If Christopher Bentivegna isn’t careful, he and collaborator/choreographer Lindsey Romig are going to become the bogeymen of New Orleans musical theater.
In just under a month, Bentivegna, who unleashed “Evil Dead: The Musical” on unsuspecting audiences last year, will be helming not one but two spooktacular seasonal offerings.
First up is his own See ’Em On Stage company’s production of Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts’ “Musical of The Living Dead,” inspired by director George Romero’s horror cult classic “Night of The Living Dead.”
A wild farrago of requisite gory effects, with a diverse score by the aptly named composer Mary Spray, “Living Dead” takes place in a farmhouse as the survivors of a zombie apocalypse attempt to fight and sing their way to safety against hordes of flesh eaters.
It debuted under the auspices of Cowardly Scarecrow Productions in Chicago, where it was voted best musical by the Chicago Reader in 2013.
The undead siege begins at the Shadowbox on Oct. 17 and runs until Nov. 2.
And even before the last zombie has been put down, the award-nominated director will turn his attention to Kimberly Kaye’s holiday parody “Chrismassacre,” which combines familiar holiday staples such as “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” and “A Christmas Story” with horror flicks including “Silence of the Lambs.”
Featuring the talents of Tony Award-winning actor Michael Cerveris and celebrated musician Paul Sanchez, “Chrismassacre” falls into a genre that is quickly becoming Bentivegna’s calling card.
“By their very nature, musicals are silly, and these sort of musicals, horror musicals, take the form to its limits. Because of the subject matter. Because of the freshness of the material,” the New Jersey native said.
“Don’t forget ‘Living Dead’ is also a fairly new musical. The rules are more flexible. It allows me more freedom in how I work.”
The subject matter may be similar, but it doesn’t mean the approaches to the shows have to be.
Unlike “Evil Dead,” where Bentivegna and Romig played right into the campy nature of the material, this time the two collaborators play against the grain of the genre.
“Despite the over-the-top nature of the music, the content — both the show’s book and the original movie — are deadly serious in their presentation and subject matter.”
This has presented a challenge.
“After ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Zanna, Don’t!’ our instinct is to play the camp of the material. But we needed to approach the show without the wink. The characters are on the page, the writers have taken care of that.”
“It’s our job to tell the story.”
With this in mind, Bentivegna made a decision to present the production as if it were a straight play where the music is the manifestation of the internal thoughts of the characters who are singing them.
“A character’s thoughts become fantasy, and those fantasies heighten into musical numbers.”
This less campy approach doesn’t mean the See ’Em On Stage team, which this time also includes Kyle Aucoin as musical director, won’t be up to the playful tricks their followers have come to expect.
After all, this is a production company who has given its audiences a splatter zone, slow motion descending nerf footballs, and shows packed with encyclopedias of pop culture references.
Bentivegna smiled and simply added, “compared to ‘Evil Dead’? This is gorier, more disgusting and racier.”
And it’s all in time for Halloween.
Jim Fitzmorris writes about theater. He can reached at email@example.com.