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Zombies are not usually known for their singing and dancing. Shambling through the misty woods in search of brains, yes. Belting out peppy songs while doing complex choreography, not so much. But in Love, Death, Brains: A Pete Rydberg Musical Meme, they do all that and more.
Love, Death, Brains is a reimaging of an earlier zombie musical called Z-Town. Both are based on a book by Sarah Mucek (who also wrote the songs’ lyrics) and feature music by Meghan Rose. Director Pete Rydberg also played a key role in transforming the show. But while Z-Town was a fairly dark piece, Love, Death, Brains is much lighter in tone.
At its heart, the show is about a culture-clash of epic proportions. Dr. Scott Crawford (Alex Brick) brings his son James (Stuart Mott) to Z-Town at the behest of his fellow scientist Dr. Rhonda Greenblad (Jamie England). Although Crawford tells his son that Z-Town is merely a leper colony, it is actually a top-secret government facility run where zombies can go about their business in peace under the watchful eye of a government agent who has orders to keep the zombies in, and everyone else out. Meanwhile, bumbling amateur detectives/conspiracy theorists are determined to find out what is going on behind Z-Town’s walls.
Crawford and Greenblad intend to use James as a human guinea pig to study human/zombie interactions firsthand. But their plans swiftly go awry when he falls for one of his classmates, Monica (Corianne Wilson). The arrival of humans also causes problems among the zombie population, as the local teacher, Mr. Olin (Bob Moore), tries to radicalize his pupils for an all-out war with the ‘breathers.’
The entire ensemble is exceptionally talented, and they would not be out of place on Broadway or the West End. Mott does an excellent job of portraying James’ metamorphosis from clueless teen to horrified victim, while Brick manages to make a shoddy parent like Crawford ultimately likeable. Matthew Huston (who plays a gay zombie named Zack) delivers his lines with consummate sassiness, but at the same time he keeps his portrayal from descending to the realm of crude stereotype. And Wilson’s charming performance as Monica makes a dead girl seem just like the girl next door.
The music makes the show a tour de force. Mucek’s lyrics range from the droll to the hilarious, while Rose’s score ensures that the songs remain embedded in your mind for weeks to come. They range from ensemble pieces (“Flesh-Eating Kind of Day,” “Never See Another Day”) to powerful solos (“Somethin’ Ain’t Right,” “Left Behind”), but they are all performed with skill and verve. If you liked the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you will love these songs. Thankfully, fans will be able to listen to their favorite songs whenever they want since the official soundtrack is available on iTunes.
Beneath all the gags, the show has a serious message about tolerance and cooperation. But the creative team behind it is savvy enough to convey that message subtly, without beating the audience over the head with a bunch of preachy moralizing.
Love, Death, Brains will play at Madison’s Bartell Theater until August 4. Then it heads to New York City where it will play at the Fringe Festival on August 12, 14, 16, 17, and 18. Check out their Facebook page for more information.
Stay tuned for an exclusive backstage look at the show!