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Stage Right starts new tradition with 'Night of the Living Dead — The Musical'

| Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Grace Rusnica of Irwin and Anthony Marino of Greensburg in Stage Right's 'Night of the Living Dead - the Musical'
Grace Rusnica of Irwin and Anthony Marino of Greensburg in Stage Right's 'Night of the Living Dead - the Musical'

It wouldn't be Halloween season without Stage Right's annual “Rocky Horror Show” – unless the Greensburg theater company produces an all-new, original, zombie-laden musical based on the George Romero 1968 cult classic film, “Night of the Living Dead.”

Tony Marino, artistic director for Stage Right, took a temporary setback and turned it into a new musical which will premiere Oct. 20-21 at The Lamp Theatre in Irwin and Oct. 27-28 at Greensburg Garden & Civic Center.

“For the first time since we started doing ‘Rocky', the rights were unavailable because the company that owns it is sending it out on tour,” Marino says.

After Romero's passing in July, Marino searched for stage adaptations of “Night of the Living Dead” but wasn't happy with the choices, so he and Greensburg writer/performer Greg Kerestan decided to create their own version of the spooky tale “that keeps the scary elements and provides musical moments,” according to Marino.

“The show is sort of a hybrid jukebox musical” using found free material and some original music written by Kerestan, to be performed by Kaelber, a Greensburg-based rock band comprised of Tabor McLeod, bass; Noah Myers, lead guitar and vocals, and Matt Reese, drums.

Since the original movie doesn't contain a lot of dialogue – but mostly characters listening and reacting to news reports – Marino expanded the cast to include a “Chilly Billyesque news reporter that is a conduit to some funny stuff and musical opportunities.”

Kerestan was happy to take on the role formerly played on TV's “Chiller Theater” hosted by local legend Bill Cardille, but he took the part a step further, incorporating horror hosts from all over the country.

“Pittsburgh has the legendary Chilly Billy, but every major market had their own spook show star – people like Zacherley, Elvira, SvenGoolie and even the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 hosts,” he says.

“Half our audience is likely going to be people who grew up watching Chilly Billy – like my dad – and the other half is going to be people who don't even know what a late night horror show is, so I wanted to create something both specific and generic, to play the essence of all horror hosts rather than embody one specific one.”

The musical follows the storyline of the 1968 film, about two characters, Ben (Jason Shavers) and Barbra (Layne Bailey), who visit their father's grave in a remote cemetery when they are suddenly confronted by a group of “living dead” monsters and they seek shelter in what they think is an abandoned farm house.

“Ours follows the film script pretty faithfully, except when the zombies and other characters break into song,” says Marino. “It's still scary. The only difference is our zombies will also be tap-dancing.”

The cast features 25 zombies in addition to the main cast, which also includes Jason Swauger, Renata Marino, Kim McLeod, Hank Fodor and Tony Marino.

The director says he rates the musical PG-13, but it “is no scarier than one of the local haunted attractions. Kids a little younger will be fine.”

Following the Oct. 28 show, Stage Right will hold its fundraiser, “The After-Life Party,” at the Garden Center. Recommended for adults, the party features spirits, snacks, dancing, a live DJ and costume contests. Admission is $20 or $15 with the purchase of a ticket to any of the shows.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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