In 1999, long-time Lovecraftian writers/producers Sean Branney and Andrew Leman managed to obtain a forgotten press release and the only known copy of this footage from A Shoggoth on the Roof. With these clues, they set out on a relentless mission: to learn who would actually attempt to stage a Lovecraftian musical, and what happened when they did. The result is A Shoggoth on the Roof: the Documentary.
This investigative documentary intercuts between original production footage and contemporary interviews with Lovecraftian luminaries. The filmmakers track down cast members from the 1979 production, some of whom went on to receive Oscar™ nominations, others of whom were confined in psychiatric institutions. Although mystery still shrouds the production, this 20-minute documentary irrefutably proves that there are some things man was not meant to adapt to musical theatre. A Shoggoth on the Roof: the Documentary premiered at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, OR and Salem, MA in October 2000, and was later screened at the NecronomiCon, 5th Edition, in Providence, Rhode Island August 17-19, 2001.Get it now!
Written, produced and directed by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman
Music by Jerry Bock
"Byahkee Byakhee" music arranged and produced by Chris Horvath
Sung by Holly Long and Rebecca Marcotte
Bottomless Gratitude to
Gene & Toni Bua
Sean Branney (the other one)
Profound Apologies to
Jerry Bock & Sheldon Harnick
Special Thanks to
Screen Actors Guild
Who were the poor wretches involved in the 1979 production? Apart from a few individuals, we know virtually nothing about them. We've isolated still photos from the rehearsal footage and assembled what information we have on them. If you know of anyone who was a member of the original cast or crew, we want to talk to you.
By cross-referencing the Press Release with the archival footage, we can confidently identify this actor as Mr. Joseph Edouard Bacon. Bacon was a Los Angeles actor with a varied television career. In addition to countless commercials, he appeared occasionally as Dirk Chamberlain, a young gastroenterologist, on the soap The Guiding Light 1961-63. He also appeared in numerous theatrical productions in the region. Mr. Bacon was unavailable for an interview, having passed away in 1991. Apparently he fell upon hard times and died of exposure in West Hollywood.
This little fellow appears to be six or seven years old, making him currently 46 or 47. His only involvement as far as we know is in the Dance of the Deep Ones. We think there's a chance that he is the son of one of the actresses. Footage shows him near both "Vinny" and "Feathered". We would love to find more information on this young man. It's possible that he was not actually a cast member, but simply allowed to join in rehearsal on the day the filming took place.
This woman appears to have a painful headache during the "Tentacles" number, or maybe she's just having trouble reading the sheet music. Despite any difficulties she may have experienced, it seems clear she was proud of her involvement in the production, judging from the great care she takes in taping styrofoam eyeballs onto a Hefty bag to make a Deep One costume.
We have Richard's name because it's prominently featured in the press release, which credits him with having won a "Drama Desk Award". Strangely, we have not been able to find a record of anyone with his name winning a Drama Desk Award in Los Angeles. Perhaps he won the award under another professional name, and used a psuedonym in this production. It's also possible he "padded" his resume. We have not been able to locate Mr. Omalamey or anyone who knows him. "DarkGoat" of Gainsville, FL sent us the following note: "There's a guy who teaches musical theatre here at the university. He looks like an old version of this guy but his name is Richard Brietenbach".
We refer to this woman as the "Head Cultist" because she leads the other cultists musically in the "Tentacles" number. She sticks out among the other cast members as she is obviously trained in musical theatre and sings and dances better than nearly everyone in the cast. Her bright, crisp steps are sadly out of place in the otherwise dismal shuffling exhibited in the Deep One Dance.
Distinctive for her perfectly feathered hair and her delicate hands, this young woman is among the better dancers in the cast. She is particularly snappy as a tree in the Dream Ballet sequence. She sings "Tentacles" with the victims, and it's possible she was cast as one of Armitage's daughters, although whether she played Prudence, Asenath, or Jill is impossible to say. She can be seen leading the little Boy in the dance of the Deep Ones, and it's possible that she's his mother.
This dashing and charismatic young man is among the better singers in the cast. He also displays a certain athleticism as he lifts Vinny Whately on his shoulders in the "Dream Ballet" sequence. It is hard to tell whether he causes her to lose her balance, or the other way around.
We know nothing about this young woman. She seems very inexperienced and clearly demonstrates that she has not been formally trained as a singer. One of the most horrifying moments in the rehearsal footage is her severely wrong note at the end of the Victims' verse in the "Tentacles" number.
We don't know what character this actor portrayed in the show, but we suspect he had a major role due to his participation in creative discussions with the director. He sings with the Victims in the "Tentacles" number, suggesting that perhaps he played Randolph Carter or Herbert West. It is unknown if he planned to shave his abundant sideburns for the performance or not. He seems to have had more familiarity with the works of Lovecraft than other members of the cast, and is seen in the unedited rehearsal footage giving Armitage advice on the correct pronunciation of the word "Shoggoth."
Unlike almost everyone else involved in this production, Mr. Sarandon has subsequently enjoyed a successful show business career. He is well known to Lovecraftian film fans for his wonderful dual portrayal of Charles Dexter Ward & Joseph Curwen in The Resurrected, and for his performance as vampire Jerry Dandridge in Fright Night. Perhaps most curiously, in the 1976 film Lipstick, Mr. Sarandon played a character named "Gordon Stuart." Is it just a coincidence that ASOTR was produced by someone called S. L. Gordon? Are there secret ties between Chris Sarandon and famed Lovecraftian producer/director Stuart Gordon (who denies having had anything to do with ASOTR)? Or does the mysterious S. L. Gordon somehow play a part in Chris Sarandon's career success?
Tan Shirt seems to be a friend of Yellow Stripes, and is seen with her badmouthing the production in the unedited rehearsal footage. He sings "Tentacles" with the cultists, and we suspect he may have been cast in the role of Wilbur Whateley. "LizbethNYC" writes to say: "I toured Canada with Up With People in the mid-'70s, and I worked with a guy who looked exactly like this. His name was Mitchell something."
Early-on in our analysis, we noted that this fellow looks somewhat like Ted Kaczynski in his pre-Unabomber years. Despite tremendous expenditure of time and effort in this area of research, we don't believe it's him. "Ted" does seem oddly quiet and sullen for a member of a musical theatre ensemble. This Dunwich-esque reclusiveness does add a certain Lovecraftian element to the production. We think he might some how be involved with Brown Coat as they are often seen together.
This actress fills an important niche in our understanding of the stage production. Lavinia Whately returns from the grave to haunt Armitage in the "Dream Ballet" sequence. We (again) don't know who she is. It's hard to tell if she's a professional actress, as she's fighting not to fall off someone's shoulders in her big scene. There's a chance she may be the Boy's mother. A viewer has noted she looks a little like Dustin Hoffman as Tootsie.
This young woman doesn't seem to have enjoyed her participation in ASOTR. She can be seen in the unedited rehearsal footage having a hushed conversation with Tan Shirt in which they complain about the weak writing of the show and the director's poor handling of the material. "This isn't Lovecraft," Yellow Stripes says vehemently. Her bright yellow polyester slacks and boldly striped top suggest that perhaps she had a day job in a Burger King or some similar fast-food parlor, so maybe she brought a certain amount of bitterness with her to the theater.
Fortunately this individual (like most of the Deep Ones) can carry a tune. His dancing skills leave something to be desired, however. Some of his comments to the camera man could be characterized as pretentious and psuedo-intellectual. He has the slightest hint of a southern drawl.
Named in the press release, Cromer was a visionary, if controversial, director with a string of avant garde and experimental off-off-Broadway shows to his credit. In addition to classics such as Ionesco's The Bald Soprano and Jarry's Ubu Roi, Cromer staged an all-nude Our Town in which actual meat was cooked on stage during the last act, and an acclaimed production of Tamburlaine performed entirely as if by Klingons.
The press release identifies the musical director of the show as noted Norwegian pianist Kristtorn Läng. She achieved some fame in Scandinavia in the 1970s as a singer/songwriter, with hits such as "La lyset være på" and "Panikkanfall". After one of her songs was included in the soundtrack for the Danish film Tandlæge på Sengekanten (Bedside Dentist) she moved to Hollywood in search of more movie work.
This unidentified figure can be seen mirthlessly watching the rehearsal from various semi-hidden positions. He may have been the writer, someone's agent or manager, or he may have had some less benign interest in the proceedings. He steps in to stop the filming of the rehearsal at one point.
The rehearsal footage was filmed at the Acting for Life Theater run by Gene and Toni Bull Bua in Burbank, California. Gene and Toni were both soap opera heartthrobs in the late 1960s/early '70s, appearing together on Love of Life. Gene later became a beloved acting teacher, and he and Toni mentored a generation of aspiring actors including Brad Pitt, Drew Barrymore and others. They were also extremely kind and generous theatrical landlords, and their converted storefront theater in the Magnolia Park neighborhood was the home of Theatre Banshee, run by Sean Branney and his wife Leslie Baldwin, for many years. Gene and Toni have both since passed away, and they are missed.
Sean Branney's interview footage was filmed in his own backyard in Glendale. Andrew was interviewed in his own apartment near downtown Hollywood, sitting in front of the shelves of his workroom. Dan Harper was interviewed in his own office at Theatre LA, which is a nonprofit theatre advocacy organization now known as LA Stage Alliance. Nicolette Chaffey and Jeff Murray, who at the time of filming ran Theater/Theatre in a highrise office building on Hollywood Blvd., were interviewed by the swimming pool of the apartment complex where Leman lived at the time. Their theatre was a famed Equity-waiver house, a Hollywood mainstay since 1984, dedicated to performing new works, or at least works new to Los Angeles. Jeff and Nicolette produced hundreds of shows over the years in a number of venues. They were forced out of their highrise space and later moved to the west side of town. They still have a website, but it appears not to have been updated in several years.
Stuart Gordon graciously allowed us to shoot his interview in his own office at Red Hen Productions in Burbank. Stuart, who is famous to Lovecraft fans for his movie versions of "Herbert West - Reanimator", "From Beyond", "Dreams in the Witch House" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (titled Dagon), was a very good sport and improvised his own dialogue. Although a seedy motel on Sunset Blvd. served as an exterior, the interview with Brigitte Mahaney was actually conducted in the apartment of Tamara McDonough. We were unable to conceal the staircase inside, which did somewhat undermine the illusion that it was a hotel room. Brigitte was the only interview subject who was playing an entirely fictional character, and the only person who appears in both the rehearsal footage and the interviews. Tamara's own interview was filmed in her offices. She was working in Hollywood as an assistant editor on feature films at the time. If memory serves she was working on Antitrust, and generously allowed us to film scenes in her editing suite. Tamara also helped us to re-edit our earlier film, The Testimony of Randolph Carter and prepare it for a new release, but since the original tapes were lost there was only so much that could be done.
No one remembers exactly how we managed to get the script into the hands of Academy Award-winning actor Chris Sarandon, but it might have been through Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer, who later worked with Chris on their own animated film, The Chosen One. We were quite thrilled when he agreed to participate. Lovecraft fans know him from his performances in genre films like The Resurrected and Fright Night, as well as the much-beloved The Princess Bride. His scenes were filmed guerilla-style on the backlot at Universal Studios. Like Stuart Gordon, Mr. Sarandon was an awfully good sport.
Just a few pieces of lyrics were written for the rehearsal scenes, but we wanted to have one fully-produced number from the show to play over the closing credits. After writing the lyrics, we turned to our friend Chris Horvath at Jamnation Music. Chris is a musician and music producer who, at that time, ran a recording studio on the west side of Los Angeles called the Cactus Tree Motel. He arranged a digital instrumental version of "Byakhee Byakhee". We then asked two of the best singers we know, Rebecca Marcotte and Holly Long, to provide the voices of Asenath and Jill Armitage. Chris and Holly had worked together before on some of her music, so things went quite smoothly. Rebecca and Holly went on to reprise their roles in the HPLHS cast album of the show, and the HPLHS returned to the Cactus Tree Motel to record the first several episodes of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre.