Wednesday, October 16, 2013


George A. Romero's classic horror film may not seem that scary to audiences today, but when "Night of the Living Dead" was released in 1968, it scared the crap out of people, and is believed to have provided the prototype for countless zombie films that followed.  New Line Theatre begins its 23rd season with the musical based on this film, but it's no tongue-in-cheek affair.  What powers this musical isn't fast-paced action, madcap choreography or shambling flesh-eaters.  It's the tension generated by watching six terrified people who find themselves together, trapped in a farmhouse, struggling to survive the night.

Rob Lippert's scenic design makes an immediate impression when you walk in -- the most realistic I think I've ever seen at New Line's current space.  Once the lights go down, it's hard to distinguish where the set ends and where the house begins, making the audience feel as confined as the characters.  In the opening number, "Perfect", the people who have all sought shelter in the farmhouse recall the earlier moments of their day, before everything went wrong.

Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben), Sarah Porter (Helen),
Mike Dowdy (Harry), Marcy Wiegert (Barbra),
Joseph McAnulty (Tom) and Mary Beth Black (Judy).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Harry and Helen (Mike Dowdy and Sarah Porter), a not quite happily married couple, were on a drive with their daughter Karen (Phoebe Desilets).  Tom and Judy (Joseph McAnulty and Mary Beth Black) are a young couple on their way to the lake, and Barbra (Marcy Wiegert) and her brother Johnny were visiting a cemetery.  Ben (Zachary Allen Farmer) drove to the house after seeing a truck at a local diner crash and explode after being overrun with ghouls.  The backstories of these people are revealed through the course of the play, all tied together by the sporadic broadcasts they become glued to with continued efforts to secure the house and plan their next move, while paranoia lurks in every corner.

(l-r) Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben), Joseph McAnulty (Tom)
and Mike Dowdy (Harry).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Many of the lyrics sound more like an incoherent stream of consciousness kind of thing -- Barbra's "Music Box" and "Johnny and Me" in particular.  Wiegert, who plays Barbra, spends most of the evening in a state of shock, staring into space or mindlessly shifting her weight back-and-forth, recounting the last moments with her brother with confused babbling -- to successfully, unsettling effect.  Farmer's Ben heads up the efforts to fortify the farmhouse and grounds the group with his clear thinking, and the numbers with a rich voice.  McAnulty and Black, last seen together in New Line's production of "Next to Normal", gave convincing performances as the young couple, with McAnulty's Tom having periodic freak-outs and Black's Judy remaining more distanced -- both delivering a beautiful, "We'll Be Alright".  Black's "This House, This Place" is also quite beautiful.  Dowdy's hot-tempered Harry butts heads with just about everyone, including Porter as his curt and cutting wife.  Their number, "Drive" was a highlight, along with "Ten Minutes Till Three" with Barbra, Ben, Helen and Harry.  Kudos also to Desilets as Karen, the young daughter who spends most of the time recuperating under a blanket in the cellar until near the end.

Mike Dowdy (Harry), Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben)
and Sarah Porter (Helen).
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg
Director Scott Miller pulls no punches in this production.  Its pace is deliberate -- slow and suspenseful, with the creative design complementing the strong voices and engaging performances.  Lippert's detailed set has areas for the cellar, the main floor, a small kitchen nook and an upper level attic, with a scrim wall hinting at the band behind, who handle the score wonderfully.  Lippert is also responsible for the lighting design that casts creepy shadows in different areas, and includes cool effects for the molotov cocktails that are at one point thrown out of the upstairs window.  Sarah Porter and Marcy Wiegert's costume design informs each character nicely and Kerrie Mondy's sound design helps set the mood.

Like those old black-and-white horror films, "Night of the Living Dead" does more than scare -- it will give you a chill.  Bolstered by a score full of tight harmonies, surprising melodies, (particularly the "Broadcast" reprises) and a solid cast and crew, this regional premiere makes for another "must see" for the area's bountiful Halloween season of theatre.

The set for New Line Theatre's "Night of the Living Dead,"
designed by Rob Lippert.
Photo credit: Jill Ritter Lindberg

Book by Stephen Gregory Smith
Lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith & Matt Conner
Music by Matt Conner
Directed by Scott Miller
Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road
through November 2 | tickets: $10 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm

Zachary Allen Farmer (Ben), Marcy Wiegert (Barbra), Mike Dowdy (Harry), Sarah Porter (Helen), Joseph McAnulty (Tom), Mary Beth Black (Judy) and Phoebe Desilets (Karen).

Scenic & lighting design by Rob Lippert; costume design by Sarah Porter & Marcy Wiegert; sound design by Kerrie Mondy; props, Alison Helmer; stage manager, Gabe Taylor. 

The New Line Band:
Piano/conductor, Sue Goldford; bass, Vince Clark; cello, Daniel Dickson; violin, Nikki Glenn; second keyboard, Joel Hackbarth; percussion, Clancy Newell.


  1. Saw Night of Living Dead last night with friends who had never seen a NL production. We talked up how great past shows had been. Whoa ! This was a piece of shit beyond description. I was embarrassed on several levels: for myself for bragging about how wonderful NL shows have been; for my friends who had to sit through 90 minutes of this garbage; and for the cast, who I suspect realized what a train wreck they were participating in; and for the rest of the audience, who damned the cast with faint praise by at best subdued applause at the end and hardly no applause after the musical numbers. My God, did anybody in NL management actually watch this horrible mess before turning it loose on the public ? I mean, I know this is not Broadway, but come on, and this is not an exaggeration, I've seen better plays put on by middle school drama classes. Put this thing down before you irreparably damage your reputation. DO IT NOW !!!!!!