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'Night of the Living Dead Live'

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Julianni Rodriguez, playing the 9-year-old character Karen, rehearses a scene for Encore Theatre’s upcoming production of “Night of the Living Dead Live” Tuesday evening.

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By Chris Day
Multimedia Editor

Thursday, July 18, 2019

In George A. Romero’s cult classic “Night of the Living Dead” the dead rise from their graves and terrorize the East Coast of the United States.

In “George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead Live” the movie comes to life.

Encore Theatre will present its production of the sanctioned “Night of the Living Dead Live” starting Friday in the Maguire Theatre at Arts of the Albemarle. The performance is under the direction of Michele Renaldi and is being produced by Tina Vance.

“The idea is the film has come to life,” Vance said, speaking during a rehearsal Tuesday evening.

Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead” was filmed in black and white and is set in rural Pennsylvania during the 1960s. The low-budget movie was released in 1968 and featured actor Duane Jones as the protagonist Ben.

“Night of the Living Dead Live” picks up where the movie ends. In the play the characters act out all the different possible movie-ending scenarios to see if in any instance they would have survived the zombie outbreak. The setting throughout the performance is a small farm house in the Pennsylvania countryside.

In keeping with the theme of the film, the play will be in black and white. For the most part, the zombie makeup, costumes, the stage props and settings, will be in some shade of gray. Film clips and radio broadcasts from the actual movie will be spliced into the live show, too.

Vance said the live performance has been an idea of Encore’s younger cast for quite some time.

“There is an influx of younger people who keep this lifeblood flowing,” she said. “They’ve been the driving force behind this.”

“The Walking Dead has been a huge phenomenon,” Vance continued, referring to the popular AMC series. “This will be a great play on that.”

“Night of the Living Dead Live” also takes on a more comical tone than the actual movie.

“It’s very funny,” Vance said. “It’s very tongue-and-cheek.”

Music and sound effects also have a big role in the live production.

“It’s scored like a movie,” she said.

Renaldi echoed Vance in summarizing the live performance.

“It’s very reminiscent of the movie,” Renaldi said. “Our twist is a little bit more on the comical, cliche side.”

On the production side, the performance relies heavily on lighting and sound, Renaldi explained.

“It’s extremely technical … the lighting is extremely important,” she said, of what the audience can expect.

There also is a great deal of action, which requires choreography between the show’s six characters and supporting zombies.

Those who might be frightened off by the prospect of seeing zombies shouldn’t be.

“It’s not gory,” Renaldi said. “There’s no blood and guts.”

The live production also promises some surprises for fans of the zombie genre.

“We have some Easter eggs,” Renaldi said, referring to props that will be used as respectful nods to other films and shows.

For Renaldi, “Night of the Living Dead” marks her first time directing a big stage production.

“It has been extremely fun to see it come to life,” she said. “Because I love zombies. We even have a musical number at the end, which is really funny.”

“Night of the Living Dead Live” opens Friday and Saturday with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. nightly in the Maguire Theatre. A matinee will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, followed by shows starting at 7:30 nightly the following Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Tickets range in price from $12 to $16. For more information contact Arts of the Albemarle at 252-338-6455.