Stage adaptation and music arrangements by Andrew Lloyd Baughman
At the District of Columbia Arts Center to Oct. 30
There’s been some love shown for George A. Romero lately, what with this year’s remake of Dawn of the Dead, the Edgar Wright– penned homage, Shaun of the Dead, and now the Landless Theatre’s stage adaptation of the to-be-released, planned Romero project Diamond Dead. Though directorial duties have been passed on to Landless’ Shirley Serotsky for the local production at the District of Columbia Arts Center, Romero’s camp-spooky influence has been as well-preserved as the undead who rock the stage. The story begins preshow, in the lobby of the space, where the Rev. J. Scruggs (Chad Allen) approaches startled attendees in an effort to save their souls, a woman hawks $5 paper bags of audience-participation materials, and chirpy, hyperactive VJ Pussy A. Dangle (Kathleen Gonzales) pushes her mike in people’s faces. It’s a baffling scene, made more so when the audience is herded out the back door and down the steps into the tiny black-box theater. A long build-up—including warnings about eye contact and cannibalism, as well as Pussy’s man-on-the-street interviews projected onto the stage’s screen—leads to the opening refrain of “Necrophilia,” the first of many cheeky tunes composed by Richard Hartley (The Rocky Horror Show). The songs are catchy, could-be classics (“Fierce and Flawless (Make It Loud)” is also a standout) bathed in smoke-machine plumes, but the real story is woven in between the numbers, told in well-executed animated flashbacks and revealed through the petty squabbles that plague all bands, even those that don’t carry baggage from the afterlife. Yep, except for backup singer Aria DeWinter (Rachel Anne Warren), the Diamond Dead is an all-zombie rock band; it was rocked to death after its new subwoofer was overdriven by Aria. Regrettably lonely, Aria visited the band in the cemetery and ran across Death (a Foghorn Leghorn– imitating Zane Oberholzer), who decided she’d make a fine substitute while he took a year’s holiday. Aria was to produce one dead person for each day that Death was gone fishin’, but instead, she resurrected her musician friends and assembled the Diamond Dead. To follow the plot too closely after this point would be to miss out on the fun: There is enough amusement here—Josh Speerstra’s bassist, Spyder Syn, who speaks through sock puppets; William E. Morris’ vocalist, Glitter, who delivers the play’s most outrageous, and wisest, lines—that you can forgive the confusing moments. The love story between frontman Dr. Diabolicus (played as a cross between Edward Scissorhands and Michael Hutchence by a brooding Andrew Lloyd Baughman) and Aria rises above its own self-mockery, and their “Crash Test Dummies in Love” is equal parts funny and tender.