REVIEW: Musical of the Living Dead (Cowardly Scarecrow)

 

A Zombie-licious Ghoul’s Delight

 

Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 035

   
Cowardly Scarecrow Productions present
   
Musical of the Living Dead
   
Book/Lyrics by Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts
Music/Arrangements by Mary Spray and
Matt Mehawich
Directed by Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts
at
The Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton (map)
through October 31  |  tickets: $20-$25  |  more info 

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The Charnel House is certainly an apropos venue for Musical of the Living Dead: its former life was as an old-style funeral home. Gothic wood paneling and light fixtures set the right tone for Cowardly Scarecrow Productions’ ribald horror spoof depicting the dead, annoyingly, not staying dead. Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts, co-creators of book and lyrics, are the madmen behind the mayhem, aided by partners in crime Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 020 Mary Spray on music and Matt Mehawich on arrangements. What can be said about cast and crew? They come from Columbia College—or at least most of them. One suspects their cohesiveness depends, in part, on shared training and collegiate associations—if one may use that professional term.

Musical of the Living Dead lies just inches from being a musical comedy that could be juxtaposed with, quote, legitimate theater, unquote. There’s just a tinge of that vibe one finds with the sort of comedy reviews one ventures to Annoyance Theatre for—slap dash irreverence that often looks slapped together. But Spray and Mehawich’s musical arrangements reveal startling sophistication. Plus, acting, singing and dancing quality definitely soars above standard Annoyance fare. Something aspirational peeks out from Cowardly Scarecrow’s lampoon of stereotypical horror plot involving randomly thrown together people escaping zombie hoards. It’s as if they were genuinely striving to create a new Rocky Horror or Little Shop of Horrors.

Good for them that they’ve got some decent crazy ladies for whom to sell their spoof. Barbra Flowers (Jill Valentine), the show’s virgin good girl (sort of), loses her brother Johnny (Tim Soszko) to a zombie attack while trying to lay a wreath at Grampa’s (sic) grave. It’s one thing to watch Barbra unhinge at the prospect of fighting zombies from an abandoned house alongside the musical’s lone black man, Ben Blackman (Quinton Guyton). It’s another to see her get uncomfortably personal with the other fugitives–including the stuffed deer’s head on the wall–while relaying her zombie escape story. Once that happens, you know the girl is gone!

Gone is the only way to describe Helen Cooper (Mandy Whitenack), a dame who views life, and her blighted marriage, through an alcoholic haze. Warring, conservative husband Harry (Billy Sullivan) simply can’t keep up with her. Whitenack pulls out every bit of Betty Davis, Tallulah Bankhead and God-knows-what overripe-screen-star to execute Helen’s boozy domination.

 

Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 002 Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 012
Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 005 Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 021 Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 031

That leaves the rest of the cast to fill out all the other horror flick stereotypes–slutty hick sisters Judy (Liz McArthur) and Trudy McCoy (Mary Spray); Ted (Jonathan Hymen) as the closet gay dude; Fran Davis (Ashley Bush) as the Fox News journalist with over-whipped hair; and helicopter pilot Steve Sherbotsky (Ryan V. Brinkerhoff) as her lover. McArthur cleverly doubles as Karen, Helen and Harry’s little girl, who stays sick in the basement past the point of zombie return. Jacob Clausen opens the musical as George, poetically profound fright fest announcer.

That leaves our hero, Ben, to carry the day and save Barbra from imminent un-death. Most comic interactions between cast members keep the flow going and the musical energy high. However, what holds Musical of the Living Dead back is its over-reliance on typical plot developments, typical horror genre characters and typical schlock comedy splatter. Musical of the Living Dead succeeds most when it takes the audience to uncanny, unexpected places. Ben, being the lone voice of reason among a gang of crazy white people, isn’t allowed to get his Rambo on until the end. That’s really too bad. After all, between the living and the undead, there’s really only so much a brother can take.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Musical of Living Dead - Scarecrow 033

 

 

 
Production Personnel

Featuring: Jill Valentine, Quinton Guyton, Tim Soszko, Mandy Whitenack, Billy Sullivan, Ashley Bush, Ryan Brinkerhoff, Liz McArthur, Jonathan Hymen, and Mary Spray

Book and Lyrics by Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts
Music and Orchestra Arrangements by Mary Spray and Matt Mehawich
Choreography by Carisa Barreca
Directed by Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts

 

 

 

Cast Pictures

Jill Valentine as Barbra

Jill Valentine as Barbra

Quinton Guyton as Ben

Quinton Guyton as Ben

Tim Soszko as Johnny

Tim Soszko as Johnny

Mandy Whitenack as Helen

Mandy Whitenack as Helen

Billy Sullivan as Harry

Billy Sullivan as Harry

Ashley Bush as Fran

Ashley Bush as Fran

Ryan V. Brinkerhoff as Steve

Ryan V. Brinkerhoff as Steve

Liz McArthur as Judy

Liz McArthur as Judy

Jonathan Hymen as Ted

Jonathan Hymen as Ted

Mary Spray as Trudy

Mary Spray as Trudy

        
        

2 Responses

  1. So is this play like a live action “Sean of the Dead”? Or is it more slapstick style humor?

    Chicago’s Best Restaurant Guide and Blog

  2. “Sean of the Dead” quintessentially made the point that there was very little to distinguish between the undead zombies and regular live people going through their day in zombie fashion.

    “Musical of the Living Dead” basically takes the typical characters of a zombie horror plot, puts them through their typical plot paces and takes the individual characters to extremes. It really relies on the actors to make the most of their stereotypes. Song and dance numbers give it professional flare while splatter comedy doses the show with gross-out humor. And there are lots of jokes about slutty girls, repressed girls who want to be slutty, gay dude hitting on the straight hero and warring couples ultimately getting down on stage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: