Chicago Theater Review: THE MUSICAL OF THE LIVING DEAD (The Cowardly Scarecrow Theatre Company at Stage 773)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 11, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

A ZOMBIE MUSICAL THAT NEEDS BRAINS

There’s something wrong with a show that demands you be drunk. On opening night the howling fans of this cult phenom, now in its fourth incarnation (if that’s the right word for a flesh-eating farce), managed to outshout even this screamingly unfunny offering. Literally buckets of beer flowed freely in each endless act. (The unnecessary intermission exists entirely for a beer run and a rush to the johns.)

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No question, Musical of the Living Dead, an homage-ridden concoction by Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts, is the product of the guys’ great love for a ghoulish genre: The frenzied TV reports that suddenly disappear; the “house of fools” where ten embattled non-zombies shelter to strut their stupid stuff; the fearsome debate about whether to leave or flee to the basement. There are even a few meditative moments when the besieged mortals try to reconcile the return of the deceased with heaven or distinguish demons from the undead. (But more often we get dumbass comparisons of zombies to bad boyfriends.)

Oddly enough, for all the spurting blood bags and projectile vomit (the first three rows are a splatter zone that requires slickers), prosthetic parts, severed heads and decomposing makeup, it’s not nearly as scary as George Romero’s worst offering. Or as sickening to see as Annoyance’s Splatter Theater on a bad night.

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As for comedy, this would-be Rocky Horror Picture Show is reduced to foul-mouthed groaners and sight gags (as in gag reflex), vaudevillian shock effects (like two X-rated sock puppets), toxic stereotypes (including a black hero who’s insulted as much as he’s praised for cutting up the undead with a lawnmower or assault rifle), and mugging to beat the band. Wit, as in words, is missing in action, while any satire is sacrificed to sheer slavish imitation.

There’s no fun in something so abrasively calculated. Besides, who’s ever seen a zombie film that wasn’t its own best parody? And this musical comes nowhere near the inventive cunning of Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. Nowhere. Worse, the overlong plot–more than two hours is more than too much–fritters away our patience with solo numbers for these ten achingly predictable, would-be survivors (music by Mary Spray, lyrics by Lewallen and Younts). Not to mention the endless palaver about getting the keys to a car, filling its tank and driving to the mall (don’t constantly refer to things that you’re not going to depict.)

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It doesn’t help that there are only a few token zombies, including a talking “stand-up” cadaver seen at a half-door, until the cast quickly daub makeup to transform into the walking (and dancing and singing) dead. Zombies are supposed to outnumber the living or where’s the threat? It’s not good when we’d rather be watching a zombie film instead.

A thrill ride should be much shorter and sharper than this indulgent frat-show tripe with its forgettable songs (borrowing shamelessly from Les Miserables, Green Day or Gershwin) and tortured lyrics. But then two beers per act do make a difference—unfortunately, not in the show itself. If you need an excuse to booze through a play, this is your Shangri La.

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photos by Michael Courier

Musical of the Living Dead
The Cowardly Scarecrow Theatre Company, INC
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
scheduled to end on November 9, 2013
for tickets, call 773-327-5252 or visit Stage 773
for more info, visit the show’s home page

for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Dixon October 11, 2013 at 10:16 pm

I find this review completely off the mark and is obviously written by an old fuddy duddy who has never seen a zombie film and doesn’t get the humor or campy zombie references. I was there opening night and it was Fantastic!!!! Quinton Guyton as Ben Blackman and Jill Valentine as Barbara shine in their roles! The cast are all amazing. Now I wonder why this reviewer said the show had forgettable songs, because the whole audience new every single word to each song and they sang along! It was one big Laugh Fest and its not to be missed! Btw I was sober the whole time…..

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Krista Patterson October 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm

First off, you obviously weren’t paying attention as you innacurately summarized portions of the plot. Second- the fact that this show has been 4 years running and had a sold out opening night including fans who knew all song lyrics and provided a standing ovation (you were the one person sitting down) speaks volumes. Lastly- if you subtract your negative commentary, the rest of your review makes me want to see the show over and over.
In conclusion- you were at a different show than the rest of the audience.

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ThanksForTheLaugh October 15, 2013 at 4:31 pm

What if I told you I’ve seen teetotalers enjoy this show? This seems like a smear job.

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William Seabrook October 20, 2013 at 9:57 am

Did you have any idea what you were going to review? I have gone to this show every year since 2010 and I don’t go because its scary or because I find it intellectually enlightening. I go because sometimes everything in life just sucks and falls apart and shows like Musical Of The Living Dead make that alright. This show allows an audience to escape whatever might be happening outside those theatre doors and have an amazingly fun time with a group of people on stage. I say “with” because unlike most shows I feel like I’m part of this cast every time I sit in the audience. I feel like they are taking care of me and I can join them for some fun. You seem to think there is something wrong with that so I can only assume that you are humorless and mean-spirited. Don’t come to a show like this if you aren’t going to commit to the silly, the bizarre, and the extraordinary.

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