BWW Reviews: New Line Theatre's Intense Production of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
I'm a horror film fan, and I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time at a midnight show when I was a teenager. Like the movie, the musical version (music by Matt Conner, lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith and Conner) focuses our attention on the victims of a sudden outbreak of zombies. Sure, there are plenty of scenes of zombie mayhem in the original work, but the bulk of the film is really about a group of disparate people struggling to survive in an abandoned farmhouse. This is why I particularly enjoyed New Line's St. Louis premiere of this surprisingly tuneful adaptation. It's a serious-minded production that doesn't take a campy approach or attempt to spoof its subject, and I can appreciate that tact. This is an engaging and well acted presentation that takes a look at how humans behave in the direst of circumstances, and it's a must-see for fans of daring musical theatre.
The story is a simple one: the dead have come back to life and starting attacking and eating the living. There's no clear reason for this to have happened, and various theories are bandied about. A small group of people try to survive the night with the hope that they'll be rescued when daylight comes.
Zachary Allen Farmer is strong as Ben, and he takes charge of the situation immediately, boarding up doors and windows in an attempt to keep the living dead at bay. The only person he finds initially is Barbra (Marcy Wiegart), who's in a state of shock and uncommunicative. Eventually, other people who have been hiding in the cellar make an appearance. Farmer immediately butts heads with the obnoxious Harry (Mike Dowdy), who insists that everyone stay downstairs for safety reasons. Sarah Porter does nice work as Harry's long-suffering wife, Helen, and Phoebe Desilets contributes creepily as their injured daughter, Karen. Joseph McAnulty (Tom) and Mary Beth Black (Judy) are good as a young couple who know the area. All of the cast acquit themselves well vocally, and their intensity helps to maintain the suspense and tension of this entertaining and harrowing piece.
Scott Miller's direction is smartly conceived and executed. By playing this work straight he's maximized the dramatic potential and allowed the score to shine through. Rob Lippert's scenic design cleverly partitions the stage into various rooms, and his lighting scheme is moody and effective. Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert also do a nice job of providing costumes that fit the characters and the era portrayed. Sue Goldford (conductor/pianist) does marvelous work with a talented band that includes: Vince Clark (bass), Daniel Dickson (cello), Nikki Glenn (violin), Joel Hackbarth (second keyboard), and Clancy Newell (percussion).
New Line Theatre's production of Night of the Living Dead is a real winner, especially for those who like their horror without a constant barrage of one-liners. It continues through November 2, 2013.
photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg