An Evening with Night of the Living Dead Live!October 13, 2013
They’re coming for you, Barbra!
It was a rare chance for a night out to enjoy some theatre and I wasn’t about to refuse. Night of the Living Dead Live! is back in town and Tuesday, October 8th was it’s opening night. Having missed the first run of the play months before, this was my chance and I wouldn’t have traded the night at the Theatre Passe Muraille with the cast and crew of the play for anything.
In 1968, director George A. Romero, producer Russ Streiner and writer John A. Russo created a film that would change the horror genre as we knew it, bringing the ‘zombie’ that we all know and love today to what it really is–a mindless flesh eater that can only be killed by shooting it in the head. Until Romero’s film, zombies were more of a voodoo curse and less a plague with unknown origins.
Fast forward a couple decades to an endeavouring theatre writer named Christopher Bond whose past includes being the director, co-creator and co-producer of another horror stage show, Evil Dead: The Musical, along with writers Dale Boyer and Trevor Martin, created a re-imagining of Romero’s classic film with a comedic spin. The best part about it all? The writers kept true to the period of time in which it was made and the movie itself, bringing audiences a stage show in complete black and white, just like the film.
With John A. Russo and Russ Streiner, executive producers of the play in the crowd on opening night, the cast took the monochromatic center stage. The first half of the play is very much like the movie, albeit with comedic twists on the classic. We meet Ben (Darryl Hinds), Harry (Mike Nahrgang), Chief McClelland (Trevor Martin), Barbra (Gwynne Phillips), Tom and Vince (Andrew Fleming), Helen and Judy (Dale Boyer) in the farmhouse where they attempt to keep safe from the army of the walking dead outside.
The first half of the play went off without a hitch, and after an intermission video suggesting we all go to the upstairs bar for a drink, the second half began. I was wondering where they’d take everything now, considering they played out the film (including the ending) at the end of the first half of the play, but I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
The second half of the play revolved around ‘what if’ scenarios (what if women were in charge? What if they just acted like the undead? etc.), and this is where the writing really shone through for me. Unfortunately though, we were only ten minutes in when everything went black. The actors weren’t fazed by it, riffing off of the accident for a couple of minutes, (“let me just find the fuse box”) but after a while of sitting in the dark, we all realized that something had gone wrong.
But, one by one the audience came together, turning on their cellphone flashlights from both the main floor seating and the balcony, illuminating the stage. The actors took this time to have an impromptu Q&A session, and both Streiner and Russo let guests ask what they wanted as well. At one point the audience even learned about how the copyright of the original film was lost — before the film was named what we know it as today, The Night of the Living Dead, it was titled Night of the Flesh Eaters. Due to another copyright, they were unable to use that wording and Romero suggested a change to Night of the Anubis (the Egyptian God of mummification). When the title wasn’t accepted, they made one more change to Night of the Living Dead, but the company that distributed the film (the Walter Reade Organization), neglected to change the copyright and Night of the Living Dead became public domain.
After some time, everyone started to realize that this wasn’t a simple issue. Chris Bond took the stage to tell us that unfortunately the lighting board had been fried and they’d have to continue with the house lights on to provide some kind of light. I don’t know if anyone left at this point, but the fact that they continued the show like nothing had happened just proves the age old addage, “The show must go on!”
The cast and crew performed impeccably under the circumstances and had the entire audience laughing out loud for the entire performance. Sure there was the lighting hiccup, but the end result and the audience having the chance to ask the cast and crew questions was an enriching experience and actually added to all of the fun I was already having.
If you want to experience Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in a way you may never have thought of before, do yourself a favor and pick up tickets to the production. It’s fantastic and there are Q&A nights with Romero, Streiner and Russo (October 18th and 19th) that big fans shouldn’t miss out on. There will also be some special guests making cameo appearances listed below:
Paul Amos (Lost Girl): Thursday, October 17th at 8PM
Brian Melo (Canadian Idol winner): Sunday, October 20th at 7:30PM
The play is on from now until October 27th and you can buy tickets by visiting http://www.nightofthelivingdeadlive.com/tickets/. Horror and comedy fans, you will not be disappointed, this is an absolutely phenomenal show!