Everyone’s favorite serial killer is back for more in campy, outrageously queer spoof, Saw The Musical: The Unauthorized Parody of Saw! From the second you set foot in New York’s AMT Theater, the red-tinged lighting emulates the eerie atmosphere of the movies. The sparse but detailed bathroom set, one of the most iconic pieces of imagery, takes up every bit of space on the stage. A crummy, poo-stained toilet, Billy the puppet, an IKEA clock, and ominous chains tease exactly what’s in store in this fast-paced ode to one of horror’s most enduring indie projects. Emulating the scrappy, go-for-broke approach of the original 2004 classic, Saw The Musical takes full advantage of its low-budget trappings. Just three actors fill multiple roles, injecting Saw with the same sense of whimsical, borderline-nonsensical entertainment value. Any franchise fan will adore this energetic walk down memory lane, with the queer factor cranked up immeasurably.
If one has seen the series before (specifically that debut feature at least once), then the plot of Saw The Musical will be oh-so-familiar. Two moderately attractive men wake up six feet apart in a dingy, stinky bathroom will no clue how either of them got there. Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Bart Shatto), cares more about banging blow-up dolls than spending time with his wife and ugly daughter. His pockets overflowing with condoms and anal beads, “pathetic whore” photographer and ultra-twink Adam (Adam Parbhoo) takes that line about a “15-hooker gang bang” to new heights. Both are chained to pipes, trapped with a “dead” body laying in a pool of blood between them. To have any hopes of surviving, the duo must team up, piece together the very obvious clues of a madman, and recollect their own scattered memories, rebuilding the pieces of a needlessly complex puzzle in the process.
Following Leigh Whannell’s general script and structure in the first Saw, Saw: The Musical playfully lifts exact lines of dialogue from the movie. Like the very best movie-to-stage visions, the film’s framework is cranked open to fit a bold new vision. In this case, that means absurdist asides, meta movie references, over-the-top characterizations, sexual fluidity, and a core romance that builds to a shockingly satisfying crescendo. Every major element of the series is recreated, sharpened by the addition of catchy musical numbers that left my opening night audience singing and laughing along in glee. Personally, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. Easter eggs aplenty make the proceedings all the more fun. This production, clearly a labor of love made for fans and by fans, even throws in references to sequels and subsequent traps. The lighting in particular always adds to each sequence, and playing up shortcomings with some of the props feels particularly inspired.
As far as the performances go, they align with the production’s overall sense of ramshackle wonderment. Actor Adam Parbhoo sounds exactly like Whannell’s Adam—he has the mannerisms and vocal tics down precisely. Bart Shatt’s Doctor Gordon on the other hand absolutely lampoons Cary Elwes line deliveries by matching his energy, and putting on a performance that feels frenetically over the top. On opening night, Amanda/Jigsaw/Alison was portrayed by swing actress Gabrielle Goodman, whose voice commands the stage with ease. She is undoubtedly quite the scene stealer—as future apprentice Amanda on a journey of retribution during show-stopping “Amanda’s Song,” Goodman has several memorable moments throughout, including “Pig in a Wig.”
Of course, none of this would work if we weren’t rooting for the ultimate horror hookup. Adam and Gordon yearn for one another, often in secret but moreso blatantly. In “Filthy Things,” a duet is quite literally crafted from Adam’s deep dig into the nastiness of toilet diarrhea. Any musical that can craft an engaging, hilarious song from literal excrement deserves major credit. My favorite song was one that feels an obvious tribute to Little Shop of Horrors classic “Somewhere That’s Green,” entitled “Out of the Picture,” which later gets a reprise. Who wouldn’t want to catch an “Applebees 2 for $20” with the love of their life? The show surely has fun with this queer relationship. How refreshing in 2023 for a major horror production to be this bold in its depiction of two men absolutely swooning over one another, so close but yet so far. By the time the show nears its conclusion, we long for Adam and Gordon to run away together, even if destiny tells us otherwise.
Who cares that Saw the Musical can be a bit rough around the edges—that only adds to the charm of each performance. This clever musical does not treat Saw’s many twists as shocking, earth-shattering revelations. It assumes the audience will already be in on the joke; if the reception on opening night was any indication, they most certainly were. In the words of Detective Tapp’s potent narration (courtesy of actor Donnel Johnson): welcome to “one big Saw trap.” Check your morality at the door, and Saw the Musical will slice open a debaucherous cavalcade of unforgettable, laugh-till-you-cry sadistic pleasures.
Don’t miss Saw The Musical: The Unauthorized Parody of Saw, now playing regular performances weekly at New York’s AMT Theater. For ticketing information, please head over to the official website.