Theater reviewer Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.
Bootless Stageworks' Night of the Living Dead! The Musical! takes audiences on a rip-roaring journey beyond the grave. The show is an exuberant, campy rock musical version of George Romero’s iconic 1968 horror film. Seven hopeful survivors of a recent zombie apocalypse are trapped in a farmhouse trying desperately to escape with their lives. The ever-growing horde of zombies outside forces our protagonists to act quickly and decisively, even if those choices aren’t the wisest.
Show creator Jordan Wolfe delivers with crisp, clever dialogue and some jaunty tunes. Director Rosanne DellAversano keeps things tight through the almost 2-hour run time. The songs range from rock to jazzy-pop to more traditional musical theater fare. Night of the Living Dead! The Musical! is a hysterical, hummable doomsday adventure, complete with Bootless’ infamous “Pit Splatter Zone.”
Full disclosure for those in the “Pit Splatter Zone:" This is a messy show with fake blood splattering all around.
Bootless is not responsible for damage to clothing or any other personal items. It is strongly recommended that you don’t bring purses, bags, or anything else that can’t get wet, dirty, or needs to be left on the floor. Ziplock bags are suggested for cell phones. Bring your own poncho or other covering as Bootless does not offer or sell such items. If you're sitting in the new comfortable tiered seats, there’s no need to worry about protecting yourself or your personal items.
The story begins when Barbara (Mariza Eperanza) and her brother Johnny (John Jerbasi) are attacked by a zombie while visiting a graveyard with only “Babs” escaping to a nearby farmhouse. There she finds six other living humans hiding from roaming gangs of the undead. She falls for the de facto leader Ben (Antoine Martinez-Jones), who has plenty of swagger. Dippy couple Tom (Jose Bernard) and Judy (Lauren Knecht) plus a three-person family believe taking refuge in the basement is the best way to ride things out while Ben thinks escaping to the nearby town is optimal. Harry (Dale Martin) and his alcoholic wife Helen (Adrienne Baranowski) only want what’s best for their young daughter Betty-Lou (Meg Arters). Between the infighting and the waves of attacking zombies, tension and angst run rampant.
Having said that, the show is a musical comedy, so these tough times are sprinkled with lots of songs and jokes. Standout numbers include “What Could Go Wrong Today” (ensemble), “The Juice” (Helen), and “Doctor’s Orders” (Dr. Greishen and Dr. Gretchen). Meg Arters delivers in a big way from her knees in the reprise of “Night of the Living Dead!” before the company joins in. Arters acting from her knees (playing a little girl) is one of the great sight gags in the show. From Ben’s poor job boarding up the windows to Helen juggling liquor bottles to blood splattering all over those in the front rows, the show commands your attention. Perhaps the best “special effect” comes early when Babs is running away from an attacking zombie through the woods.
There are plenty of funny one-liners and song lyrics peppered throughout the show. Some get lost in the theater space, but most come through. Sage words from Harry like “Never inconvenience yourself” or Judy’s battle cry “Namaste, bitches!” are just a couple of examples. The lyric that evoked the most laughs came via radio news announcer Robin Graves (Abbey Ketterling) who sings to her audience, “You’re [expletive]!” The closing stanza of “The Love Song” has the lines “I hope my love won’t trigger your gag reflex” and “Swallow my love.” Yeah, it’s an adult show.
Bootless Stageworks sells alcohol (beer, wine, and liquor) from a fully stocked bar. In fact, there is a proposed drinking game for the show which has patrons drink every time the actors say “Babs” or “basement.” The atmosphere is a mature one, so you might want to leave younger children at home with a sitter.
Jerbasi shines in his delivery of “Radiation” while Stenta is cool in his TV hosting duties. Sheriff Tractor is a flawed but funny man who even leads the ensemble in a County Western line dance during “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.”
Live musical accompaniment is provided by The Zombie Loving Band – Joe Eigenbrot, Jim Fazzino, John Hutchinson, and Deb Bialecki – under the direction of James W. Fuerst.
The remaining performance schedule of Night of the Living Dead! The Musical! is Friday, October 6, and Saturday, October 7, at 8:00pm. Tickets start at $28 and patrons can opt (or not) to sit in the “Pit Splatter Zone." Tickets can be purchased via Bootless' website or by calling 302.887.9300. There is one 15-minute intermission. The theater space is in the basement of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church at 1301 N. Broom Street in Wilmington.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”