Bringing ‘Teeth,’ a Feminist Awakening With a Lethal Bite, to the Stage

Michael R. Jackson doesn’t have a vagina. He also doesn’t not have one.

“While I’m not a teen evangelical with teeth in my vagina,” he said, “spiritually I am.”

Jackson’s spectral self-identity was a guiding light as he and the composer Anna K. Jacobs collaborated on “Teeth,” a new musical based on Mitchell Lichtenstein’s 2007 indie scary movie of the same name. It’s about a high school student named Dawn who discovers to her horror that she has vagina dentata — a myth, found across cultures and eras, about a vagina that has a lethal set of chompers. (The film is streaming on Tubi, and the show is in previews Off Broadway at Playwrights Horizons before a March 12 opening.)

If you’re going to musicalize a horror movie, “Teeth” is a doozy, and a gamble. Darkly comic and at times stomach-churningly gory, it’s a touchstone of feminist body horror and an exemplar, along with “I Spit on Your Grave” and “Jennifer’s Body,” of a rape-revenge film that indicts misogyny and body shame for the grip they have on women’s sexual autonomy.

Jackson, the show’s lyricist, and, with Jacobs, co-writer of the book, said he was drawn to adapt “Teeth” because of how it frames horror and dark comedy around sex and conservative Christianity — two themes that also raged through his 2022 Broadway musical, “A Strange Loop,” a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner.

“I know what it’s like to be afraid of your own body and to feel like somebody’s going to catch you masturbating and what that means, that you’re going to go to hell,” said Jackson, who grew up in the Baptist church. “I immediately glommed onto Dawn because I’ve had that internal experience.”

That last line got a laugh from two other members of the “Teeth” creative team who, with Jackson and Jacobs, sat for an interview at Playwrights Horizons in Midtown Manhattan before a recent matinee: the director, Sarah Benson, and the choreographer, Raja Feather Kelly.

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