Night of the Living Dead Live

“They’re coming to get you, Barbra!”

In 1968 a young filmmaker named George Romero made a low-budget picture that explored a single premise: what would happen if the dead returned to life? His film painted a bleak, realistic, and unflattering portrait of humanity, and was responsible for not only launching his career, but also elevating him to the legendary status he possesses today: the grandfather of the zombie genre.

The influence of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is undeniable; it shaped our modern understanding of the undead, and can be seen throughout the last forty-five years of cinema. And while filmmakers and artists have subtly paid homage to the master of horror in their own small ways, truly there can be no better compliment than to transform and adapt a beloved story into a new and exciting medium: in the case of NotLD, to lift it from celluloid and to place it on stage.

On a beautiful May evening, myself and co-editor Ali had the opportunity to visit the Theatre Passe Muraille in downtown Toronto to see a production of Night of the Living Dead Live. It’s difficult to walk into a re-enactment of a classic and beloved film without wondering “will they really be able to pull this off?” but my mind was set at ease when I opened the programme and saw that it had been written and directed by Christopher Bond, the brilliant mind who brought us Evil Dead: The Musical. Mr. Bond has proven in his previous endeavours that he is a horror fan through and through, and one that can also remain respectful and true to the original source material.

Upon entering the modest-sized theatre the viewer is immediately thrown back in time; retro, black-and-white parody ads are projected onto the stage while mock-vintage radio broadcasts play overtop, setting the tone and preparing you to enter Pittsburgh, 1968. The dim, open stage displays the living room of the infamous farmhouse — the set beautifully constructed and painted in subtle shades of black and white. Before we knew it, the room darkened, and the show began…

…and what a show it was! Divided into two acts, the first presents a faithful and well-adapted version of the original film. The performances were wonderful, and truly the work of talented and charismatic actors. Sound and lighting cues were particularly effective in recreating key moments from the film; the production overall was incredibly cinematic, no doubt influenced by the fact that Christopher Bond is also an accomplished screenwriter (A Little Bit Zombie). The second act deviated, and presented a barrage of hypothetical scenarios in an effort to discover what the group should have done in order to successfully survive the night; its tongue-in-cheek approach, coupled with fantastic comedic timing and smart writing led to a wonderful (and extremely memorable) production. The finale itself is worth going for!

When Mr. Romero himself calls it “terrific!”, who are we to argue? Don’t miss your chance to catch Night of the Living Dead Live during its Toronto run. You’ll never forgive yourself for missing a show this good.

Night of the Living Dead is directed and co-written by Christopher Bond, and features the talent of: Darryl Hinds, Mike “Nug” Nahrgang, Dale Boyer, Trevor Martin, Gwynne Phillips, and Andrew Fleming. It runs April 26th to May 19th.

Find tickets and showtimes here: