NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD LIVE RISES IN TORONTO
While I had to miss opening night of Night of the Living Dead Live — damn you, Dark Prince Bunnykins! — the theatrical version of the classic zombie film, put on by the fine folks of Hamilton, Ontario’s Nictophobia Films at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, looks to be a fun (and funny) take on George Romero’s debut feature. The DLB spoke to co-writer/director Chris Bond, the man behind Evil Dead: The Musical, and executive producer Phil Pattison about resurrecting NotLD on stage.
Why get involved?
Christopher Bond: Chance to work with George Romero, pretty amazing if you’re a horror nerd like me. Also I felt that, we’re talking about zombies and zombies are so mainstream, everyone’s loving up zombies. I just came up with a film myself, A Little Bit Zombie, I wrote that with Trevor Martin who’s in the cast and who co-wrote this with me. It was cool because back in 1968 there was so much social unrest, and sexism, and racism, and so much stuff happening, the kind of things that get overlooked in today’s zombie apocalypse.
George Romero, John Russo, and Russ Streiner are executive producers. What has their actual involvement been?
CB: A lot of just checking out what we’ve been doing, reading the script, just basically going “we’re comfortable with this,” “what do you think about that?” George has been really supportive; he likes what we’re doing. John and Russ have been even more hands on, they’ve showed up at a few rehearsals and they really like our work. So they’ve been good, they’ve been great. We’ve taken what they’ve given us when they say “Hey, here’s some ideas,” and they’ve been really solid. But I think they trust us, we have that Evil Dead pedigree behind us and people think we know what we’re doing, and I feel we do. They’re comfortable, we’re comfortable, and we’re making magic.
When was the decision made to make this a comedy take rather than just a straight horror take? Why was that decision made?
Phil Pattison: Well, Chris Harrison and I first wrote the first draft of the play. Now we’re filmmakers, so we went into it with the filmmaker writing mode. Then when we presented it to Chris Bond our director, he said “this is a great script that will translate well on film, I don’t think it’s going to translate well on stage, this is what we have to do.” Horror and comedy are very visceral together, and I think Chris convinced us that we have to bring that comedic element into it. Of course Evil Dead: The Musical being as successful as it was, it worked very well as a comedy piece. Even though Evil Dead is more of a campy film and it worked well on stage that was kind of the challenge to bring Night of the Living Dead on stage in a comedic way, but Chris assured us that the writing was going to be, basically we handed the writing job over to Chris and his writing team, Trevor Martin and Dale Boyer, so they could bring us something that was stage presentable.
How do you feel about George Romero seeing your work?
PP: I am super excited. We had John and Russ down last week to one of our rehearsals, which was actually the first rehearsal we attended as producers, so we all kind of went in with fresh eyes together. That was a little bit nerve wracking because it’s the first time these guys, who enjoyed the script, but you never know what they’re going to say about the material being presented right in front of them. John and Russ were clapping louder than the producers, they were on the floor laughing harder than anybody, and as soon as that happened I knew that we were okay, I knew that George was going to love it. I that George is going to be a big fan of this, and any nervousness about him not liking it just went out the door that day.
What’s the level of gruesomeness for the show? Are you grateful that it’s kind of family friendly so that kids can go and see it as well?
PP: Well we wanted to make it a family experience because the whole zombie genre has taken over the last five to ten years. My little nephew who’s eight years old, he’s a really big fan of zombies and I really wanted to bring him to this. So I wanted to make sure that we could bring in a younger audience. Rebrand Night of the Living Dead for a new generation, and bring this material which pretty much started the whole zombie genre up to date. As far as the gore, everything’s in black and white, we don’t have any red blood, it’ll be black blood. I know when kids are watching movies and there’s red blood, for example Men in Black is a violent film, but it’s cartoon violence. Instead of red blood it’s green slime, and kids laugh at that. So that’s kind of what we want to do with this.
What were some of the more interesting challenges to staging this show?
PP: Making sure that we stayed true to the original content and being able to present it on stage, and because we have Christopher Bond from Evil Dead: The Musical we wanted to separate the two products. This is a completely new show, this is not Evil Dead: The Musical. Even though there’s a lot of alumni from that show, mainly Christopher Bond, and we have Mike “Nug” Nahrgang on our cast as well who was a key member of the original Evil Dead cast. We just wanted to make sure that we’ve separated the two. You’re getting a brand new show, a brand new exciting experience, and if you loved Evil Dead: The Musical you’re going to love this just as much, if not more.
How to do you feel about non-horror fans and regular theatre goers coming to see the show? Maybe winning a Dora at some point?
PP: Winning a Dora would be absolutely amazing. When we first started this project we wanted to expand the idea beyond the horror fan. We want people who love theatre to come out and enjoy it. We have such an amazing cast that they’re going to present the material to our horror fans and they’re going to love it, but also if you’re into theatre and live anything you’re going to love it as well. It’s going to feel like you’re watching a movie live on stage. It’s going to be the best 3D experience you’ve ever had.