stage fright

Oh, the horror! From gay vampires to shirtless psychos, 13 monstrous musicals

From left, Josh Groban in "Sweeney Todd," Kyle Patrick in "American Psycho," and Norm Lewis in "The Phantom of the Opera."
From left, Josh Groban in “Sweeney Todd,” Kyle Patrick in “American Psycho,” and Norm Lewis in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

While countless queers are putting together their Halloween drag in anticipation of the holiday known as “Gay Christmas,” many will have showtunes playing in the background. And why not? If there are two things stereotypically true about the LGBTQ+ community, it’s that we largely: a) love a good musical, and b) can’t wait for Halloween. Put the two together, and you have a recipe for a Transylvania circuit party.

Why do queer people love horror and musicals so much? Perhaps it’s because the heroes and anti-heroes in horror stories reflect our own experiences as outcasts. And maybe we like musicals because they reflect our deep-seated optimism. And what lies at the intersection of optimism and anomie? A horror musical, of course.

In celebration of a “Gay Christmas” month that has a Friday the 13th (something that just happened last week and only happens every 11 years!), Queerty has compiled a chilling list of our favorite horror-themed musicals—the good, the bad, and the parody.

Sweeney Todd: The Demond Barber of Fleet Street

Lust, revenge, and accidental cannibalism: what’s not to love?! With five onstage throat slashings and a lush score by Stephen Sondheim, it’s tough to find a better horror musical than Sweeney Todd. It’s probably why, 45 years after its debut, the musical is packing Broadway’s Lunt Fontanne Theater eight times a week with a top-flight revival starring Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford.

The Rocky Horror Show

Many a queer Gen X teen first found their tribe at a midnight showing of the film version of this loving send-up of grade-B sci-fi and horror flicks. With a pansexual antihero, gold lamé bikini-clad title character, and every gender convention blurred, it has been a must for repeat viewings since first debuting on stage a half-century ago, including the 2000 Broadway revival co-starring a hunky Sebastian LaCause as Rocky and Lea DeLaria as Dr. Scott/Eddie.

The Phantom of the Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber achieved the impossible when he successfully married romance and horror in his 1987 global hit version of Gaston Leroux’s story of passion and obsession. And before you write off the title character as a lightweight, remember that he strangles a stagehand and crushes an audience of unsuspecting operagoers under a heavy chandelier. And that’s just in Act One!

Jekyll & Hyde

A show that takes itself too seriously from the downbeat until it peaks with an unintentionally hilarious duet involving both title characters played by a single actor. Known best for composer Frank Wildhorn’s sweeping anthems suited more for being played in competitive ice-skating rinks than gritty 19th-century London, the show is a hit with certain segments of Broadway fans. Your aunt from New Jersey probably loves it.

Little Shop of Horrors

This is the ultimate musical for any queer kid who was ever shoved into a locker by bullies in middle school. Set to a pop/doo-wop score by Alan Menken (and adapted to a film in 1986), Little Shop of Horrors answers the question: who hasn’t, at one time or another, wanted to throw their romantic rival or abusive boss into a man-eating plant? The recent Off-Broadway revival has featured several queer actors as the nerdy lead Seymour, including Jonathan Groff, Conrad Ricamora, and Matt Doyle.

American Psycho

The musical version of the satirical psychological horror film about an investment banker who moonlights as a serial killer was a hit with critics who loved it for its boundary-pushing book and synthpop score by Duncan Sheik. Queer audiences loved it for hottie Michael Benjamin Walker’s scenes in tighty whities. The real horror was that it opened the same season as Hamilton and never found an audience, but Patrick Bateman is not giving away his shot in the Chicago premiere this fall.

Carrie, The Musical

Powerhouse vocals by Broadway diva Betty Buckley couldn’t save the musical version of Stephen King’s Cinderella-gone-wrong story. The Broadway version included laughable dance segments involving teen sex at the drive-in, telekinesis, and pig-butchering. Still, something about it strikes a chord. The flop musical was featured in a storyline on TV’s Riverdale, and a revised stage version has become a hit with high school drama clubs everywhere. Who knew?

The Evil Dead

The musical treatment of low-budget horror films The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead 2 arrived Off-Broadway with all its possessed trees and chainsaws intact. Audience members paid extra to sit in the “splatter zone,” an area in the first few rows with seats accompanied by plastic ponchos to protect from a deluge of stage blood.


A touring company of the show recently made headlines when anti-LGBTQ+ congress member Lauren Boebert (R-CO) provided true horror for audience members by vaping next to a pregnant woman and getting caught on camera being handsy with her date. Based on the hit 1988 comedy, at its core, Beetlejuice is a musical about wanting to be noticed­­–which strikes a chord in a lot of queer audiences.

Dance of the Vampires

What was intended to be a campy spoof of a gothic vampire story with a jukebox score by “Bat Out of Hell” composer Jim Steinman turned out to be a bloody mess where neither the cast (including Phantom’s Michael Crawford), creative team, nor audience was in on the joke. In ad campaigns, the $12 million flop called itself “the one new musical that really bites.” It delivered.


A snore-fest from the downbeat, Elton John’s musical adaptation of Anne Rice’s famously homoerotic Vampire Chronicles books prompted Washington Post critic Peter Marks to remark, “Lestat’s contribution to art and equality is demonstrating that a gay vampire with a two-octave range can be just as dull as a straight one.”

Silence! The Musical

How do you turn one of the most disturbing films of all time into a comedy? Just add music. Billed as “an unauthorized parody of Silence of the Lambs,” Silence! The Musical gave characters Clarice Starling, Hannibal Lecter, and Buffalo Bill songs, including “Are You About a Size 14?” and “Put the F-ing Lotion in the Basket.”

Dracula, the Musical

Jekyll and Hyde composer Frank Wildhorn wrote a milquetoast musical version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that made his treatment of Jekyll and Hyde look like it embodied the brilliance of My Fair Lady.

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