BWW Review: Aliens Invade & Voices Slay in Zany Milwaukee Musical ZOMBIES FROM THE BEYOND at Skylight Music Theatre
The Milwaukee Space Center, circa 1955. A tacky, football-sized UFO on a string. Aliens dressed in drag. Searing operatics and maniacal laughs. A tap dancing delivery boy. A Russian spy. Lines like "I always enjoy catching up on the latest dance sensations, especially during a hideous crisis." Cartoonish to the last. The entirety of Skylight's Zombies from the Beyond is a tongue-in-cheek romp chockfull of 1950s space fascination and Cold War paranoia, with each moment played for lots of laughs and loads of kitsch.
The musical kicks off with a disembodied voice, mimicking a model mid-century newscaster: "Outer Space... Since the dawn of time immemorial, man has probed the vast expanse above him in search of another planet capable of supporting intelligent life-forms." Like a real 1950s space-horror flick, opening credits are projected to a fanfare of theme music, as a pink toy UFO whizzes across the stage on a miniature zip line. The farcical tone of Zombies, written by Milwaukee native James Valcq and directed by Pam Kriger, is set.
Enter the fine men in uniform at the fictional Milwaukee Space Center: Major Malone (the ever-remarkable Norman Moses), second-in-command Rick Jones (the marvelously dexterous Rick Pendzich), and stuffed-shirt rocket scientist Trenton Corbett (the spot-on Matt Frye). Rounding out the space center crew is delivery boy Billy Krutzik (the twinkle-toed Joe Capstick), man-hungry secretary Charlene Osmanski, AKA Charlie (the hilarious Meghan Randolph), and the Major's daughter, Mary Malone (the lovely and witty Kathryn Hausman).
The part of Mary is a classic 1950s trope: "My place is to take care of my father, not to tinker with rocket ships," she says. But, in addition to bringing Dad lunch at the Space Center, Mary is also an amateur photographer who dabbles in deep space astronomy, speaks Russian, and is a regular whiz at Morse Code. Hausman leans into the deadpan humor of Mary's many "Oh, Dad..."s and alternate super-smart "Jinkies!"-type moments to charming and chuckle-out-loud effect.
But back to the control room. The group is gathered to launch a rocket to snap the first photos of the sun. In a twist of fate, the live footage instead shows a flying saucer, headed straight for Milwaukee's own Galaxy of Coiffures Beauty Salon. Gasp! And to top it off, Mary and Trenton's budding romance is put in jeopardy. Oh the humanity!
Hijinks unfold in catchy tunes and clever writing. Between Meghan Randolph's shimmying, kick-lining "Blast Off Baby" and Joe Capstick's show-stopping, lighter-than-air tap number, "Atomic Feet," it seems Act One of Zombies has delivered its share of musical entertainment - and the great Zombina hasn't even landed yet.
Zombina, played by the utterly sensational SaraLynn Evenson, lands her pink UFO just before intermission, and her arrival takes Zombies from the Beyond from great fun to pretty darn incredible. Evenson embodies a cackling, crazed super villain whose source of power is her otherworldly voice. A deliciously evil diva, Evenson slays the role with her always (truly - always) pitch-perfect soprano, straddling funny and ferocious with remarkable ease.
To give away any more secrets and silliness would be a disservice to this surprising musical spectacular. Zombies is best experienced with a crowd of folks who laugh easily, applaud readily, and who can appreciate a night of theatrical merriment, rather than morals. Serious talent aside, there's little (if any) seriousness to be found in Zombies from the Beyond, and hardly a noble message to ponder - but that doesn't make it any less out of this world.