When they say Splatter Zone, they’re not kidding. Some of the audience members in the front rows for Bootless Stageworks’ MUSICAL OF THE LIVING DEAD now playing at the OperaDelaware Black Box Theater, were decked out in plastic ponchos and shower caps — it’s a pretty funny sight, but once the blood (buckets of blood, including blood that rains down from above the Splatter Zone seats) starts flowing, it’s clear that you can’t be over-prepared. And don’t think that because you’re seated in General Admission outside of the Splatter Zone that you’re guaranteed to stay dry. Just assume you won’t. This is not a show to dress up for.
MUSICAL OF THE LIVING DEAD isn’t just about the blood. It’s an over-the-top horror musical based on George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, with a bit of Dawn of the Dead and references to so many horror films I lost count. Oh, and it’s a drinking game, too, so over-21s can play along with the $2 beer and zombie-themed shots on sale at the bar.
Not exactly a family show, this one, but for some funny, messy, (sort of) grown-up fun, LIVING DEAD is a spot-on fit for Bootless and their “Bloody Summer Stage” musicals, which have in previous years included the popular EVIL DEAD, THE MUSICAL (which returns next summer) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MUSICAL. It’s an acclaimed October tradition in Chicago, the home base of its creators Marc Lewallen and Brad M. Younts, who have been on hand in Wilmington to witness its East Coast premiere and meet new fans on Opening Night.
The best way to describe the experience of MUSICAL OF THE LIVING DEAD is Mel Brooks Meets Max Brooks (well, George Romero, really, but how often do the genres of the two Brookses collide?), with gallons of 3-D gore. The humor pushes the limits, meaning that the very sensitive or politically correct may cringe more than once — but hang in there. For every off-color joke, there is a satisfying subversion.
The story roughly follows the storyline of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, taking place almost entirely inside an abandoned house during the zombie apocalypse. There’s Barbara (Colleen McGinnis), Johnny (Justin Walsh, who is a wisecracking zombie for most of the show), Harry (Robert Bove) and Helen (Penny Carmack), and Night’s black hero, Ben (Sedric Willis), who puts up with more racial stereotyping than Duane Jones’ Ben ever did in the 1968 film, but he gets more glory, too, and gets to mow down more zombies. Literally. Night’s Tom and Judy are replaced by barely-closeted and fully-mulleted Ted (Shaun Yates), pregnant cousin/girlfriend Judy (Katey O’Connor), and Judy’s sister Trudy. Fran (Karina Balfour) and Steve (John Jerbasi), the heroes of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, show up about halfway through, as do references to Dawn’s shopping mall storyline, highlighted with a Les Mis-style anthem, “To The Mall”. Zach Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn gets more than a couple of nods as well, especially with Judy. O’Connor also plays Harry and Helen’s zombie daughter Karen; between the two roles, she gets some of the most bizarre and blood-soaked shock moments.
But, really, no one is lacking in blood-soaked shock moments in this show, or fun musical numbers, for that matter. Mary Spray’s music, arranged by Matt Mehawich, is performed live by the “Bad-Ass Zombie Lovin’ Band” featuring Joe Eigenbrot, Daniel Kitching, Casey Warfield and Coley Morris. Musical highlights include “Coming to Get You, Barbara,” “Heaven,” “Perfect Weapon,” “Need You Right Here,” and “No More Room in Hell.” Obviously, listing song titles doesn’t do them justice. If you have the stomach for it, get to the Black Box for the wettest, weirdest show of the summer.
MUSICAL OF THE LIVING DEAD
By Marc Lewallen and Brad M. Younts
Music by Mary Spray
Stage Director: Rosanne DellAversano
Music Director: James W. Fuerst
July 11-19, 2014
4 South Poplar Street
Wilmington, DE 19801
(Published in tandem with The News Journal)