They’re coming for you in Fisher Theater this fall. Get ready for a rock ‘n’ roll zombie comedy that just might knock you dead when ISU Theatre’s “Night of the Living Dead! The Musical!” opens Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Inspired by the 1968 horror film “Night of the Living Dead,” the musical has been called this generation’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” Facing a growing mob of strange, bloodthirsty creatures, three couples seek refuge in an abandoned house. Will they survive the night? Audiences have four chances to find out, with evening and matinee performances that run through the weekend.
Picking the brains of an industry expert
With an infectious rock ‘n’ roll score to belt out, Iowa State student cast members have spent the fall busily rehearsing and strengthening their vocals. Thankfully, they have the mentorship of a world-class vocal coach – one who has worked with artists from Jon Bon Jovi to the stars of Broadway’s “Hamilton” – to guide them.
Mary Jo DuPrey, award-winning Los Angeles theater director and a renowned vocal coach, is the 2022 LAS Dean’s Artist in Residence and director for the show. DuPrey is the personal touring voice teacher for Jon Bon Jovi and coached Daveed Diggs for his Tony Award-winning performance in “Hamilton.” A faculty member at UCLA since 2006, DuPrey has directed and acted in countless plays and musicals.
“In the Department of Music and Theatre, we always want to connect our students to mountaintop experiences that help them grow as people and as performing artists,” said Brad Dell, music and theatre department chair. “This is absolutely one of them. For our students to work directly with a guest artist of Mary Jo Duprey’s caliber – it’s simply phenomenal.”
“This has been such an incredible opportunity to work with Mary Jo, and words can’t describe how grateful I am for her help with this production,” said Taylor Noe (’24 graphic design), who plays the role of Barbara. “I’ve noticed my voice strengthen significantly since we started.”
Samuel McDaniel (’25 performing arts), who plays Johnny, said DuPrey’s technical expertise transformed his voice and perspective on singing.
“She has provided a better understanding of what to do to continue improving, no matter your current skill level,” McDaniel said.
The LAS Dean’s Artist in Residence program is funded by the Transforming Liberal Arts and Sciences Endowment and provides opportunities for renowned creative and performing artists to participate in artistic endeavors at Iowa State.
“Being a guest director at Iowa State has been such a delightful experience,” DuPrey said. “The staff and faculty here couldn’t be more welcoming, and the students are kind, smart, enthusiastic, and optimistic. It’s such a pleasure to be back in rehearsal with such talented college ‘kids.’ It’s my favorite place to be.”
When bringing to life a musical comedy about the undead, the need for excellent costumes and makeup is a no-brainer. Kelly Schaefer, teaching professor of theatre and costume designer, turned to 1960s and 1970s pop culture for design inspiration, including retro TV shows like “Scooby Doo,” “The Monkees,” “The Brady Bunch,” and “All in the Family.”
To highlight some characters’ transitions from humans to zombies, Schaefer designed costumes in palettes that range from bright and bold to dull and dirty.
“The change in colors, along with the actor’s movement and makeup, help really push the zombie look and remind the audience how many humans are left,” she said.
Prepare yourself … for a good laugh
Recognized for its cultural significance, the original film launched the zombie genre and is preserved by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry. But those with an aversion to gore don’t need to worry, said Schaefer and others. This musical is more goofy than gory.
“This fun, wacky adaptation of George Romero’s classic ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ which essentially began the entire zombie genre, gives us all an opportunity to come back to live theater after these last few difficult years and share what we need most – a good laugh,” DuPrey said.
Students are also eager for audiences to experience the show’s comedic elements.
“I’m really excited for the audience to see all the different personalities of the show and for each character to have a moment of fourth wall breaking to engage the audience, because you’re trapped in this house with us watching the world become zombified,” said Brandon Schumann (’24 performing arts) who plays Ben. “Be prepared to laugh and also be ready to cringe because this show is meant to be comical and uncomfortable.”
And, whatever you do, Schumann added, “Don’t go in the basement.”
Performances are Nov. 10, 11, and 12 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 13 at 2:00 p.m. in Fisher Theater. Tickets are general admission; $25 for adults and free for Iowa State students and youth. This show contains adult language and content. For ticket information, visit theatre.iastate.edu.