NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE by Christopher Bond, Dale Boyer and Trevor Martin (Nictophobia Films). At Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson). To May 19. $29.50-$79.50. 416-504-7529. See listing. Rating: NN
Adapting George A. Romero's influential zombie classic for the stage seems like a no-brainer (hehe), but Night Of The Living Dead Live stumbles and falls, especially in its second half.
That's a shame, because there's a ton of talent involved, and it's co-created by some of the same team who brought another cult horror movie to life, albeit more successfully, in Evil Dead The Musical.
The show begins like a straight-on recreation of the 1968 film about a group of people trapped in an isolated Pennsylvania country house while hordes of flesh-eating ghouls - the word "zombie" isn't actually used in the picture - try to break in.
Director Christopher Bond and the talented cast have fun replicating the original's uneven acting, and bits of added dialogue stress the Cold War hysteria prevalent at the time.
But the biggest coup is the design: muted sets (by Lindsay Anne Black), lighting (Michelle Ramsay), makeup (Christina Spina and Carlos Henriques) and costumes (Claudia Kada) miraculously suggest the film's black-and-white look. One of the goriest sequences takes place via an ingenious, highly effective use of shadow puppetry.
Composers Mike Trebilcock and Jamie Lamb also do an excellent job with the manipulative score, and get a big laugh when one character opens and closes a window, the creepy music disappearing abruptly when it's shut.
Not wanting to end where the film concludes, however, Bond and co-writers Dale Boyer and Trevor Martin spend the tedious second half dredging up multiple endings for the plot in a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure fantasia. While some of these scenarios make a point - What if women took charge? What if everyone had more guns? - this is a clear case of diminishing returns. A snappy, cleverly choreographed musical number near the end shows another direction this whole project could have taken.
The cast is generally solid, however. Darryl Hinds and Mike "Nug" Nahr-gang sink deep into their roles as males competing for dominance in the house-hold, while Boyer does a terrific double turn as a basso-voiced cynical wife and a wimpy girlfriend. Her quick costume and wig changes must have been pretty damn frightening.