So back in the spring we got wind of a very unique stage show happening in Toronto. Mike “Nug” Nahrgang, an actor and friend of the show, let us know that he had been cast in a new show but the details were shrouded in mystery at the time as it had not been announced. A short few weeks later came the news that Nictophobia Films were going to produce a live stage show of one of the most classic horror movies ever: Night of the Living Dead.
They had gotten the rights (yeah, I know insert lame copyright joke here) from George A. Romero, John Russo and Russ Streiner, the makers of the original film. Actually, Nictophobia was one of the few companies to actually ask for the rights to produce the show instead of just stealing it like so many others. Kudos boys!
After securing the rights they went about producing the show with the help of Director Christopher Bond (also credited as co-writer), writer/actor Dale Boyer and writer/actor Trevor Martin to bring this zany… I mean horrific tale to the stage.
As for the “LIVE” part, our friend Nug along with Boyer and Martin are joined on stage by Darryl Hinds, Gwynne Phillips and Andrew Fleming, with everyone playing at least 2 roles throughout the show. To no one’s surprise the show was a big success back in the spring.
Now lets jump forward to October 8th 2013.
We are now back at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. It has been many moons since their original run and guess what, they are back at it again.
So we went to the theatre… no, not the movie theatre; an actual theatre where they perform live stage performances. You know, like old Billy Shakespeare or Davey Mamet. Once we heard they had made some changes from the last run we had to get in on this. The first time round, the first act was a straight interpretation of the film and the second act, more of a “What if?” tale that poked some fun and offered some social commentary, like the film.
This time, they amp up the first act with some good comedy beats to help everyone be ready for the laugh fest in the second act. I really think that was a smart play on the part of the show. It really made the first act hum along at a good pace. There was ample time to be hit with the horror of the scene and then bam! a solid joke, usually a spot on social joke about race, sexism or the politics of the 60’s. This was handled well so as to not feel heavy handed or preachy. A real credit to the writing team.
And what’s the writing any good for if it’s not performed well. Which it was from beginning to end. I had only seen two of the cast perform prior to this show. I saw Evil Dead the Musical 4 years ago when it was last in Toronto with Nug and Trevor. They were both great in that show and they are killer in this. Nug gets some great moments as Harry throughout but I have to say I really dug his short appearance as the “Scientist” as well. It’s small but made me laugh. Trevor however has to handle four roles during the show although to be fair, one is a zombie. His Ben is pretty fucking great in the second act’s “What if?” scenario.
Darryl Hinds, who is Ben for 96% of the show (once you see it, you will understand and love it) is all at once heroic, sexist and deadpan funny. He gets some really great moments early on with Barbara, played by Gwynne Phillips. She kills it, I mean as Barbara. There wasn’t a scene where I didn’t love her performance.
Now I have to give some love to my unsung heroes of the show, Dale Boyer and Andrew Fleming who play 8 characters between them. Yes I said 8! All of these character changes are well done and at no point was it confusing or distracting, except for when it was meant to. Boyer plays two characters in the survivor group in the house as Helen and Judy. Helen is Harry’s (Nug) wife and Judy is Tom’s (Andrew) girlfriend. It’s like watching a horror filled episode of Polka Dot Door and she’s Polka-a-roo.
All of these performances would not be possible without the direction of Christopher Bond who does a great job here. He gets full mileage of the cast and the space using the levels and environment in interesting, cool ways to tell a story that is hard to imagine working on a stage. He even gets in some quality use of the footage from the film to help tell the story and it works great. Also, the decision to make the entire cast look as if they were in black & white works well.
With all the good I have been saying (I hate to do this but….) there were some things that didn’t work for me. They are minor but they happened. Most of this is just your regular run of the mill problems with live shows. There were some missed cues with lighting and sound and also some mumbled lines. I think this has a lot to do with it being opening night and the fact the lighting board died early in the second act. Like I said, these were things I noticed but I am not worried about. Live shows have problems all of the time. It’s up to the cast and production team to minimize the impact. Which, other then the board, they did pretty well all night.
Now as for the board issue, it was sad that it happened opening night but it led to some really cool moments. First, just prior there was a sfx cue that went early then the lights went out. Darryl, Andrew and Trevor who were playing the scene had some fun with it and had the audience laughing about it in good humour. But then the lights didn’t come back on. We were told the board went down and then were treated to the cast coming back on stage for an impromptu Q&A. Did they talk to the audience in the dark? Nope, folks in the the crowd whipped out their cell phones and used them to light the stage. It was one of those rare moments in live performance when things go wrong but nobody lets it affect them.
And like the old adage “the show must go on”, that’s exactly what happened. We went to house lights and finished the show with the director and the producers out with flash lights helping to light the show as spots. It was a great moment. A magical moment that only live theatre can bring. I think this is what lead to some of those little nit picky things I mentioned earlier. I have the strong impression as the show ended that had this not happened, the issues I felt happen wouldn’t have.
I want make a small suggestion to the show’s producers and director. After the cell phones came out and were lighting the show for a bit, I really liked the look and think it might be worth exploring the idea of audience participation by handing out flashlights to light some of the scenes. I’m sure that it’s not feasible but there is something to say about what I saw that night and how it looked.
If you’ve read to this point and haven’t figured out that I loved the show well, I think YOU are a zombie. Go support small indy theatre like this. If you are in Toronto, make sure you go out and catch it before it’s gone. It’s now open and playing until October 27th at the Theatre Passe Muraille.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!