piece and the audience votes at the end of the night which pieces will be" killed off" and which will continue on to the next week. Teoli found it to be a stimulating environment within which to develop his musical.
"Serial Killers is a really great outlet to workshop new ideas and new work. You can do any kind of material you want but 95% of what's done is comedic, and I really wanted to do something that wasn't. It still has comedy in it but the story was darker. It's about discovering and accepting who we are, the dark secrets we have, and how that darkness affects those around us.
We ran five weeks and started to attract a following because the material was so different. The challenge for me was how fast I had to write because we were basically doing a new mini rock opera every week. Not only did I write a new story and music and rehearsed it with the actors, but I also recorded all the tracks that we'd be singing to as well."
Following Serial Killers, Brandon Clark, one of the show's current producers and a Sacred Fools company member, offered Teoli a slot in their "Summer Camp" series so Teoli expanded it and found that his audience kept getting bigger. It was right after this concert that he began working with his current bookwriter, Joe Fria, on further development of the show.
"Joe is a good friend of mine and played the role of Danny in both the Serial Killers episodes and CARNEVIL in Concert, and he also shared a love of musicals and horror movies so it was a perfect match. Together we've completely rewritten it for this current Sacred Fools production. It's very different than the original show...it still has some of the original characters and some of the music remains but the actual story is very different. Joe and I started working on it right after the concert in 2009 so it's actually been a two year process with many drafts and revisions.
We've focused in on the psychological horror in the story and we're really happy with where the story has gone. There are a lot of moving parts to it. We have an animator working on a scene. There's a scene where everyone is in a drum circle so we have a percussion coach. We're creating puppets and we also have magic. Handsome Jack from the Magic Castle is our magic consultant and he's been working with some of our cast members. The blood element is really fun too. What I've seen is pretty impressive."
Teoli's director/choreographer for CARNEVIL is Janet Roston, who is also no stranger to his style of storytelling. They worked together previously on his darkly comedic TONYA AND NANCY: THE ROCK OPERA, about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. "We've done two stints in Boston and we literally just got back from doing it at A.R.T. in Boston and the next day we went into the first CARNEVIL rehearsal so it's been a little crazy."
Not bad for a guy whose grandfather was a concert violinist, which might explain Teoli's own diverse musical interests. "I've always been into orchestral music and my grandfather was a concert master for a local orchestra. I knew for a fact that music would be my job and my life when I was in seventh grade and I became unhealthily obsessed with the Beatles. There was no question after that. I graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in contemporary writing and production and then moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing for film and theatre."