by Lynn on October 11, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, Oct. 1l, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM.: Night of the Living Dead Live at the Theatre Passe Muraille mainspace until Oct…..Les Misérables at the Princess of Wales Theatre until December 22.

 The guest host was Phil Taylor.


1) Good Friday morning. It’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. Hi Lynn, what’s up for this week?


Hi Phil. Two shows, that couldn’t be more different. The first is Night of the Living Dead, Live—based on the cult horror movie of 1968.

 And Les Misérables the hugely successful musical based on the Victor Hugo classic, reimagined.


2) As we usually do, let’s go in order. Night of the Living Dead Live doesn’t seem like the kind of play you would normally see.


Blame it on our own Daniel Garber. He knew the publicist from his film work and knew that she was also doing publicity for this play of the movie, and I went to see it because of Daniel. And he owes me big time as a result.


3) Before you tell us why, tell us about the story.


Night of the Living Dead was first a cult horror movie that set the standard for others to come.The play is called Night of the Living Dead Live.

 It’s about a town that seems to be over run with gools, ‘undead’ who lurch around attacking normal people and eating chunks of them.These gools seem to be afraid of fire and can be killed by a gun shot.The sheriff and his side-kick spend their day shooting what they think are gools but also kill normal people by mistake. Ooops.

 A group of normal people find themselves in a house and try to fend off the gools who always seem to be outside that door or window. There are endless endings because the Sherriff comes up with all sorts of ways that these folks could have survived their ordeal—more weapons; if they only got along etc. And with every suggestion the cast regroups and presents the scene again but with a different focus using the suggestion of the Sherriff. It makes for a long evening.


4) Why does Daniel owe you big time.


Because the whole enterprise is dire. It’s presented by a film company. All the executive producers and producers (in total there are eight of them!) are either in film, television or music videos.

 It’s co-written by Christopher Bond (who also directs), Dale Boyer, and Trevor Martin, all of whom are heavily involved in stand-up comedy, Second City or film.

 There is a program note entitled “About the Play”

Which starts off by saying that Night of the Living Dead Live is a fun and hilarious re-imagining of the classic movie. (They should have been sitting where I was!) Set in 1968 and presented in black and white, it literally feels like the film has been brought to life and placed on stage. The play lovingly examines the movie itself, the period in which it was made, and the film’s undying influence on the horror genre.”

 In a word, drivel. And why are they putting a movie on stage? Why do we need sound effects for every punch, slap or blow? The play re-examines nothing, not the movie or the period in which it was made or the influence on the horror genre.

 What it shows with glaring clarity is that practically none of these people involved in this enterprise has a glimmer of a clue of how theatre actually works.

 I don’t include Michelle Ramsay who does the lights or Richard Feren who does the sound effects. Both these artists toil valiantly in the theatre.

 Christopher Bonds direction is clumsy and awkward. His first scene takes place at the extreme side of the stage where the majority of the audience could not see what was going on. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

 There is a scene in a cemetery that takes place up on a balcony also at the side where, again, most of the audience on the other side couldn’t see what was happening. The acting is declarative and broad. It is not a play.

What it is, is a Second City send-up of the movie. And if it had been presented that way I would have happily passed because I’m not a fan of Second City or that kind of comedy. But when they say it’s a play then I review it as a play.

The best part of it was when the lights went out.


5) You better explain that.


Close to the end the lighting board died and so did the lights on stage. While they were trying to fix it, the cast—all comedians–gave us some patter, told us about how the show came about; told funny stories.

Then with ingenuity Mr. Bond the director said they would turn the houselights on and continue the show with the lights they had. People shone their cell phones at the stage and got light that way. Loved that ingenuity. And finally the show finished, but the only way we would know that was that “The End” was projected on the back wall.

 As I said, DIRE!!


6) And now for something completely different,

Les Misérables. Why is this re-imagined?


In 2010 this musical, based on the Victor Hugo classic about the lead-up to the French Revolution, celebrated its 25th anniversary playing in London.Its brilliant producer, Cameron Mackintosh, decided it should be rethought, re-staged and re-orchestrated for a new audience.

 The story is the same: Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child, got caught and went to jail for 19 years. When he was released one of his jailers, Javert, vowed to hound him because he knew that once a thief always a thief. Jean Valjean had a rough time in the beginning of his freedom but someone had faith in him and he reformed and prospered. But Javert was always there waiting for him to faulter. It’s a huge story involving love, revolution, and being true to oneself.


7) You say it’s for a new audience. Who are they?


I think it’s for a younger audience; who want to know the story but without lots of detail. I get the sense that there is little time to build character or establish moments. This new audience tweets and want their information fast. They want their music loud. And they have it here. The orchestra is microphoned and so is the cast. On opening night I thought it was perhaps too loud And some of the dialogue and lyrics were lost. The music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and the lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer are stirring. That music just comes at you like a wave…and it’s terrific.

It’s directed by Laurence Connor and James Powell with a fine sense of the theatrical, not just for glitzy techno stuff to impress. There’s effective use of projection that gives a sense of movement. A group of young revolutionaries march singing “One Day More”. At the same time along the sides of the theatre are projections of a street scene moving back wards giving the sense of the revolutionaries marching forward. Projections are used to recreate the sewers of Paris.It’s beautifully, dramatically lit by Paule Constable; she’s a brilliant designer who achieves the mood and sweep of the story with her effective lighting.


8) Of course a musical needs singers how is this cast?


Very impressive and mainly Canadian. Leading the way is Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean. Born in Canada but has made his career in London’s West End. He has a powerful voice but at the beginning he is so enraged at his plight that a lot of what he sings gets garbled. However he settles as the show goes on and he gives a fine performance of a man in search of salvation. And his singing of “Bring Him Home” is sublime.

 As Javert, Earl Carpenter is driven and focused on getting Jean Valjean again. As Fontine, a woman trying to make money to save her child, Genevieve Leclerc, shows a desperate mother at the mercy of a cruel society.  As the thieving Thénardier, Cliff Saunders has the dextrousness and flexibility of a man who is made of rubber. He propels himself backwards and lands, sitting on a table; he hops from chair to chair. He is a mass of comedic creativity and a joy to watch.


10) It sounds as if you like it even with your critical comments.


I do. I love the piece as a whole. It’s wonderfully theatrical. The directors know how to manipulate an audience in a good sense to be swept up in the momentum of the story. It’s a dandy story with a strong cast and, who knows, you might even want to read the book after seeing the show. Or tweet someone.

And yes, you should see it.


Thanks Lynn. That was Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

 Night of the Living Dead Live plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace until October 27.

 Les Misérables plays at the Princess of Wales Theatre until Dec. 22.


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