BWW Reviews: NYMF's ZOMBIE STRIPPERS Needs Reworking Before Reanimation
The annual New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) is a fertile ground for quirky, offbeat musicals, giving invaluable exposure to new projects. When I first heard that ZOMBIE STRIPPERS would be performing at NYMF this year, I couldn't help but get excited. The title alone offers enough titillating connotations to tantalize the brain, filling it with voluminous curiosity as to how a creative team makes a musical about strippers who happen to also be zombies. Unfortunately, the current end product leaves something to be desired.
Mark LaPierre has composed the book, music, and lyrics for ZOMBIE STRIPPERS, and I must offer congratulations for not using the 2008 modern grindhouse film Zombie Strippers! as the basis for his own plot. Instead, he has crafted his own original story around the reanimation of three exotic dancers. However, his book and lyrics, combined with direction by Diane Englert, are not the riotous campfest one expects. It feels that ZOMBIE STRIPPERS takes itself too seriously, keeping the audience and the cast from truly cutting loose and having fun.
Other problems exist in ZOMBIE STRIPPERS as well. For example, the only consistently drawn character is the naïve Tim, delightfully played by Joshua Stenseth. In opposition to this character is the brainless bouncer Playya, who has momentary slips into the world of the enlightened. For instance, during the number "Time Runs Out," Playya sings about how he is ready to sleep with his girlfriend Tiffany in the graveyard before she gets too old and because he is, well, alive. His lyrics are characteristically shallow and degrading, which we expect and want from the meathead who loves to objectify women. But, his final punch line states that they had better have sex fast before Tiffany finds her dignity. This seems out of tune with the character created, and didn't even draw a chuckle from the audience I saw ZOMBIE STRIPPERS with.
Moreover, there are inconsistencies in the book as well. We learn that Jinx's screams of delight once she reaches orgasm kills the men she sleeps with during the number "You Wouldn't Understand," but earlier in the musical she kills a sexual partner before she orgasms. Little details like this leave the audience perplexed because it doesn't seem intentional enough to draw laughs at the absurdity of it all. In fact, it reads as if the creative team behind the piece never realized that inconsistencies like this occurred in the writing.
This is not to say that there was nothing redeeming about ZOMBIE STRIPPERS. Even if this project itself never takes off, I am thrilled to see a blend of modern pop dance styles make appearances in a musical. Kelby Brown's choreography for the show was the true star of the performance I saw. Its physicality is breathtaking, especially when delivered with stunning ferocity and control by Wendell Bullen's Brett. Likewise, Megan Misslin's Amber, Laura Otremba's Bambi, and Celeste Hudson's Lexxie all deliver funny yet sensual stripper dance technique as the trio of zombies looking to satiate their appetite for brains. All of this is danced to Mark LaPierre's heavily synthesized, delicious modern pop music score, which takes its cues from modern masters like Skrillex among other more radio-friendly pop contemporaries. It wasn't exactly the aural landscape I anticipated, but I enjoyed seeing these forms of music finding their way into the theatrical setting.
I had expectations that ZOMBIE STRIPPERS, which played its final NYMF performance on Sunday, July 26, would be the next EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL, but it needs some revisions before it can wear that crown. Yes, there are strippers turned zombies in the show, but the foreground plot centers on two estranged friends with secrets they're ashamed to share. In the long run, audiences get a sweet story they weren't expecting and very little information about the actual zombies present in the show. In essence, Mark LaPierre has some work to do before his show can be, to quote his musical, "un-undead."
For more information and tickets to the remaining performances in the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival, please visit http://www.nymf.org.
Wendell Bullen (Bret), Megan Misslin (Amber), Laura Otremba (Bambi), Celeste Hudson (Lexxie). Photo by Ben Strothmann.
Laura Otremba (Bambi), Ryan Farnsworth (Playya), Celeste Hudson (Lexxie), Megan Misslin (Amber). Photo by Ben Strothmann.
Laura Otremba (Bambi), Ryan Farnsworth (Playya), Megan Misslin (Amber), Celeste Hudson (Lexxie). Photo by Ben Strothmann.
Megan Misslin (Amber), Laura Otremba (Bambi), Celeste Hudson (Lexxie), Joshua Stenseth (Tim), Wendell Bullen (Bret), Sariah (Jinx), Ellie Bensigner (Tiffany), Ryan Farnsworth (Playya). Photo by Ben Strothmann.
Ryan Farnsworth (Playya), Wendell Bullen (Bret), Celeste Hudson (Lexxie), Sariah (Jinx), Megan Misslin (Amber), Joshua Stenseth (Tim), Ellie Bensigner (Tiffany), Laura Otremba (Bambi). Photo by Ben Strothmann.