The theatre is dark. On stage, black and white characters on a black and white set enact a tense scene. A chase erupts, followed by a cacophony of shots. Ghoulish hands stretch through the holes in the boarded-up windows, reaching for something living to eat. Chopped-up limbs sail about the stage. All around the theatre, spine-tingling moans erupt ominously. A heated argument breaks out center stage – and then, one of the completely color-drained characters onstage makes a capricious remark, and the audience erupts into peals of laughter.
Welcome to Night Of The Living Dead Live. Co-created by Phil Pattison and Christopher Harrison from Nictophobia Films, and co-executive produced by Russ Streiner, John A. Russo, and George Romero himself, the stage production not only pays homage to the seminal 1968 zombie film, but also asks the question: if the characters had done things differently, would they have survived?
The play’s remarkable attention to detail is astounding. The lack of color in everything from the set to the actors’ skin really serves to bring you into the story. The makeup jobs are incredible – instead of looking like mimes, the characters look dull, like you’d see on an old television set. It seems natural, so much so that when you grab a zombie-themed shooter at the bar during intermission, seeing the audience in full color is a bit of a trip. The social issues played out in the original film are there, too – handled with humour and aplomb, proving just how far we’ve come as a society since the late ‘60s.
The actors are incredible. Most of them Second City alumni, the small cast manages to pull off multiple roles without a hitch. Nug Narhgang delivers solid laughs as Harry – he’s adorable, even as a cranky slimeball. Gwynne Phillips is a perfect Barbra – down to her looks, which are eerily similar to the original actress in the film. Relative newcomer Andrew Fleming proves he can hold his own with the other comedic big hitters in the cast, and his earnest portrayal of Tom is delightful. Darryl Hinds is infinitely likeable as Ben, as is Trevor Martin as good ol’ boy Chief McClelland (though the real laughs for Martin are when he’s stepping in as a zombie). Dale Boyer is brilliant as both the abrasive Helen and the vacuous Judy.
The play is excellently crafted by co-writers Boyer and Martin, as well as director Christopher Bond, who also co-created and directed the cult hit Evil Dead: The Musical. It’s a bit of a reunion of sorts for some of the Evil Dead cast, as Martin and Nahrgang are vets of the much-loved musical. And while NOTLDL balances camp, horror and humour as perfectly as Evil Dead: The Musical did, the similarities end there. For one, Living Dead Live is not a musical. And don’t expect buckets of blood – the horror in NOTLD is a more subtle terror, as opposed to gratuitous gore. However, fans of EDTM will love this show on its own merits – Night of the Living Dead Live fills the void left in the Toronto theatre scene that Evil Dead: The Musical left in its wake. The play only runs until Sunday, May 19th, and tickets are going fast, so run, don’t walk (or stagger!) to pick yours up at http://nightofthelivingdeadlive.com.