'Teeth' review — new musical takes a bite out of religious purity

Read our review of Teeth off Broadway, Michael R. Jackson and Anna K. Jacobs's new musical adaptation of the 2007 cult classic horror comedy movie.

Amelia Merrill
Amelia Merrill

The new musical Teeth at Playwrights Horizons has the daunting task of balancing humor and horror in its story about a religious girl with a toothy vagina. Despite plenty of light moments of laughter, not all the weightier conversations are treated with care. The world of the teenage Promise Keeper Girls is toxic, not just funny in its sincerity. The proclamations that they’re “in the world, not of it” and that “modest is hottest” have bred not only shame and insecurity, but also widespread abuse of children and women in evangelical Christian communities.

Teeth isn’t sure if it wants to shout this screed wholeheartedly or just mock it. An instance of possible child sexual abuse is left as a he-said, she-said scenario, and one churchgoer reveals his secret homosexuality by admitting that he has participated in child pornography, though this is played for laughs. A group of men grow more frightening as they rail against the “feminocracy” and vow to kill protagonist Dawn (Alyse Alan Louis), but how can we be sure this isn’t all a joke, too?

Composer and co-librettist Anna K. Jacobs writes in the program that she grew up “as far-removed as a person can get from the purity culture that defines Dawn’s world;” perhaps the musical would have been better handled by someone who knows that its effects have killed more people than Dawn’s mysteriously violent vagina.

Despite tonal inconsistencies, the tilt to full horror at the climax of Teeth brings the musical home with fangs and flair. Alan Louis’s embrace of a supernatural villainess persona is aided by Jane Cox and Stacey Derosier’s lighting, which relies heavily on strobes but also evokes female-empowerment horror lore like Suspiria.

Steven Pasquale’s performances as a power-hungry pastor and a creepy gynecologist is laudatory, his vocals and comedic timing crisp. Alan Louis’s voice can’t always handle Jacobs’s and Michael R. Jackson’s (A Strange Loop) music, but she still becomes a heroine worth cheering.

Teeth summary

Teeth is based on the 2007 horror film of the same name and follows Dawn (Alan Louis), a teenager in a strict Christian community that values virginity above all else. She tries to help her fellow Promise Keeper Girls and her reclusive, sexist stepbrother Brad (Will Connolly) stay pure, but can’t quell her attraction to her boyfriend, Tobey (Jason Gotay). After rebaptizing themselves in a lake, Tobey forces himself on Dawn — until the teeth in her vagina cut off his penis and he bleeds to death. (This isn’t really a spoiler since it’s the whole conceit of the show.)

While Dawn comes to terms with her body and her desires, her pastor stepfather (Pasqaule) tries to save the town from an apocalypse of sexual impurity. Meanwhile, Brad and his fellow “Truthseekers” try to put women back in their place and reclaim the power of their penises.

What to expect at Teeth

Audiences can expect to be enthralled by Jacobs and Jackson’s score and the prop penises of Matt Carlin. The show also features an extended sequence of strobe lights as well as graphic depictions of physical child abuse and sexual assault. Teeth includes body horror and is not for the easily queasy, with spurting blood covering the cast and the walls of Adam Rigg’s set.

The musical also contains discussions of bodily and sexual shame, homophobia, misogyny, medical neglect, and purity culture, as well as a pyrotechnic sequence from special effects designer Jeremy Chernick.

What audiences are saying about Teeth

Teeth has a rating of 78% on Show-Score, putting it in the “good” category from audience members at early performances.

  • One Show-Score user recommends seeing Teeth if “you want to see a cutting-edge show that has the status of an instant cult musical with a message.”
  • One X user called Teeth “the most batshit crazy musical I have ever seen (non-derogatory).”
  • Another Show-Score user recommends the show if “you expect another phenomenal score from Michael R. Jackson.”

Who should see Teeth

  • Fans of the film by Mitchell Lichtenstein will appreciate the stage adaptation, and horror fans in general are sure to love the musical’s turn to the macabre.
  • If you enjoyed last season’s Off-Broadway soap opera-inspired musical White Girl in Danger, you have another chance to see work by Jackson featuring Alan Louis.
  • Connoisseurs of feminist media, whether theatre or film, will relish the chance to bite into the world of Teeth.

Learn more about Teeth off Broadway

The Teeth team will need to tackle some structural and thematic inconsistencies if they hope to transfer to Broadway, but Jacobs and Jackson’s score will become an instant cult classic.

Learn more about Teeth on New York Theatre Guide. Teeth is at Playwrights Horizons through April 14.

Photo credit: Courtney Bassett, Helen J Shen, Lexi Rhoades, Alyse Alan Louis, Wren Rivera, Phoenix Best, and Jenna Rose Husli in Teeth. (Photo by Chelcie Parry)

Originally published on

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