by Adam Cohen
The feeding of movies to theater and visa versa has gone ad infinitum. But few have truly realized the potential of opening a story and characters up to musical expression – especially one richly laden with camp, satire, and verve. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken succeeded in the 1980s with their take on “Little Shop of Horrors” and Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman accomplished this with “Hairspray.” Closely nipping at their heels is Jordan Wolfe with his turn of “Night of the Living Dead: The Musical.”
Zombies are big in media. Whether it be graphic novels, movies, or television, the walking dead are having their moment. So why should the world of musical theater be deprived of the entertainment potential of the undead.
The plot hews somewhat closely to George Romero’s original 1968 film. Barbara (Meg Lanzarone) and Johnny (Jordan Wolfe) visit their father’s grave in a remote cemetery. They pray to Satan and suddenly the dead come alive with a penchant for biting the living. Barbara manages to get away and takes refuge in what seems to be an abandoned farmhouse. The house shelters Ben (Jamie Cepero) with whom she strikes instant chemistry, as well as a family dad Harry (Michael Buchanan), drunken mom Helen (Susan J. Jacks) and little Betty-Lou (Michelle Dowdy) and a young couple, Tom (Wolfe) and Judy (Dowdy). The news reports are grim, however, with creatures returning to life everywhere. Although the first act highlight is Dowdy’s peppy delivery of the news in song. She perfectly nails the forced smiles and not-quite intelligence of the television reporter as she delightedly informs citizens of their being “f*cked.”
Ben plots an elaborate escape plan filled with distracting the zombies whilst filling up the available truck. Along the way, there’s witty musical takes from the wily mind of composer/lyricist/book writer Wolfe. He hilariously skewers everything from the media, Chick Fil A, movies, news, science, and NASA.
Each performer plays multiple roles and they all excel with the given material. Jacks has a fine turn as the drunken wife wondering why the escalator is broken and a stiff, news anchor. Lanzarone makes a fine ingénue, excellent scientist. Cepero is strong as Ben and news reporter. Dowdy is excellent with all her roles. And Michael Buchanan has much fun as the harried father and strangely heroic/homoerotic sheriff.
Director/Choreographer Mitchell Walker puts the cast through their paces with quick costume turns, zippy choreography and fun projections. The one down note of the show is the bombastic band/sound design which overpowers the singers at points. That aside, this is a hilarious, witty, very fun evening that skewers horror movies and pop culture with zest. Hopefully it has a long undead life.
Grab tickets at thenightofthelivingdeadmusical.com which plays on Theater Row, Kirk Theater
410 West 42 Street, NYC
Until February 8