Naughty children beware in Salt Lake theater’s sinister Halloween show

“Shockheaded Peter” lays out the delightful, horrible consequences of disobedience.<br>

Emily Nash, from left, Shawn Saunders, Leviticus Brown and Brenda Hattingh perform in “Shockheaded Peter,” a macabre German musical crafted out of cautionary tales about the delightful, horrible consequences of children’s disobedience, which is the latest production by Sackerson theater company.

“Shockheaded Peter,” a macabre German musical crafted out of cautionary tales about the delightful, horrible consequences of children’s disobedience, is the latest production by Sackerson theater company.

Tonewise, the show is really dark and twisted and fun, says co-director Alex Ungerman, who promises the evening will feature live music and “dead” children. Think dark noir, such as the mood of Tim Burton’s twisty 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands.”

The musical is drawn from the 1845 German “Struwwelpeter,” fairy tales that make the more-familiar-to-American-readers Grimm tales seem, well, perhaps light-hearted. The show debuted in 1998 and has, until recent shows in Chicago and San Diego, been produced more often in Europe.

“Peter” features a score by the British cult band The Tiger Lilies, described by a New York Times critic as “bizarrely beautiful songs.” Consider the music a polka-influenced cabaret, Ungerman says. “There’s a lot of oompah in this show, and a little bit of jazz influence, as well,” adds co-director Dave Mortensen.

Brenda Hattingh, Shawn Saunders, Emily Nash and Levi Brown will perform in the macabre musical, "Shockheaded Peter," based on dark German children's cautionary tales. (Courtesy)

Sackerson’s production will feature four actors, led by master of ceremonies Sarah Shippobotham, a University of Utah theater professor. The show will feature singer Ashley Wilkinson and a three-piece stage band, including accordion player Ellen Nicole Allen.

“Shockheaded Peter” will play in the Utah Arts Alliance’s newly opened Art Factory in South Salt Lake, continuing the theater company’s run of venue-specific shows. The theater company is creating a black box venue out of office-space-turned-arts-incubator.

“Peter” will open on Friday, Oct. 13, and if audiences turn out, will continue its run on weekends until early November. On Nov. 10, Sackerson will open a new one-man show, “The Ten Deaths of Hamlet,” written by actor Barrett Ogden and Ungerman. Directly following that will be the Nov. 17 opening of “The Little Prince,” all in the same venue.

The company is dedicated to experimenting with venues and scale, and plans its budgets based on the size of the audience it thinks it can attract. So far, Sackerson has found Instagram photo posts to be one of the best ways to attract new theatergoers — and to help them engage in the company’s immersive experience, Mortensen says.

In 2015, the troupe staged a live-action adaptation of “Bride of Frankenstein” in a west-side warehouse. Earlier this year, it staged Graham Brown’s dance-theater piece, “Sonder,” in the former Bay dance club. “Do You Want to See Me Naked?,” by resident playwright Morag Shepherd, earned critical buzz at this summer’s Fringe Festival, where the company launched itself at the inaugural festival two years earlier.

The producers had experience drawing audiences to Halloween-season theater in Utah County. From their warehouse production of “Frankenstein,” they learned that the seasonal competition in Salt Lake City is haunted houses.

The director promises that “Peter” will offer a huge shock at the end. “I think the overall experience is going to appeal to adventurous theatergoers who don’t mind getting in and getting dirty with the actors.” Without fluids, though.

“The show is full of macabre, funny humor throughout, as well as some real beautiful moments,” Mortensen says. Perhaps a night of theatrical shock and awe.

Sackerson’s “Shockheaded Peter” <br> When • Opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13; open run (by demand) Fridays and Saturdays until Nov. 4. <br>Where • The Art Factory, 211 W. 2100 South, South Salt Lake. <br> Tickets • $23 ($20 with three-show mini-season subscriptions; $17 group rates available) at the door or sackerson.org/tickets.