Acorn’s “Monster” musical scares, in a nutshell

by Natalie Busch / Beacon Staff • October 28, 2015

Your childhood fear of the monster under the bed was reimagined for the stage and set to music this past weekend. And somehow, it’s scarier than ever. 

“Monster,” a horror musical, debuted in Little Building’s Cabaret to audiences screaming in their seats. Jonathan Acorn, a junior performing arts major, wrote and directed the show. 

Acorn’s production is set entirely in a single house and follows Helen, a stressed out single mother. She wrangles with her difficult nine-year old son Jamie, who insists that a monster lives in his closet. But Acorn said his thriller is no weepy domestic drama.

“I’d probably describe it as the most messed up coming-of-age story you could possibly imagine, revolving around a boy who’s on the verge of growing up,” Acorn said.

Acorn said he began working on “Monster” in the summer before his senior year in high school. Intrigued by the idea of childhood fears, Acorn said he felt there was a vacancy in the theater world that his show could fill. 

“I sort of realized there’s no real horror musical,” Acorn said. “There are a couple of musical thrillers like ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ but they’re more drama with thriller elements as opposed to true horror thriller.”

Creating “Monster” was a three and a half year process for Acorn, but he said he had a clear idea of the story arc from the start.

“One of the first things that I did for the show was [sit] myself down and [write] a scene by scene plot synopsis of everything that happens,” Acorn said. “I actually did that in one night, and I don’t think that I changed more than one or two scenes. I’ve stayed very true to a lot of my initial thoughts.”

Acorn pitched the idea last year to Emerson’s Musical Theatre Society, who decided to produce “Monster” as one of their fully staged shows for the fall season. Olivia Medley, the vice president of MTS who played Alissa, was involved in the decision to take on the production. 

“I definitely thought it was cool that it was so unique,” the junior performing arts major said. “Jon talked to us a lot about the show, and he just had a really great proposal and had a really great vision behind all of it.”

Although writing “Monster” was a somewhat solitary experience, Acorn said it has also been collaborative throughout.

“I had a lot of friends who have been incredibly supportive from the start and have read through the script with me and given me lots of suggestions,” Acorn said. “My friends back home actually all came down to see it.”

Steph Carbone, who graduated from Emerson last year with a performing arts degree, is one such friend who helped Acorn hone “Monster” from the early stages into the final product shown last weekend. 

“He’s been showing us scenes of his musical for years—literally years—so it’s so cool to see how it’s changed,” Carbone said. “It’s incredible, the way it ended up.”

The musical elicited audible gasps and hair-raising screams as a dark figure watched Helen sleep and as doors slammed seemingly on their own. The show was even scary to those who were already familiar with the it, including Acorn’s friend and Steph’s sister, Caroline Carbone.

“I knew everything that was going to happen and I was still terrified,” Caroline said.

Throughout its two hour runtime, the seven cast members often walked down the aisle among the audience, as the door to the Cabaret also served as the entrance to Helen’s house. 

According to Emily White, a senior performing arts major and the musical’s dramaturg, this peculiarity made the show much more frightening. 

“Unlike a horror movie, there’s nowhere to hide,” White said.

While it was certainly thrilling, Acorn’s musical got laughs in between screams. Christopher Falcioni, who played Jamie, said that the production had both comedic and horror aspects. 

“There’s a release valve in the show,” Falcioni said. “I got to do a lot of funny things as well as being really scary.” 

Due to the production’s violent scenes and discussion of sexual assault, Acorn ensured that the musical was advertised with a trigger warning and that the program included available resources such as Emerson’s Violence Prevention and Response (VPR) center. Following the final performance, the program’s director Melanie Matson, Acorn, and the cast held a discussion with the audience. 

“I just wanted to make sure that everyone felt safe and comfortable coming to see this show,” Acorn said.

After so many years working on “Monster,” Acorn said he appreciated the surprising amount of creative control he had over his project.

“Not only did I write the book, music, and lyrics,” Acorn said, “but I get to direct it as well, which is really very rare in the theater world.”