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Zombies Take Chicago (And Sing)

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Love musical theater? Soft spot for horror? Have we got a show for you. Now in its third year, Chicago's own Musical of the Living Dead is offers blood and singing, everyone's favorite combo. Our Town spoke with creators Brad Younts and Marc Lewallen about the show's the parody's origin and evolution.

Our Town What inspired you to create Musical of the Living Dead?
Marc Lewallan In musicals, people break out into song because they are filled with so much emotion that speaking won't convey those emotions; in the horror genre characters are constantly brought to heightened emotions through traumatic events. [We love] campy horror such as Evil Dead by Sam Raimi or Dead Alive by Peter Jackson. and classic old time musical theatre, of the Gershwin and Rogers and Hammerstein and Jerry Herman variety, hat and cane numbers and tap dancing and the like. So over the top, just like in horror, it felt like a perfect marriage of two things we both have great respect for but also a great appreciation of the cheesiness inherent.
Brad Younts We also loved the idea of making it an interactive experience - spraying blood, guts, and gore into the audience to heighten the comedy.

OT As a duo, what’s your writing process like?
ML Very simple, in part because we have a very compatible aesthetic and sense of humor. After we put together the initial outline and defined the characters, we took turns independently taking passes at the script, focusing on character, or jokes , or physical bits, or punching up the rhythm. We passed it back and forth with no commentary; just punched up each other’s bits and eliminated things that weren't working.
BY We also had a great process with our composer Mary Spray.  Mary elevated the songs beyond our wildest expectations. We'd often give her thoughts of genres and inspiration and she'd create something completely original. Most of the time she'd nail it the very first time.

OT What are some influences?
BY George Romero's films have obviously had a huge influence on Musical of the Living Dead, but there are also films like the later Nightmare of Elm Street films (the campier, wise-cracking sequels). I think we were also inspired by the boldness and fearlessness of Chicago Sketch Comedy - seeing groups like Off Off Broadzway and the Cupid Players really inspired me to push further.
ML Very offensive humor like Seth McFarland and Trey Parker and Matt Stone, where anything is fair play, because nothing is sacred. A lot of the humor could be very offensive if we weren't doing it so broadly or with such a satirical tone. Our characters are repugnant and horrible archetypes.... but within their dreadful behavior lies some truth and some ironic commentary.
BY I also think (somewhat unintentionally) that a lot of the characters are inspired by people from our hometown - albeit extremely exaggerated versions.

OT You’ve staged the show for four years running. Do you tweak it each year?
BY The real differences aren't from year to year, but from show to show...We encourage our actors to play within the boundaries of the script. It keeps it fresh for them and fun for our returning audiences. This year, with two casts (for the 8pm and 11pm) no two shows will ever be the same. There will always be something new for an audience to experience.
ML We also strive to make it bloodier than they year before. We have people now coming dressed all in white, arriving early to sit up front for the splatter zone so they can get completely covered- drenched- head to toe in blood, posting their photos on twitter or facebook and telling us that they are soaked all the way to their underwear. We love that.

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OT Why are we as a society so interested in zombies right now?
BY Zombies represent the "everyman monster,” a blue collar creature that can be anyone. They combine the fears of a mindless majority with human cannibalism. They are primal and irrational, representing a loss of humanity and individualism - deep fears for many of us. I also think that most zombie movies (at least the best ones) are really about the living characters, how they react when placed in a dire situation. Watching them vie for power, shrink into themselves, or fight to the death -- that's what makes it a powerful genre.

OT Fast moving or slow zombies? Why?
ML Some people are purists and love the slow moving zombie, others love the intensity of the fast moving zombie such as Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake or World War Z (I like to tip my hat to Danny Boyle for fast zombies in 28 Days later, although many a zombie purist will refuse to accept them as zombies due to the infection nature of the disease in that film.) I personally love the concept popularized by Max Brooks in his Zombie Survival Guide; that newly turned zombies are still relatively fast and limber as they have not begun to decompose, its the older zombies that are slower.

OT
What are you looking forward to most about this year’s production?
BY We have so many actors this year! While there are a couple shows that will be a pure Red Cast or Green Cast, most of the time there will be some sort of mix. It'll be exciting to see all of these different combinations work to create an original experience every night. Every single cast member is amazing - they are all rockstars, bringing so much to each of their characters. People are going to have fun with that - both off stage and on.
ML I'm especially looking forward to making 20 gallons of blood a night. Each performance uses up 10 gallons and on nights we have two shows, we will literally be spraying and spewing 20 gallons of blood into the crowd. It will be hysterical to watch, although not a ton of fun to clean up.

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The show runs through November 9th. Purchase tickets here.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by following facebook.com/OurTownBlog.ChicagoSunTimes and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez
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This page contains a single entry by Sarah Terez-Rosenblum published on October 4, 2013 4:13 PM.

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