BWW Review: ZOMBIE PROM A MUSICAL at Unexpected Stage Company
Guys and gals, its prom season at Enrico Fermi High. Aaaaah!
Never heard of ZOMBIE PROM until today? Me neither! Unexpected Stage Company did some digging, found a gem and dusted it off just in time for the 2016 Halloween season.
ZOMBIE PROM is based on a story by John Dempsey and Hugh Murphy with music by Dana P. Rowe and book and lyrics by John Dempsey. First produced in Key West Florida in 1993, ZOMBIE PROM opened off-Broadway in 1996 before premiering in the UK off-West End in 2009.
ZOMBIE PROM is set in the hallways and classrooms of Enrico Fermi High in the nuclear fifties. Students go about their day (the catchy "Enrico Fermi High") preparing for a nuclear holocaust under the instruction of their ruler-wielding, authoritarian Principal, the aptly named Miss Strict (Dallas Mulholland). Mulholland's Miss Strict oozes sexual frustration and incorporates the speech and mannerisms of an over-the-top Wicked Witch of the West.
Our young heroes, Jonny Warner (Will Hawkins), a leatherjacket wielding bad-boy, who spells his name without the requisite 'H' (driving all the ladies wild), and Toffee (Julia Klavans), a soft-spoken, doe-eyed, goody-two-shoes, fall in love, declaring that there "Ain't No Goin' Back." A lot of ZOMBIE PROM is little bit rock-in-roll, stylistically reminiscent of GREASE with a dash of bubblegum pop.
ZOMBIE PROM is a musical that rewards belters. Klavan's voice is a little thin in the higher register but she is at her best when she is given the opportunity to belt. Hawkins is a veritable diamond-in-the-ruff shortly to become a hot commodity, I'm sure. His speaking and singing voice would be at home among the singers of the classic 1950s musicals.
When Toffee breaks up with Jonny at the insistence of Miss Strict, he commits suicide by hurling himself into the Francis Gary Power nuclear power plant. He is buried in international waters in a lead-lined box. Toffee is understandably distraught, but her friends think she is overreacting; after all, it's been three whole weeks since Jonny died. Toffee is shocked when Jonny reappears as a zombie!
Meanwhile across town, Expose reporter Eddie Flagrante (Joshua Simon) picks up on the story of the undead teen from Josh (JorDan Clark Halsey), a club reporter from Enrico Fermi High. Flagrante pursues the story and Miss Strict, his long lost high school fling ("At the Dance").
Simon contributes an aura of professionalism to ZOMBIE PROM. His Dragnet era accent and persona is spot-on without being wacky. He has a rich, mature singing voice, showcased in "That's the Beat for Me."
So what will happen? Will Jonny be allowed to go to the prom with Toffee? Will the rights of the undead ever be recognized? Will Eddie and Miss Strict ever find love?
The cast is rounded out by Katie Culligan (Coco), Philip da Costa (Joey), Kelsey Painter (Candy), RJ Pavel (Jake) and Stephanie Wilson (Ginger). ZOMBIE PROM is an ensemble musical and the supporting cast has ample opportunity to showcase their talents.
While Co-Producing Artistic Director Rachel Stroud-Goodrich and Co-Producing Artist Director and Director Christopher Goodrich have put forth a good offering with ZOMBIE PROM, it lacks finesse. Notably, some of the larger ensemble dance numbers could be tighter. The set contains large holes that allow you to see the actors retreating behind stage and in general lacked the polish I expect from a professional theatre company. While indicative of 1950s style, it was easy to see that some costume pieces (Debra Leonard) were unprofessionally altered or ripped. The Randolph Road Theater is a small theatre and easily betrays flaws.
Sound Designer Matthew Mills does a wonderful job balancing a musically ambitious production. All singers are equipped with mics and there is a live band onstage, a dynamic I usually loath but in the case of ZOMBIE PROM it worked well. The live band is comprised of Jeff Eckert on bass, Arielle Miller on percussion, Robbie Taylor on guitar and Music Director Brandon Heisman on keyboards. I enjoyed the peppy choreography courtesy of Jane Rabinovitz. Stage Manager Shayla Sowers kept the performance running at a smooth clip.
Fun, quick and quirky, ZOMBIE PROM is light fare that delivers laughs and will run smoothly once the kinks are worked out. Embrace the spirit of the season and check out ZOMBIE PROM.
ZOMBIE PROM A MUSICAL runs until October 30th, 2016 at Unexpected Stage
Company at Randolph Road Theatre located at 4010 Randolph Rd, Silver Spring MD,
20902. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 337-8290 or visit here. Discounted tickets available.
Running Time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission
Photo Credit: Julia Klavans as Toffee (center) and Will Hawkins as Jonny (left) and company at the prom. Photo by Rachel Ellis.