|The cast of "Zombie Prom"|
Such is the premise of “Zombie Prom,” a lighthearted take on teenage angst and prejudice and, of course, the living dead, that recently opened at TheatreWorks New Milford. Based on a 1950s comic book, it was transformed into a musical that had a brief run Off-Broadway in 1996 and was made into a short film (36 minutes) released in 2006. It’s basically a send-up of two genres: the “teen” films of the 60s (think “Beach Blanket Bingo” and “Gidget”) and 50s horror films (think “The Blob” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), with a nod towards such musicals as “Grease,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” “Footloose” and “Hairspray,” with just a touch of “Rebel Without a Cause” and the song, “Leader of the Pack,” thrown in for good measure.
With a book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe, this pastiche of campy themes, under the direction of Matt Austin, is not meant to be taken seriously. You just sit back and enjoy the foolishness and, if you are of a certain age, play a game of catching allusions.
The story is linear and familiar: the new boy in town is a rebel. How can you tell? Well, he wears a black leather jacket with the collar turned up and has his name, Jonny, emblazoned on the back. Note that he’s dropped the “h” in Jonny – another sign of his rebelliousness. This “bad boy, effectively portrayed by Tommy Ovitt (he knows how to do the zombie walk), is immediately drawn to Toffee (Lexi Tobin), the Sandra Dee character, and immediately despised by school principal Delilah Strict (Jody Bayer). Their budding romance is squashed by disapproving parents and when Toffee rejects him, Jonny does the expected thing: he jumps on his motorcycle and smashes into the local nuclear reactor, killing himself and releasing a lot of radioactive bad stuff. His body is dumped into the ocean.
Toffee is bereft, but as her girlfriends, Candy (Sydney Coelho),
Coco (Dana Wilton) and Ginger (Erin
Shaughnessy) point out, life must go on. After all, the senior prom is on the
horizon. Somehow, Toffee must find a way to snag a date, but she starts hearing
someone call her name. Oh, who could it be that is haunting her?
The placid, regimented life at
upside down when, yes, Jonny, clothing in shreds and with the skin hue of the
Jolly Green Giant, returns from the dead, seeking his girlfriend and a diploma.
Principal Strict will have none of it, and as the students start to support
Jonny in his efforts she threatens all sorts of dire consequences, including
cancelling the prom. Exacerbating the situation, scandal sheet journalist Eddie
Flagrante (Stephen DiRocco) hears of the story and starts making radioactive
hay out of it. Enrico Fermi
The resolution of all of this is worthy of a second-rate Victorian novel, with revelations galore. Suffice it to say there’s a happy ending, although, as Jonny points out, “I’m still dead.”
The high school debs have their swains: Joey (Richard Frey), Josh (Karl Hinger) and Jake (Dominick Ventrella). This trio performs manfully, but it’s difficult to distinguish between them. It’s the ladies who drive this show. Tobin, as Toffee, is as sweet as her character’s name implies, and delightfully captures the essence of the Sandra Dee/Olivia Newton-John type that is called for. The three other actors – Coelho, Wilton and Shaughnessy – all perform with brio and when they are on stage, mostly performing song and dance numbers, they are a pleasure to watch, especially Wilton, who late in the show (as Ramona Merengue) does a gasoline/cigarette commercial that is hilariously enticing.
If there’s a problem with the show it rests with Bayer, and it’s more a matter of direction. She enters “big,” carrying a bullhorn, no less, and stays “big” throughout most of the show. Perhaps
could have pulled her back a bit at the
start so the actor had someplace to go with her character’s frustration and
annoyance. However, all is not lost, for Bayer has a really nice sense of
physical comedy – her attempts to get down off a table bring extended,
well-deserved laughter, and her dance with DiRocco near the end of the show is
delightful physical comedy. Austin
This 90-minute excursion into silliness and nostalgia is painless to watch. The musical numbers, although not offering tunes you will hum as you leave the theater, are well-staged with choreography by Jenny Schuck and backed by a four-piece band that rocks. No, it’s not “
” or “Evita,” but it’s not meant to
be. It’s as light and mindless as the films it spoofs…and, for parents, it
poses the ultimate question: what would you
do if your daughter fell in love with a zombie? Oklahoma
“Zombie Prom” runs through August 5. For tickets or
more information call 860-350-6863 or go to http://theatreworks.us/tickets.php
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