If opening night wasn’t a sell-out, it was really, really close. It’s a one-hour opera based on a classic 1968 horror film. With puppets and everything. And it’s Halloween weekend, so...it’s a perfect match. Everything else matches-up almost perfectly in Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Night of the Living Opera. The intimate, little studio theatre venue that hosts the concert performance is a perfect fit for the coziness of Romero’s low-budget classic, which largely takes placce in a single home during a zombie apocalypse. With a libretto written by Josh Perkins, the operatic amplification of the classic horror film. No set. Minimal costuming. Everyone is performing behind music stands...but the audio of the original zombie apocalypse feels deliciously creepy in places.
The production features prototypes of large-scale. zombie puppets by Angry Young Men, Ltd. These guys know from zombie puppets, having. done The Night of the Living Dead Puppet Show for a number of years now. Their presence in the studio adds to the mood of a tiny space that tumbles through zombie horror in a way that fuses perfectly with short, brutal opera.
Elizabeth Blood conjures a melodic terror as Barbara. She doesn’t have many lines in the film--which is incredibly sparse on dialogue to begin with. A young Judith O’Dea delivered an overwhelming sense of vulnerability to the screen in the original movie. Perkins gives Blood a great deal of room to emote that sense of terrified vulnerability in operatic form. Ben Yela gives considerably more sympathetic depth to her doomed brother Johnny than Romero’s original film allowed for.
After Johnny’s apparent death at the hands of a zombie (which happens between moments in the concert performance) Barbara finds herself in an apparently abandoned home that is defended by a heroic, level-headed guy named Ben. Jerome Sibulo is suitably heroic in the tole if Ben. In the midst of boarding-up the home, they find a small family in the basement featuring some very powerful singers...Julianne Perkins and Nathatn Wesselowski are impressive as Harry and Helen. Becky Cofta emerges from the Zombie Chorus to play their daughter. Cofta is a starkly chilling presence onstage once Harry and Helen’s daughter turns zombie. The vocalizations of the zombie chorus amplify the darkness around the edges of the opera.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Angry Young Men Ltd’s Night of the Living Opera continues through Oct. 30 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre on 158 N. Broadway. (There are performances today at 4 pm and 7:30 pm. There is also a 2pm matinee tomorrow.) For ticket reservations and more, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.