Zombie Prom, now playing at Unexpected Stage Company, has great provenance, with a book and lyrics by John Dempsey and music by Dana P. Rowe. Both went on to adapt The Fix and The Witches of Eastwick into musicals which were nominated for London’s prestigious Olivier Award.
Zombie Prom is an earlier work, by two as-yet-unfamous fellows just testing their wings. With an original story that is a blow-by-blow mirror image of the musical Grease, the two fledgling composers thought up a sellable title and set to work: recreating Grease but turning the lead, Jonny, into a zombie. It should work… but it doesn’t. It reads for all the world like a college attempt at musical writing, and falls flat in so many places that any production that attempts it is doomed from the start despite their heroic efforts.
And that’s really the basic problem with Unexpected Stage Company’s production. The source material, the show itself, just isn’t very good. One could talk all day long about the young and talented actors in this production, the clever set, the bright costumes, the really spectacular three piece band… but in the end, they’re all overwhelmed by the fact that the show, as it’s written, is flat and stale and pretty dreadful.
For one thing, there are so many opportunities missed; there’s just one zombie, Jonny, played by an affable Will Hawkins, who flings himself into a vat of radioactive goo when his girlfriend Toffee (Julia Klavans) rejects him. If we’re following the Grease/Romeo and Juliet plotline, wouldn’t it stand to reason that Toffee also become zombieized at some point? Nope. Toffee ends up with a decomposing boyfriend- superbly not funny and more of an ‘ew, necrophilia’ moment than anything else. Turn the whole high school into zombies and you might have something there, but no, we’re stuck with a single undead boyfriend throughout the show.
The music and lyrics are beginner grade at best, with little originality of words and no noteworthy songs to speak of. Humor has its basis in exaggeration- but the script and music go nowhere near that; it’s just one joke, one punchline, to last us two hours.
Companies pick a season of shows for a variety of reasons: price, availability of actors, directors, talent; what will fit in the performance space they have; what might sell in a given season. So it would stand to reason that Zombie Prom would make a good choice for October- zombies!- Halloween!- but upon reading the script, couldn’t anyone see that this could also turn into a massive waste of effort on an unworthy project?
All this being said, I don’t want to dissuade theatergoers from seeing Zombie Prom. Script’s bad. Cast isn’t.
closes October 30, 2016
Details and tickets
Unexpected Stage pulls some pretty solid talent from around our area, and the list of credits is impressive. Standouts are Will Hawkins as Jonny and Julia Kravens as Toffee; Hawkins’ clear tenor is a delight to listen to. The real star of the show, though, is the live band: as lead by Music Director Brandon Heishman, what could be thin accompaniment sounds like a heckuva lot more guys than what you see on stage: nice job, and it’s worth the price of admission to hear them.
Costumes by Debra Leonard are bright and silly, set by William Fleming, though underutilized, is multipurpose and well designed; and choreography by Jane Rabinovitz is lively, though more use could be made of the multilevel stage.
Here’s how to enjoy Zombie Prom. Go in costume, if you’d like. Bring some friends to fill the house, and enjoy the performers and band.
Zombie Prom . Boook & Lyrics: John Dempsey . Music: Dana P. Rowe . Director: Christopher Goodrich . Cast: Jordan Clark Halsey as Josh; Cate Culligan as Coco; Philip Da Costa as Joey; Will Hawkins as Jonny; Julia Klavans as Toffee; Dallas Milholland as Delilah Strict: Kelsey Painter as Candy; Joshua Simon as Eddie Flagrante . Music Director: Brandon Heishman . Choreographer: Jane Rabinovitz . Set Designer: William Fleming . Lighting Designer: Gary Hauptman . Sound Designer: Matthew Mills . Costume designer: Debra Leonard . Stage Manager: Shayla Sowers . Produced by Unexpected Stage Company . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.