Understandably Frightened

With some shows, I have a really vivid picture in my head of how the show should move, it's energy, its physicality, its "rules," that kind of stuff. But with other shows, I have no idea (or at least, less of an idea) what the finished product will be. I discover it as we work. Still, after all these years of making alternative, unconventional musical theatre, I have learned some lessons. I do know what's good and what's not, and I can always tell whether or not we're on the right road. I trust my gut.

My gut is a genius.

After all, my gut brought us Two Gentlemen of Verona, Return to the Forbidden Planet, Love Kills, Cry-Baby, High Fidelity, Bukowsical, and of course, Night of the Living Dead.

My gut doesn't always weigh in, but when it does it's never wrong. Like, never. If it tells me a show is great, I believe it. If it tells me an actor is right for a role, I believe it. If it tells me the road we're on in rehearsal is the right road, I believe it. In the case of Night of the Living Dead, I knew the material was strong. The first time I heard the music, I knew this was something of extraordinary originality and high quality. I didn't completely understand how the show would work onstage, but my gut knew it would work. And throughout our process, my gut kept telling me we were on the right road. All we had to do was follow the script and score where they led us. Everything we needed – tone, pacing, style, emotion, subtext, all the rich the ambiguity and moral gray area – were all there in the script and score. We just had to trust it.

Through the whole process, I never wondered what the destination would be, only if we were on the right road. As I've written about before, Matt and Stephen found perfect musical theatre equivalents of all George Romero's horror movie devices, so as a devout lover of the original film, this show always felt right to me.

I think it's good that the show isn't just the screenplay onstage – that would have always been less than the film. Instead, the stage show is a translation and a companion piece to the film. They have much in common, but on a certain level they are different animals. A film thriller and a stage thriller are different.

Now that the show is open and the reviews are in, I have confirmation of my belief. My gut is vindicated once again. We followed this great script and score and the result is something really extraordinary – very intense, deeply emotional, very suspenseful, and more than I would have imagined, genuinely scary.

I couldn't be prouder of our production, our cast, our band, our design team. I hear the show's authors are already getting inquiries from other companies about production rights! How cool is that!

Our audiences totally buy into the premise of the story (due in large part to our amazing design team and actors, I think), they jump when we scare them, they freak out when all hell breaks loose at the end, and they absolutely love the whole experience. So many people have told us after the show how intense and how scary it is. I love that. And everybody keeps telling us how beautiful this music is.

And the reviews have been really gratifying too. We take our work at New Line very seriously, so it means a lot to us that so many local reviewers take our work seriously as well.

Take a look at these. They don't just think our show is good, they think it's scary.

“If you can really stand pure psychological terror, you can proceed west for the stunning power of Night of the Living Dead... It is, in fact, a play that had me looking over my shoulder for the rest of the night. The performances are so powerful, and so insistently based on maintaining an everyday frame of reference (in spite of an 'epidemic of murder' outside), that you carry the dread of it with you after the show, all the way to bedtime. Scott Miller: musical theater director and master of suspense. Who knew?” – Richard Green, TalkinBroadway. Read the whole review here.

“One of the most frightening evenings ever at a musical... Most of the pre-show talk with other audience members was whether we’d need plastic sheets for the splattering blood, but instead you had to get your mind wrapped around the terror of the unknown and unexpected as this amazing story unfolds in terrifying and compelling fashion. With the unusually beautiful score and the power of these fine actor/singers, Night Of The Living Dead is one musical you don’t want to miss. Evidently this is only the second production of the show nationally but, like so many other Scott Miller productions, news of this one should spread fast and it could become the new cult favorite.” – Steve Allen, Stagedoor St. Louis. Read the whole review here.

“New Line’s take is intense, creepy and full of slow-building tension... The show is unlike anything I have seen in musical theater. Writers Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith have found a way to translate the classic horror story into music and lyrics that are just as terrifying and suspenseful as the original film... For fans of musical theater, this is a show that you have never seen before. And although it is a musical, the subject matter is just as serious as the film it comes from. For fans of Romero’s work, you’ve never seen it like this – and it’s a must see. Expect to feel the tension and hopelessness fly off of the stage and into the seats, and hold on until morning.” – Kevin Brackett, ReviewSTL. Read the whole review here.

“A+. I was captivated mere seconds into the production and by the time the cast took their bows I was out of breath.” – Jeff Ritter, The Trades. Read the whole review here.

“A must-see for fans of daring musical theatre. . . All of the cast acquit themselves well vocally, and their intensity helps to maintain the suspense and tension of this entertaining and harrowing piece. . . New Line Theatre's production of Night of the Living Dead is a real winner, especially for those who like their horror without a constant barrage of one-liners.” – Chris Gibson, BroadwayWorld. Read the whole review here.

“This is no spoof, nor is it merely an homage; if you let it, it will lead you to think... The music—and this superbly strong cast—lift the piece into quite a different realm...  By approaching these rather two-dimensional characters with such deep seriousness the cast leads us to consider some thoughts that make this show more than just a zombie thriller.” – Steve Callahan, KDHX-FM. Read the whole review here.

“It’s a straightforward, dramatic musical that relies not on blood or guts, but on the notion that the boogeyman is actually coming in from the dark. You’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you... All the familiar New Line trappings are in full force: A strong cast singing the dickens out of a complicated score, a creative set, a tight and talented New Line band, plus the usual rock-solid staging by Scott Miller...  With Night of the Living Dead, no blood and guts are necessary. Just bring your imagination.” – Christopher Reilly, Alive Magazine. Read the whole review here.

“A taut, intriguing production... In gritty, sobering fashion director Miller guides his players across Romero’s harrowing landscape as interpreted by Conner and Smith with intriguing and satisfying results... Absorbing food for thought, with a hearty portion of goosebumps on the side.” – Mark Bretz, Ladue News. Read the whole review here.

“Like those old black-and-white horror films, Night of the Living Dead does more than scare – it will give you a chill. Bolstered by a score full of tight harmonies, surprising melodies, and a solid cast and crew, this regional premiere makes for another must see.” – Andrea Torrence, St. Louis Theatre Snob. Read the whole review here.

“It’s not a gory show at all. In fact, we never even see the ‘others,’ the rampaging zombies outside. But it’s a nightmare. Zombies start as regular people. In this world, whom can you trust? The survivors who take shelter in an abandoned house have nothing in common except, they’re still human. Can that be enough?” – Judith Newmark, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read the whole review here.

“In the hands of New Line’s excellent cast and creative team, it’s a thoroughly compelling and riveting production... Yes, I was terrified, but that’s the point of a show like this, and wow, was it done right! I was literally shaking in my seat, and the sense of terror was palpable in the audience. This is an old-fashioned suspense thriller in the very best sense. Kudos to New Line for scaring me out of my wits and showing me that a horror show well done can be an evening well spent.” – Snoop's Theatre Thoughts (St. Louis blogger).  Read the whole review here.

Pretty great, huh? It's not hard to do great shows when you work on amazing material with amazing artists. All it takes is respect, a sense of adventure, and whole lot of fearlessness.

And heaping coolness on top of coolness, some local indie filmmaker friends of Marcy's at Brain Tank Media created an incredibly cool promo video for us...

The show runs till November 2. If you haven't seen it yet, come see us – I can guarantee you've never seen anything like it. I've spent my life exploring the most adventurous musical theatre there is, and I've never seen anything like it. And holy shit, I love it.

Visit our NOTLD webpage for more info or call Metrotix, 314-534-1111, for tickets.

Long Live the Musical!